November 3, 2016 - November 27, 2016
Alexander Chekmenev grew up in eastern Ukraine’s Donbass region, home to a predominantly ethnic Russian population, and since 2014, the center of an ongoing armed conflict between the Ukrainian government and Russian-backed separatists. Throughout the month of November, Blue Sky will exhibit two photographic series by Chekmenev—Passport and Donbass—which document the transition of this region to an independent Ukraine after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Within a year of becoming a newly-formed nation, Ukraine began requiring its citizens to apply for new passports. Chekmenev was hired to make house calls to photograph elderly and bedridden individuals who could otherwise not comply. The resulting series, Passport, consists of portraits of homebound residents in Lugansk City, each taken in front of a white, often improvised background. However, unlike the traditionally closely-cropped square “mug shots” one might expect, Chekmenev’s stark color photographs capture a wider view of each room, pointedly revealing the dismal living conditions many individuals were enduring in their last years.
Chekmenev’s black-and-white series, Donbass, follows the daily lives of coal miners—many of whom work in illegal, self-built mines—and their familes. Coal has been a lucrative natural resource for Donbass since the 18th century, but the economic fallout caused by the collapse of the U.S.S.R. led to the closure of more than half of the mines in the region. Although Chekmenev’s photographs illuminate the gritty realities of life in eastern Ukraine during this time, they also reveal the everyday joys that make the struggle worthwhile.
Alexander Chekmenev (b. 1969) is a photojournalist based in Kiev, Ukraine. His works have been exhibited all over the world, including at the Photodocumentfestival in Poznań, Poland, and at the Museum of Contemporary Art, in Perm, Russia. His work has been published on the New York Times Lens Blog, Time Lightbox, New Yorker Photo Booth, and MSNBC.com. In 2011 Chekmenev published his first monograph of Donbass through Kehrer Verlag and in 2016 Passport was released.