Analysing Images of the War in Ukraine – Chatting the Pictures

Destroyed Russian vehicles in the city of Bucha. Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, April 7, 2022. Photograph by Ron Haviv / VII.

Chatting the Pictures is a video series featuring Reading the Pictures publisher Michael Shaw and visual academic Cara Finnegan analyzing key news photographs.

VII Insider is pleased to partner with Reading the Pictures to bring episodes of Chatting the Pictures to the VII Insider community.

We began last month with a close reading of some of Ron Haviv’s work in and around Kyiv.

Throughout April, Michael and Cara have published three episodes of Chatting the Pictures analysing images of war in Ukraine. The text accompanying each episode below is written by Michael Shaw.

This episode (April 1, 2022) looks at a photo by Nicole Tung for Harpers Magazine. In the image, we see a couple measuring the time between contractions in the makeshift bunker of a maternity hospital in Kyiv on March 2, 2022. In the video, Cara and Michael discuss how the Russians have been targeting civilian sites, including maternity hospitals, in its scorched-earth war on Ukraine. They examine the make-do circumstances, the anxiety in the body language, and the exceptional function of the phone. They also focus on the close bond of the couple as it complements the spirit in Ukraine, and the power of their intimacy as men and women in the country are being forced by the war into different roles.

This episode (April 20, 2022) examines a photo taken by Sarah Silbiger and distributed by EPA-EFE/ Shutterstock. In it, we see Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky being introduced by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi before delivering a video address to members of Congress on March 16th, 2022. It was the first virtual address to that body by a foreign head of state.

In the video, Cara and Michael break down the effectiveness of Zelensky’s virtual addresses to the world’s governing bodies. Focusing on his skill and craft using the interactive space, theye discuss his physical gestures, the use of gripping video, and also his unique ability to appeal to legislators, heads-of-state, and the public at the same time.

Finally, this episode reads a photograph taken by Carol Guzy for ZUMA Press. It documents the massacre of Ukrainians in the town of Bucha on April 6, 2022, as investigators and volunteers carry out the grim work of burying the dead and assessing for war crimes. Over 320 bodies were recovered in the suburbs of Kyiv after towns such as Bucha and Irpin were liberated from invading Russian troops. The photo most prominently appeared in a New York Times Opinion article entitled “Photographing Hell” by the Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, David Hume Kennerly.

In the video, Cara and Michael discuss the liminal quality of the photo—the sense of the man existing in a state between life and death—and how it makes the photo distinct from so many other atrocity images. They also detail key factors that have made so many shocking and horrific photographs from the war in Ukraine so visible in mainstream news.

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