Powerful images from an unusual war photographer celebrate communities’ survival in between military emergencies.
Sergey Ponomarev is a war photographer, but not the sort you’d expect. There are no fighter jets, no uniformed soldiers, no weapons or armoured tanks here. Ponamarev chronicles war in its more contemporary guises: the insurgency and urban guerrilla warfare that deals out destruction in small, daily helpings, slowly eroding city infrastructures and coats streets and buildings in grey dust. And yet Ponomarov is less interested in the colourlessness and death wrought by war than the pockets of life and colour that still remain. He chronicles war as it is experienced by the survivors – the citizens of Kabul, Kiev, Aleppo – that is, as a ‘way of life’.
The time lived between emergencies can blossom into serene outdoor picnics (momentarily troubled by the appearance of helicopters in an otherwise clear-blue sky), or football games improvised over lunar expanses of rubble and debris. The Moscow photographer, born in 1980, captures a paradoxical state of affairs in which life’s little joys are made to mingle with horror, destruction and despair.
Like the Palestinians who sweep the dusty streets of Gaza each morning before prayer, the people photographed by Ponomarev seem to live Sisyphean lives, forced daily to rebuild or repair whatever damage wrought during the night. But as Ponomarev wants to show, they continue to insist on reclaiming their lives.