Bohdan Warchomij

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

I’m gravitating more and more towards photojournalism these days. For someone who tends to look inward and likes narratives that are about our personal internal lives, I do also feel an increasing pull away from a self-contained interiority lately. Or maybe it’s just a growing discontentment with beautiful, but story-less, images of people’s perfectly arranged breakfasts, and such. Honestly, I really do love those everyday images and that appreciation and recording of the simple elements that make up our day-to-day lives. But there is also a whole wide world out there, and perhaps we all need a good kick in the butt (including me) every once in a while to remind us to look away from our breakfasts and turn our interior, self-involved gazes to other people’s realities.

This is a way of me introducing to you why I find the work of photographer and experienced photojournalist, Bohdan Warchomij, so moving. Ali Moon introduced me to his work, as he’s her friend. Bohdan is based in Perth, Australia, working as a freelance photojournalist. He’s also spent much time working in Ukraine and East Europe, covering major stories such as the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. He’s worked for the Times, the Sunday Telegraph, the Globe and Mail, the Sunday Times, and the Guardian, and recently published a book titled, Portrait of a Revolution published by backpackbook. He’s currently working in Perth for the Australian newspaper, the Sunday Times and AAP (Australian Associated Press).

There are two albums in his photo galleries on his website that I’ve been looking at over and over again in the last few days:

Georgy Gongadze

Bohdan Warchomij

Bohdan Warchomij

Bohdan Warchomij

Bohdan Warchomij

Bohdan Warchomij

Bohdan Warchomij

Orange Revolution

Bohdan Warchomij

Bohdan Warchomij

Bohdan Warchomij

Bohdan Warchomij

Bohdan Warchomij

Bohdan Warchomij

It’s easy to read these sets of images as purely ‘news’ items of specific events; as things to consider as you flick the channels or check the daily news, and then move on. But to me there is an undercurrent to these images, and what they say about our hopes and dreams, our cynicism, our corruption, and our idealism. I can’t help but relate these photographs to two articles I’ve read in the past week, which summarise all this.

One of these articles is on the Lance Armstrong saga: Lance Armstrong as Study in Corruption. The lines that got me at a gut level in this article were these ones: “The only thing that allows me a measure of peace is people like Betsy Andreu and Jia Ping. Had I not met with Ping after reading Oprah’s wretched Tweet, I would have got the feeling I sometimes get—this cloud swallowing every last molecule of optimism and fellow feeling. This sense that the human project is damned—because all too often, the Lance Armstrong’s of the world end up doffing the spandex, donning a suit, and starting to stump.”

And then there is this article: The Skin of Anxiety. Once again, I had a gut reaction to specific lines in the article: “What if it’s a skin of anxiety that’s pulled tautly across the entire surface of the world, over all the hills and undulations, and what if it has changed everything, forever, and for the worse, and what if we can never, ever escape from it?”

I know these articles don’t really relate to one another or to Bohdan’s photography on a surface level. But on a deeper level, I feel they do. I keep thinking the phrase the “skin of anxiety that’s pulled tautly across the entire surface of the world” sums up the feelings I have when looking at Bohdan’s photography, and specifically, those two albums I highlighted above. The collision between optimism and cynicism, corruption and idealism, is evident there, and it does feel like something fragile and taut that is pulled over the whole world.

There are those who view idealism and optimism as naive concepts in the face of all the corruption, hatred and greed we see around the world. But to me, cynicism requires less out of you. Idealism is difficult, it requires you to believe in something and fight for it, and hence, it’s harder to hang onto. Those lines about Armstrong: “the feeling I sometimes get—this cloud swallowing every last molecule of optimism and fellow feeling. This sense that the human project is damned” are so familiar to me as I watch yet another corruption case on the news, as I hear of another woman being raped, as I realise more and more how the world turns on naked and privileged self-interest, and I start to think maybe this whole “human project” really is damned. But as much as Bohdan’s capturing of specific events seems to convey these elements, there is also a strong sense of hope flowing through them. Or maybe I am once again reading too much into things, or reading through my own subjective frame of reference too much? Either way, there is something powerful about his photography that led me to write this, and I’m grateful to people like Bohdan who bring the world to us through their cameras and compel us all to think more and be more informed.

All images are copyrighted to Bohdan Warchomij and are used here with permission. Please ask him for permission if you’d like to share them on your own blog.

8 comments: said...

