Your Excellency (Ambassador Kononenko),
Mr. Chekmenev en
The war in Ukraine forced you to come to The Hague. And with you, the annual Photo Kyiv event also moved to our city. Your team is currently spread all over Europe, where they are living and working. Yet, together with Ivanna Bertrand you have managed to put together this impressive exhibition.
Willem Jan Hoogsteder, to whom I recently had the honour of presenting a Royal Decoration, recognized the importance of showing this work as soon as possible. Because of its timeless quality. Because of the power of the image in the current struggle. That you have so generously made this exhibition space available free of charge is wonderful.
The combination of indictment and aesthetics can make us feel uncomfortable. This exhibition clearly shows the added value of that. Where news photography is essentially about reporting, these documentary photographs present us with the facts. And lends them an eloquence which goes beyond the simply newsworthy. It makes them iconic and ensures that they will not be forgotten.
That can clearly be seen in the work of Alexander Chekmenev. His portraits show the difficult lives of vagrants, the homeless and the mentally ill, but also of miners and others who have been abandoned in what he describes as “the failing post-Soviet state”. Now that there is war there, for The New York Times he photographed people in their shelters and in other places where they are trying to make the best of it. Often captured in a Rembrandt-like light. With no gloss, but a varnish that preserves the facts.
In her images, Oksana Parafeniuk always looks for the resilience and dignity of people in difficult circumstances. As migrants, refugees on the run, or plagued by misfortune from which there is little or no escape. For The Washington Post she told the story of young Ukrainian cancer patients who were transferred to Poland so that their treatment could continue there. Searing portraits of grief and fear, but of hope and resilience, too.
That hope and resilience is something we wish for all Ukrainians, and everyone in The Hague who feels connected with Ukraine.