Ukraine is a country where the conversations external to it are often drastically different from what is occurring within the culture. The constant duality of either Russian or Western integration reflects the absence of agency presented to Ukraine in the majority of affairs. Numerous frameworks exist intended to reveal the nature of Ukrainian culture. Is it an emerging bastion of democracy? Is it the front line of Russian aggression? Or, is it a post-Soviet counter-cultural mecca? Most of these discourses reflect less so what Ukraine is but rather what the particular individual aspires for Ukraine for their own political purposes.
As a fan of Ukrainian photography, there is an almost cathartic process of deconstruction in studying the work of Ukrainian photographers. Each photographer locates a differing juncture within the country’s complex cultural fabric to reveal and give oxygen to it. For an outside observer, photographers are not a means for an objective account of what is the essence of Ukrainian culture. Instead, Ukrainian photographers give you an additional reason to explore the country’s culture and the host of dislocated centres that define Ukraine.
As a country that has produced photographers like Boris Mikhailov and Jury Rupin, it comes across a tad bit crass to limit this list to ten photographers. This list easily could have been thirty, however, we’ve got deadlines. As such, if this list has any success then it will help spur a little more interest in one of Europe’s deepest pools of talent in terms of photography. Make sure to follow the photographers on social media!
While erotic photography overwhelmingly tends to gravitate towards seeing the body as the conduit for pleasure, Tania’s work conceptualises the body as the place where fear, loneliness, and sexuality converge. Her series Hers at times is difficult for the viewer, her exploration of her own mental state, her bi-polar diagnosis, and the struggles of being a woman pose questions for the viewer they are often not ready for. Her considerable use of flowers symbolically is a reminder that all aspects of life are finite.
Taras’s work has always been a favourite and a constant conversation among the different writers at this magazine. His street photography is a masterful display of an almost effortless play with shadow and lighting. He gives a life to the city that is something for dreams. What is even more remarkable is his productivity rate. Almost daily, he updates his social media with a shot that most photographers could only dream of.
Igor’s work showcases a youth culture embracing their newfound sexual liberty with the confines of the past. His work has a tender quality with many of his shots focusing on couples embracing each other and the monotonous elements of a loving interaction. His work has been featured in the Guardian and exhibited across Europe. In 2017, we included him as one of the individuals that make us love Ukraine.
Ihor Hora can operate either between the charmingly beautiful and the visceral. Both his photos and collages document individuals living on the margins like alcoholics and street people. He shows the absolute brutality of homeless men having their balls hanging out passed out in a Soviet yard with zero attempt to hide the desperateness of their circumstance. Yet, he is equally apt at finding those brief moments of absolute calm and peace in his other work. What emerges is an incredibly talented and intriguing personality always shifting and never being defined by one idea.
Alex’s work largely chronicles the considerable oppression that members of the LGBTQ+ community are confronted with. What stands out about his work is not only his bravery in photographing an oppressed community but his ability to communicate the weight and depth of the oppression felt by these individuals. The small innocuous details of sandbags lining the walls and plastic covering broken windows he includes in his unglamorous work allow the viewer some insight to the sheer magnitude of what surrounds members of the queer community in Ukraine.
The conflict in the Donbas region has an impossibly difficult quality to describe. It occurs within such a small space and is losing international concern daily, yet strikes to the heart of Ukrainian fears with the loss of lives and independence. The war forms a shadow over the first post-Soviet generation emerging into adulthood and looking to exercise their agency in shaping their reality. It is this complex interplay of factors that Warsaw-based by Dnipro born photographer Yulia Krivich captures. Her Daring & Youth series captures the disjointed and complex reality of Ukrainian youth culture with kaleidoscopic beautiful colours. Her work articulates the reality of a post-Maidan Ukraine that few Western commentators have grasped.
Sergey’s 2016 project Behind the scenes gathered amazing acclaim with it being awarded the Leica Oskar Barnack Award for a newcomer in 2017. However, his work that excited us most was his numerous explorations of Ukrainian masculinity that look to map out a male fragility as a consequence of economic inequality and conflict. Touching nude photos give a sense of vulnerability and sensitivity often neglected when speaking about Ukrainian masculine identity. He kindly spoke to us this spring for an interview.
Beautifully surreal photos at times but at other times an objective reflection of the streets of Lviv, Kristina is a photographer that is not defined so much by a particular idea or technique. Rather, she is a photographer openly displaying her willingness to challenge herself in all mediums. That said, her more conceptual surreal portraits that look to converge the past with an increasingly alienating technological work demand your attention for a moment. They imagine a dystopic reality within the most beautiful of circumstances.