I think a turn away from soft, pleasant interiority is absolutely called for. I was so gratified to read what you're saying about breakfast photos: my mental shorthand for it--for the type of lifestyle blog I've been un-following in spades--is 'pictures of breakfasts.'

Photographs of revolution might not give us the still, pleasing impression that we get from a photograph of a vase of peonies--but what it does give us is something that is, perhaps, stronger. Here's wishing that that sense of hope helps the anxiety to slacken, and, above all, that our human project isn't damned yet.

becka said...

Excellent post, Hila. The notion of the human project being damned sums up so well the feeling I often have when watching a new, terrible event unfold or am exposed to how horrible people can be.

My partner and I were talking about intersectionality and Angela Davis today after watching her speak on Democracy Now, and he talked about her work within the Black Panthers. Encouraging people to see things as intersecting, that people aren't racist because they're mean (well, I'm sure some are) or terrible people, but because the capitalist system, the conservative system relies on racism, sexism, classism, etc in order to function. It teaches us to be those people, to feel afraid and to hate each other because it means that they can sit at the top of the pile and reap the benefits of low wages,etc and a world of people too downtrodden to fight back.

I think that's part of the reason why there is so much hope in these photos, because even those these people are living through hugely difficult things, they are so obviously fighting for their ideals and the part of human nature where we are good people who love and care for one another. Conservatism relies on us believing that human nature is all about selfishness, survival of the fittest, etc but that's only a portion. When we're exposed to the beauty of those believing in and fighting for us to be good, that is so powerful.

Rambling Tart said...

I am so moved by these images. They transport me back to when I lived in Russia. I couldn't stop looking at the faces I passed on the metro, the streets, in the markets. There was something different about them, lines deeper, eyes clearer, smiles slower but so much more meaningful than anything I'd seen in the States or Canada. This photographer has captured the grief, the passion, the otherworldliness I remember.

Sera said...

hear, hear! thank you for sharing these thoughts/images today.


Accidentalwriter said...

The skin of anxiety will only be shed if we firstly acknowledge its existence, and secondly, get up from our breakfast tables and talk about the real challenges facing humanity. On this day it seems appropriate to reflect on the words of Martin Luther King Jnr, and although (perhaps) the times and issues (may) have changed a little - the message is as relevant today as ever before. 'History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people' MLK. May we have the courage and conviction to speak up when the rose coloured glasses distort our view.

hannah debbie said...

"Idealism is difficult, it requires you to believe in something and fight for it, and hence, it’s harder to hang onto."

I like that.

Gabi Menezes said...

Dear Hila
I also sometimes feel a "growing discontentment with beautiful, but story-less, images of people’s perfectly arranged breakfasts, and such."

Having worked as a journalist for a very long time, I also find it rare that a photo journalist can capture something of the interior emotional life of people. Sometimes, the image is the only thing they take away from a person, which is a betrayal of them and their entire story. Thank you for posting these, they are both moving and beautiful, in a completely opposite kind of beauty to perfectly arranged breakfasts.

You might also enjoy these photos. A friend, and photo journalist took them in the Western Sahara. They seem to capture something of the isolation and loneliness of the people there.

Hila said...

Caroline Fryar: I think there are some talented people out there who do those 'breakfast' type photos well. I appreciate those images for what they are, but we're also reaching complete saturation point with them. My discontentment with this imagery may also just be a sign that my taste is changing, which is ok too.

Becka: Oh yes, we've talked about this on twitter haven't we? Don't you know 'intersectionality' is a dirty word, and, gasp, too 'intellectual'. Sigh. The whole debate about this word and the terminology just feeds conservative views. I find it staggering that leading feminists feel 'alienated' by a simple word you could look up in five minutes. What makes it a more complicated word than say, 'esoteric'? If you're smart enough to write journalism for the Guardian, you're smart enough to find out what one word means and learn new vocabulary. But we all know what game they're playing - dismissing the word is dismissing what it represents. Images like the ones in this post just remind me that the injustices people face around the world are varied and multiple and it's necessary to acknowledge them in all their human complexity.

Krista: I didn't know you lived in Russia, you'll have to tell me more about it.

Sera: My pleasure.

Accidentalwriter: Alas, many people just prefer not to know.

Hannah Debbie: :)

Gabi: Thank you for this link, I will have a look at it. Like I said, I do like the 'breakfast' photos, but I do think we've turned it into a bit of a cult. The world is much larger than our breakfasts. I'd be interested to hear about your own work too.