Who records history? Whose stories are told? These are a few of the questions driving photojournalist and Harvard Nieman Fellow Anastasia Taylor-Lind to push the boundaries of documentary photography. Taylor-Lind has created several projects in response to the conflict in Ukraine, mobilizing an impressive social media network and giving voice to many of those affected by the crisis.
On Monday, April 18, at 7pm, Taylor-Lind will present her work at a special evening event sponsored by HURI. Her talk, #WelcomeToDonetsk: War Journalism in the Age of Social Media, will showcase three projects, offering a fresh perspective on recent events in Ukraine and addressing questions about how we document history and leverage art as a peacebuilding tool.
Three projects on Ukraine’s conflict
Taylor-Lind’s first project is a published collection entitled MAIDAN – Portraits from the Black Square . The name of the collection refers to the makeshift ‘studio’ backdrop for the portraits, the sooty blackness of the square itself, and the iconic painting by Kazimir Malevich, which artists refer to as the ‘zero point of painting’. About his own piece, Malevich remarked, “It is from zero, in zero, that the true movement of being begins” -- an interesting reflection for Taylor-Lind’s publication.
Second, the photographer will discuss her interactive memorial project, which has gained traction on social media through the hashtag #WelcomeToDonetsk. With a team of volunteers assisting her, she sends postcards marked with the name of one person - whether combatant, civilian, volunteer, or visitor - killed in the conflict. The list of the deceased, compiled by Taylor-Lind and her colleague Alisa Sopova, is the only comprehensive record of its kind.
For Taylor-Lind, digital platforms have opened remarkable opportunities for communicating and engaging in a new way. “I have a following of 60,000 on Instagram and nearly 10,000 on Twitter, so I have an audience that I can communicate with directly,” Taylor-Lind explained. “Not through National Geographic, Sunday Times Magazine, The New York Times; these are people I can speak to directly.” It is through this network that the #WelcomeToDonetsk postcard project has reached thousands of homes around the world.
Taylor-Lind’s third project is a work in progress. It’s a video installation called Stay, which presents the faces and stories of women who have loved ones involved in the conflict. “I’m trying to look in a very small way at what the female experience of war in Ukraine is, what the domestic experience is,” the photojournalist said. Like her other projects, this work reminds people that those affected by war aren’t so different from themselves.
War is personal
War is personal. That’s one of the mantras that inspires Taylor-Lind and defines her work. As a photographer, her job is to show people what war looks like. But, it’s not that easy, she says.
“The work I’m presenting on Ukraine is not really traditional journalism anymore. My research here at Harvard is how I can tell war stories in a more personal way, in a way that moves people, that really touches people,” she explained. “If we only represent people as characters and actors in the war story - as combatants, refugees, civilians, collateral damage, terrorists - they don’t seem like real people anymore. And that’s dangerous.”
In the age of the ‘democratization’ of photography, when most people have access to cameras and social networks on their phones, Taylor-Lind sees her role as not just creating and publishing records, but in curating other people’s stories. This is part of a broader effort to present a more comprehensive picture of what’s going on.
“It’s important to tell war stories as an outsider, as a stranger, to see something for the first time and to react to it creatively. But it’s also important for people from those communities to tell their stories. One finds that a city like Donetsk looks different to foreign correspondents, to the people who are living there, and to the people who are fighting there. Photography plays a role in history, right? And so, who records history? Who gets to tell their story?”
All are welcome to attend the evening presentation on Monday, April 18. It will be held in the Public Gathering Room S-030, CGIS South Building, from 7 to 9 pm.
Anastasia Taylor-Lind is an English/Swedish photographer currently undertaking a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University. She has a background in photojournalism and has worked for leading editorial publications all over the world on issues relating to women, population, and war. Her first book MAIDAN – Portraits from the Black Square, which documents the 2014 Ukrainian uprising in Kyiv, was published by GOST books the same year.
Anastasia’s work has been exhibited internationally, in spaces such as The Saatchi Gallery, The Frontline Club, and The National Portrait Gallery in London, SIDE gallery in Newcastle, Fovea Exhibitions in New York, Pikto Gallery in Toronto and The New Mexico Museum of Modern Art in Santa Fe. She has degrees in Documentary Photography from the University of Wales Newport and the London College of Communication. She is engaged with education, regularly lecturing at universities and teaching workshops around the world. Anastasia is also a TED fellow and National Geographic Magazine contributor.