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Photos as Journey’s End

February 18, 2011 Articles, General, Inspiration, Projects

I was spending this lovely afternoon at my computer sizing dozens and dozens of photos for what will be the “what was I thinking” exhibition schedule coming up in April and I had to step away, take a breather, let some very strong emotions come through from not only seeing these images again, but knowing that this journey was coming to an end.

Many feel the ultimate goal of a photo is to tell a story. How much of that story your viewer will interpret or understand is unknown. As a photographer, you have your personal emotional and physical connection with your piece and the viewer will, and should, create their own.

So why are these images, shot 2 years ago in Ukraine and finally getting ready to be exhibited, creating such issues for me? They’re the conclusion of a long journey begun over 70 years ago. They’re the finality of multi-generational dream, one which the originator will not be present to witness.

These photos didn’t come about from a whim to go to Chornobyl. All my life, all I ever heard from my grandfather was “you should visit Ukraine, it’s where your family is from.”

Both my grandparents came from large country families but when the war hit, they were taken from their homes at just 14 to work in the camps. Somehow, they met in the camps and fell in love. After the war ended, they married and came to Montreal – the only ones in their families to come to Canada.

“You should visit Ukraine, it’s where your family is from.”

With illiteracy and poverty rampant in the immigrant communities at that time, my grandfather still ran his own corner supermarket and eventually became a master tailor, teaching my grandmother to sew as well. They both worked at Dylex, making clothes for Fairweather, Tip Top Tailors and the like until well after I came along.

“You should visit Ukraine, it’s where your family is from.”

My grandfather only went back to Ukraine once – in the 90s. By then he was in his late 70s but his old village treated him like a king. He loved it there, out in the country – my grandmother hated every minute and never wanted to set foot in Ukraine ever again.

“You should visit Ukraine, it’s where your family is from.”

I finally had the chance to go to Ukraine – as a UE photographer at the time I was going to get the chance to photography Chornobyl and Pripyat (the ghost city) – sort of a mecca to urban explorers. I’d never seen my grandfather happier in my entire life. I was going to see his home, his country, his Ukraine. After Chornobyl, I toured around the country and visited some amazing cities – Lviv, Kyiv, and Odessa. I’d go back in a heartbeat as there’s just so much to see.

I’m finally going to get to exhibit my photos of this amazing journey – and it was truly unbelievable. On April 30th, I’ll be doing an artist’s talk at the KUMF Gallery in High Park for the Children of Chornobyl Canadian Fund and will be sharing the stage with my father, a PhD and expert in the Ukrainian Famine of 1933 (the Holodomor). Two generations will stand together and speak of their experiences on this trip. I wish my grandfather could experience this with me and complete the missing piece of this journey started so long ago.

I dedicate my exhibit Chernobyl: 25 Years Later at the KUMF Gallery in memory of my grandfather who inspired me (pushed me, really) to go and “see where my family is from”. Stefan Sklarczuk 1921-2010

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