Photo number #2072
Rovenki, Luhansk region, 2005

Photographic project Donbass, exhibition and photo fair by Alexander Chekmenev

Exhibition of the project Donbass, selected as a title for the German Photo Book Award 2012, by the Ukrainian photographer Alexander Chekmenev

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Alexander Chekmenev

Alexander Chekmenev is the Ukrainian photographer who recently received public notice at home as well as abroad. He is a winner of the European competition of documentary photography Vevey in Switzerland for his series Ukrainian Passport. In 2013, his book Donbass became a selected title of the German Photo Books Award. He also received the title Ukrainian Photographer of the Year 2013. He has exhibitd in various galleries in Europe and recently his work received attention by galleries in North America.

Chekmenev works as a photojournalist for the daily Vseukrainskiye Vedomosti. In his independent work, he focuses on a social documentary photography, mainly documenting the society in Eastern Ukraine where he comes from. A human in his natural environment, often on a street, is in the center of his attention. His photographs reflect inspiration by the classical documentary aesthetics, such as that by Robert Frank, Robert Doisneau or August Sander. Chekmenev is attracted by exceptional characters, sometimes even comic in their expression or in the situation they find themselves in. Another time they arouse respect. In accordance with the humanistic message of great photojournalist of the past, he depicts them with the dignity they deserve. Along with the kind snapshots and portraits (Easter 1994-2013, Flea Market 2003-2013, Street People Lugansk 1994-1999, People 1993-2014) which are to document character and atmosphere of places for future, his photographs also act as a social criticism (War in Donbass 2014, War-Torn 2014) or reportage (Evromajdan 2014). The project that stands out is Passport (1994-1995), a side product of a commissioned work. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the establishment of independent Ukraine, all citizens received a new ID – passport. To paralyzed and immobile people, a photographer was sent. He stretched a white canvas behind their heads and took a picture of a standard passport format. The whole situation was so absurd – even the portrayed themselves did not understand what the use of the passport was as they would obviously never leave their houses – that it literary invited to capture the scene of pictures taking. The images speak for themselves.

The project Donbass, which probably received the most international attention thanks to the book, represents the long-term systematic documenting, aiming for an as complex message as possible. Chekmenev decides between black-and-white and color photography according to the character of a particular project. In the mining environment, nowadays experiencing a decline, this limited color scale from white to black carries also a particular meaning. It completes an image of hardship. However, the series does not seem depressive or melancholic. Honesty of Chekmenev’s message dwells in his perfect understanding of the environment and ability to pass it to the viewer. It encompasses the whole spectrum of this alternative even bizarre life with own rules where coal is the main currency and hard work regains its respect. People on his pictures live their everyday lives with everything it brings. They work, rest, eat, wash themselves, party. The depicted atmosphere ranges from meditativeness of the Doisneau-kind to the hilarity of Weegee. The whole series reflects a distinctive poetic allure thanks to refine scene framing and thorough compositions. A person willing to survive is able to labour as well as to enjoy his life.