War Notes is a project of memories in the making, co-created with Ukrainian citizens during wartime. Over six weeks in the Spring of 2022 I traveled through Lviv, Odesa, Kyiv, and east to Zaporizhzhia and Kharkiv, collecting a total of 53 portraits and interviews. Per participant, a single Fuji FP-100c polaroid was made. I then asked each participant to write their memories and emotions on a separate unexposed blank polaroid and conducted an in-depth interview. 

The polaroid portraits and written stories were collected in a single photo album that I carried with me as I traveled the country. This album has been recreated as a limited-edition artist book published by Fugitive Materials and has been collected by leading institutions including the Museum of Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Clark Art Institute, Bard College, Brown University, Harvard University, Monash University, Stanford University, Swarthmore College, Syracuse University, Yale University and University of Oxford. Proceeds from the book benefit 24.02 Fund, supporting Ukrainian journalists in the line of duty. 

A selection from War Notes received the 2023 FotoEvidence Book Award. The forthcoming book presents the work of multiple photographers dedicated to the impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and war crimes committed on Ukrainian soil. 

Additionally, I collected audio from the interviews and ambient sounds which were combined with each diptych to make 53 short videos. These videos were made into an NFT collection launched via Vault by CNN, with profits diverted to humanitarian aid. 

War Notes was exhibited at Superchief Gallery in NYC. 

Please scroll below to see a selection from War Notes and video recap from the exhibition.

“On the 24th of February at 5 a.m., the war started. On the 15th of March, my house was destroyed. The 23rd of March was the last time that I saw my daughter and my grandchildren. Chulnika, Elena, Yaroslav, and Nikita. Dear Lena, I have tried to call you, but you’re out of range. I will make my way to western Ukraine.” 

Nadezhda, 63, was cooking dinner for her grandsons, ages 6 and 10, who were sheltered in the basement when projectiles struck her Mariupol home. The blasts blew off her door and collapsed parts of her roof. Stunned by the fire and smoke she immediately sank to the kitchen floor. Once she gathered herself and checked on the boys she returned to the task at hand and prepared the meal amidst the rubble. On March 23rd, her daughter, who had been out of the city when the war began, returned to Mariupol to evacuate her family. But because of ill health, Nadezhda couldn’t run to catch the bus, so she stayed behind; only her daughter and two grandsons escaped. However, she managed to evacuate six days later with a neighbor. She traveled for two days through multiple checkpoints before reaching Zaporizhzhia, about 170 miles away. Since, she has repeatedly tried to contact her daughter, son-in-law, and grandsons by phone, but no one answers, which has left her fearful about their fate. The memory that haunts her is the last sight of her daughter disappearing around the corner with her two grandsons. “I’ve lost everything,” she says. “Nobody needs me. I have nothing and no one.” 

“Hell. They bomb every day.”

Afonia, a retired toolmaker, sits in front of his building in the heavily bombarded Saltivka region of Kharkiv on the 60th day of the Russian invasion. Due to cataracts, he has been progressively losing his vision over the past two years. He groans often during the interview because of back pain caused by a fall he took when an explosion went off five yards from him. “I am old . . . my body doesn’t heal very well,” he says. His building has been hit three times and is without power or water. Humanitarian aid is not reaching him regularly; the last aid he received was four days ago: a can of tomatoes and a roll of toilet paper. “But,” he says, “I don’t want anything.” He adds, “Maybe I’ll just jump from my window on the 16th floor… To live here in this place, it is not a life. It is survival.” 

Cheney Orr © All rights reserved.
Using Format