Thought it would help me organise my project by entering The Guardian competition, even if I don’t win I benefit….
A Look at Ukraine 80 Years After Holodomor
Throughout the 1920’s, Alexander Wienerberger, my great grandfather, was a political prisoner of war in Lubyanka Prison, Moscow. He was spared his life due to the fact he was a chemical Engineer specialising in explosives, and therefore deemed useful to the Stalinist work programme.
In total, Alexander spent fifteen years in Russia and Ukraine. Throughout this time he documented his experience through photography. He subsequently wrote the book Hart Auf Hart, 1939, (which roughly translates as ‘Hard Times’) and also had published other photographs of Holodomor, (the man-made famine, Ukraine, 1932-33’.) Alexander’s images are some of the few verified photographs that depict the man-made famine of this period, whereas many images purporting to be from this time, are more likely records of an earlier famine of the 1920’s.
My interest in these events started when I inherited Alexander’s Leica. After considerable research I now intend to travel to Kharkiv, and other parts of Ukraine, with the Leica first used by Alexander for his original documentation. This same camera will be used to photograph my travels in the region, some eighty years after that traumatic period, in order to compare the Ukraine my great grandfather would have witnessed with the Ukraine of today.
The camera is a significant component of this project and my relationship to a personal history. It is a physical link between Alexander’s intended depiction of truth – a mirror to the more pervasive but misleading propaganda that was so rife at that point in time; and the visual vernacular of the Ukraine today. It seems only fitting that the same Leica be used again to reveal, as with my grandfather, an individual’s journey and experience of a country in transition.
A part of this investigation into social and political change in Ukraine could potentially be aimed at orphan institutes and hospitals. The exact figures are not known, but many children residing in childrens homes are classed as mentally incapable and as such, have lost their right to an independent life. They are effectively owned by the state. A BBC documentary for television called Ukraine’s Forgotten Children (2012) revealed that a proportion of these “incapacitated” people, are of sound mind but are denied a voice to speak of their situation. Hospitals are sometimes poorly staffed, and children are left in bed unattended for long periods – a situation that has seen little or no change through successive Governments.
The main focus of my work is to photograph and provide some contemporary insights to life within Ukraine. I would like to investigate this report further, but it potentially places me in a situation that goes beyond reasonable risk, and I will need to decide the best course of action once I am in the country. However, by drawing attention to the country’s landscape, cities, people and culture, I hope to reveal, like my grandfather before me, the truth and reality of peoples lives.