Svitlana’s voice echoed through the classroom, lyrical, determined, and warm enough to shoulder aside the cold that crept from the baseboards. Her grandson slept next to her, unaware of Lviv outside, a city alert and on edge, shapeshifting through curtains of rain. Svitlana, 77, wrote the following poem days earlier, anger and hope bleeding through blue ink as she sat on an air bed, sinking ever closer to the checkered laminate floor. 

"One day I want to wake up and see peace and silence all around. 

And Putin drowned in the sick pile of his own shit. 

And that he didn’t survive to see a courtroom. 

And instead he died like Hitler in his bunker. 

And Ukraine has fought it all. 

And everything that was before is just a dream now." 

Svitlana and her family had been living in a school-turned-shelter since March 7 after an explosion blew out the windows of their Kharkiv home seconds after they gathered in a hallway for protection. Immediately, they grabbed what they could and fled. 

War Notes is a project of memories in the making, co-created with Ukrainian citizens during wartime. Over six weeks, I traveled across Ukraine collecting more than 50 portraits and interviews, making a single polaroid (actually Fuji FP-100c) per participant. Collaborators were then asked to write their memories, thoughts, and emotions on a separate unexposed blank polaroid.  

This project breaks from the mold of photojournalism, the constraints of urgent deadlines, and the sensationalism often seen in war images. Instead it focuses on the individuals, raw with recent experiences, as co-creators, offering them time and an opportunity to express themselves. Additionally, I collected audio and digital images to help visualize the psychological impacts of what participants have witnessed and the memories seared into their minds, and in this way, document the collective and compounding trauma.

On June 23, 2022 this work was exhibited at Superchief Gallery in NYC and an NFT collection was launched via Vault by CNN, with profits directly diverted to fund humanitarian aid for Ukrainians. 

To see sample multimedia work and NFTs from this project please click here.

(to view translations and captions: please click an image below to enter the slideshow, then click the three dots at the bottom left of the image)

War Notes

Cheney Orr © All rights reserved.
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