For a long time, it was believed that the photography capital of Ukraine was, is, and will be Kharkiv. That’s how it was during Soviet times. A unique photography environment had formed. There was an enormous concentration of original and talented photographers who created a unique school of photo art. The greats like Borys Mikhailov and Serhiy Bratkov. Nevertheless, during perestroika and later years, another center of photography appeared — Kyiv.
The first Ukrpressphoto national competition was taking place in Kyiv, offering large cash prizes. Documentary photographers from other cities, including Kharkiv, started moving to the capital. As a result, a very strong group of documentary photographers, who worked exclusively for the press, formed in the city.
A new century arrived. The photographic life of the city was revived by the youth. Photo galleries specializing in photo projects appeared. Other galleries began paying more attention to photography. Pavlo Gudimov’s Ya Gallery art center designed a program to support Ukrainian photography and made this a separate line of the center’s activities.
© Anna Voitenko
Gudimov also created the Artbook Publishing House, which was the first in Ukraine to develop a clear publishing strategy regarding Ukrainian creative photography. The exhibition “4x4” presents four well-known Kyiv documentary photographers from the Ya Gallery circle: Anna Voitenko, Oleksandr Chekmeniov, Gennadiy Minchenko and Oleksandr Liapin. These photographers belong to various generations of documentarists and photograph in completely different styles. Nevertheless they are all united by so called Kyiv documentary photography school, which formed during last 25 years.
Anna Voitenko belongs to the younger generation of Kyiv documentary photographers and works in the genre of photo histories. About the Bodybuilding series she wrote:
“There were mounds and mounds of muscles… I was frightened. They were blowing up like plastic dolls from the sex shop. Slowly and horribly. They became huge, hilly, and beautiful. Men and women…Body builders, power lifters, fitness experts, and athletics experts — in other words, athletes. These words flew by me and prevented me from photographing. But I tried not to listen. I pressed the camera button. I got lucky: I was behind the scenes and was shooting the main event — the preparations for a body building competition. There are many of them in a crammed room. They’re rivals. The jury will soon determine the handsomest and most muscular among them, based on their own judgment. Meanwhile, the men are discussing the buffet that will take place after the competition. They all want to drink. I see a bottle of cognac on the table — a good one. The sportsmen are looking at it, rubbing a strange ointment on each other. With gentle, careful movements they’re greasing a glossy, fragrant, sticky, brown substance on each other’s snowy-white bodies. Is this shoe cream? I ask quietly and shield myself with my camera, hiding in the most far-off corner of the room, as far as possible from this Michelangeloan bacchanalia. Turns out that the sportsmen are greasing up with very expensive body grease that lets you see every muscle. David greased the contented Hercules, while Hercules rubbed Apollo with a small roller, trying to evenly distribute the sticky mix on the cascade of his biceps, triceps, shoulders, thighs and buttocks…”
© Gennadijus Minchenko
Another younger generation photographer is Gennadiy Minchenko who also works with big and deep themes and spends a lot of time by developing them. He always longs to tell a complete story. One of them is “Batyshka” (The Priest) — the photo illustration of a man’s life. Of a man, who could stay working in KGB of the USSR after the service in the radio interception but decided to be used of God.
Minchenko was always engaged by the questions of faith and religion. We usually know only one side of priests’ life and the other one is always hidden. By the Batyshka series Gennady tries to show both sides using just one example but he doesn’t say that every priest lives like this. He just shows priest Myroslav’s life as the camera saw it.
© Oleksandr Chekmeniov
Oleksandr Chekmeniov, who represents so called “middle generation” of Kyiv documentary photographers, observes the life of outcasts who live at the bottom of society, searches for the boundaries between the state of life and death, between consciousness and coma that give rise to alcohol and drugs. He focuses on the existence of the elderly and insane.
He dives to the very depths of life, keeps company with people who are free from everything, except those with a passion for alcohol and drugs, and photographs them. But Chekmeniov doesn’t simply photograph – he creates a joyful theater, where troubled and dangerous individuals gladly play the rolls proposed by him. Strange, sick, evil, and dangerous subjects are willingly transformed into actors.
His photographs are histories, destinies, and journeys. Chekmeniov is a vagabond, a peeper on life. He likes to plunge as deep as possible, hold his breath as long as possible, and open his eyes as wide as possible. He goes where other photographers don’t. He’s there alone. You won’t confuse him with anyone.
© Olekdandr Liapin
Oleksandr Liapin makes documentary photography but in a unique manner. It was born during photographers’ experiments with his film camera and digital lens. So now it’s frightening to look into the holes that Oleksandr Liapin made with this newborn camera. One doesn’t feel comfortable spying on Kyiv. It’s somewhat different in those openings. Lifeless…
A hole is a lair. You need to go down it slowly and carefully, because this is Munch’s stolen “Scream.” It’s the crushed screams in the charred space of Kyiv. It’s the groaning or the whine of the burnt plush teddy bear on the bank of the Dnipro against the background of the Lavra. Why did the nice, plush teddy bear die? Why is Kyiv dying in a hole? What’s the reality?
The sole aches. Such pain makes is possible to feel, to see, to love, and to understand. Liapin makes it possible to spy on death, decay, the disappearance into darkness of Kyiv. Strange, but the holes are merely black-and-white documentary photography — there is nothing made up in it.