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Colonel Matcegor Ivan Gregorevitch

Throughout the ongoing events in Crimea, eastern Ukraine and Russia, we’ve seen many images. Some good, some bad, but most briefly (tomorrow’s chip-wrap, and all that). Has photography adequately described the unfolding turmoil? For me, the jury is still out, but I’m in a combative mood this evening.

Of the news photography coverage I was impressed with those by Brendan Hoffman and Sergei Ponomarev (who’s been shooting in the region for years) and as a scene setter, I liked Maxim Dondyuk’s old work from a Russian kids military training camp. Of the amateurs, Dima Tolkachov showed us just how ripe for image-making Maidan Square was.

Knowing that armchair critics such as myself would be decrying the fact that photojournalism was doing exactly as it was supposed to do — capture wrought images of struggle with smoke, barricades and actions — a few photographers aimed to make series that were descriptive of the people and the struggle, but forged new typologies. Stationary typologies of weapons and fighters from within the front lines. Anastasia Taylor Lind and the duo Jean-Marc Caimi and Valentina Piccinni both made portraits and (sometimes within arms reach) Tom Jamieson and Donald Weber made studies of DIY weapons and molotov cocktails respectively. Of Jamieson and Weber’s work I’m ambivalent, even if critics I respect are all for it.

If I am being imprecise here, it is because I feel I can afford to be. I mention these photographers’ works as context for Julie David de Lossy‘s work which was made long before events erupted in Kiev. De Lossy’s series Black Sea Fleet Cadets and Black Sea Fleet Veterans are not reactive as the above-mentioned bodies of work are. Maybe, as a consumer of images, I am just more comfortable seeing formal portraits made in times of peace as opposed to times of shells and bullets falling all around?

Black Sea Fleets

Kolia, 20, Cadet at Nakhimova Institute

The Black Sea Fleet was an aging institution that was under threat of closure for decades. Somewhat ironically, the 2010 election of the now-ousted pro-Russian Yanukovitch as Ukraine president brought with it a new extended lease of the Black Sea Fleet facilities beyond 2042 (presumably now defunct). The Russians provided discounts on natural gas in exchange. Quite why the facilities to this old military group were part of negotiations between the Russians and Ukrainians is not entirely clear, yet de Lossy explains that  it recruited both Russian and Ukrainian cadets and that both Russians and Ukrainians honoured the veterans. De Lossy adds that in Sevastopol — where the Black Sea Fleet was based — is considered by the locals as a Russian territory.

It is within the experience of the ranks young and old that we might begin to discover the historic and complex ties between Russia and Ukraine. De Lossy’s work requires us to do more than identify the good guy and the bad guy from afar; indeed it instructs us that as history collides with current affairs our labels may shift. Whereas the work of many photographers is literally made on one side of the barricades or the other, and whereas such work has buy-in from one side or the other, archive work such as de Lossy’s takes us back to a time before people were forced to stand one side of the line or the other. It takes us to a time that explains the now.

Images of violence are images of loss; loss of stability, loss of choice (to a degree) and loss of self. In mainstream (news) images of ongoing revolution and violence, loss is an abstraction — the parameters and extent of loss are still being determined. Made in times of non-violence, de Lossy’s photographs depict the absence of violence. Her quiet portraits of cadets and veterans are a requiem for times not shaped by nationalism and conflict.

Quietness replaced by conflict is a grave loss. For all. However they identify.

JULIE DAVID DE LOSSY

Julie David de Lossy studied political sciences and international relations. She worked for two years at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Brussels, before receiving a Masters degree in Conflict, Security and Development from King’s College London. For many years, she has photographed in Central Asia, working on the security and environmental issues in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. She has an ongoing project called ’20 Years After: Soviet Legacy in Central Asia.’ She lives in Brussels.

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