Oleksandr Glyadelov, War (Vol 5-6) and War (Vol 7-8)

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2023 by 89books (here and here).

War (Vol 5-6): 2 stapled softcover booklets with a bellyband, each 23×34 cm, 40 and 44 pages respectively, 56 black-and-white reproductions, each with an introductory text by Kateryna Filyuk. (Cover and spread shots below.)

War (Vol 7-8): 2 stapled softcover booklets with a bellyband, each 23×34 cm, 40 and 44 pages respectively, 50 black-and-white reproductions, each with an introductory text by the artist. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in early 2022, the war there has descended into a grinding set of ebbs and flows, particularly in the Eastern part of the country, where regions and territories continue to be actively contested and Ukrainian forces are slowly pushing back the front lines of the incursion. As the liberation of towns and villages has been occurring, the Ukrainian photojournalist Oleksandr Glyadelov has been following the Ukrainian army, often becoming one of the first civilians to reenter these once occupied areas. His sensitive photographs document a grim parade of widespread destruction to be sure, but even amid the dark rubble, the grey skies, and the echoing emptiness, he has also found glimmers of resilience, largely in those that are returning to assess the damage and begin the rebuilding process.

Throughout 2022 and 2023, Glyadelov has been gathering his images into zines, each providing a short review of the situation in a particular region or during a specific time period of his travels. His tally has now reached eight of these zines (the most recent four are considered here), and as the conflict continues, it seems likely that there will be more volumes to come. Glyadelov’s zines are extremely well matched to their content; the idea that these war zone pictures might take shape as a weighty hardcover survey would misplay their very important feeling of on-the-ground immediacy. Instead, the zines feel fresh and engaged, like “news from the front”, their decently large size allowing Glyadelov’s rich black-and-white photographs the necessary room to deliver their enveloping message, but with the other production details and textures muted, staying simple and essentially unadorned.

In many ways, we have been trained by newspapers and other news outlets to expect war photography (at least that of wars fought on the ground) to feature soldiers, gunfire, tanks, bloody injuries, and the like, and plenty of talented embedded photojournalists are risking their lives provide us with that kind of imagery. Glyadelov’s approach is somewhat different – there are no battles, fires, explosions, or real fighting taking place in his pictures, and the very few soldiers that do appear seem to be resting or wandering home after the conflict has dissipated. His photographs exude a patient and methodical kind of observation, the kind done over hours and days on foot, walking through the mud and talking with whoever he might encounter in these bombed out villages and towns. He is an attentive witness to what has been left behind by this ongoing war, and his images document those consequences with compassion, insight, and aesthetic precision. 

As Glyadelov visits various liberated settlements, he inevitably finds repeated visual motifs: bombed and charred apartment blocks, caved in houses, broken roads and bridges, piles of rubble and debris, and the abandoned detritus of war. These ruins echo with deep-seated traumas, sometimes visible, sometimes not, and Glyadelov treats them with respect, even when the jumbled details and implied atrocities and tragedies coalesce into a kind of photographic beauty. Scattered debris decorates the dark streets, tires and telephone poles twist into interlocked sculpture, and crushed, bullet-ridden cars sit in textural silence, with Glyadelov recording each scene as both citizen and artist. In some towns, a sense of stubborn resolve seems to underlie the action of reinhabiting these destroyed places, and the photographer closely watches the processes of assessing damage, sifting and salvaging, digging through dusty rubble piles, and quickly stepping back to avoid collapsing structures. Although water-filled bomb craters and stunted snapped trees now populate these lands, he also finds hope, notwithstanding the fluttering flags and empty graves waiting at the crowded cemetery. 

Many of Glyadelov’s most striking photographs involve destroyed bridges. From afar, their absence across a river is plainly visible, like a missing tooth; up close, the damage is much more visceral, typically in the form of upturned roadways, abandoned pilings, and severely angled crushed steel and rebar. Symbolically, the breakdown of functioning society is embodied in these fractured connection points, while aesthetically, Glyadelov has plenty to play with. One pleasingly confusing image captures a group of people in a small rowboat as seen through a hole in a bridge road, their movement cross the water seemingly integrated with the netting of rebar and crumpled concrete above them. 

When Glyadelov moves inside, the tonalities of his photographs are reordered, the interiors shrouded in darkness looking out to the muddy grey light of the day. The only image in any of these zines with actual functioning electric light is found in a makeshift hospital, with the rest of the scenes filled with the echoing shadows of fallen bookshelves, mattresses on the floor, broken windows with billowing curtains, rain-soaked floors (providing an unexpected element of reflection) and even a gloomy baby carriage. The emptiness of these moments is palpable, and Glyadelov lingers long enough for the scale of the vacancy and displacement to settle in. This dark mood then shifts to carcasses of various kinds – cars (some bearing the prominent Z of Russian support), tanks and other war machines, animals, rockets and other ordinance, and lots of illegible signage, its ability to communicate now decayed beyond easy recognition. Another bleak picture documents the exhumation of bodies, where evidence of suffering at the hands of the occupiers grows into a simmering disgust. 

The seventh volume in the zine series tracks Glyadelov as he and a friend drove along the entire former front line in the liberated territories of Mykolaiv and Kherson; as we might expect, nearly all of the photographs are somewhat wider vistas that take in the ravaged land with more breadth. The cover shot captures a misty pockmarked landscape, punctuated by a single unexploded rocket stuck in the ground, and the journey then continues through countless unnamed villages where the trees have been reduced to dark sticks and the roads have been scraped into think mud. Here and there a lone walking figure, a person on a bicycle, or perhaps a stray dog is visible, but mostly there are just more puddles, abandoned trucks and tanks, and collapsed houses. One quietly patriotic image spots a Ukrainian flag hoisted high on dark tree trunk, its optimism atop such a grim view offering a glimpse of national tenacity, but then we return to more images of scuttled bridges, overgrown railroad tracks, and apocalyptic destruction and our sense of the future becomes dragged down by more desolate practicalities.

As Glyadelov moves on, the weight of these realities seeps into his photographs more and more. The cover of his eighth zine features a smiling children’s playstructure and slide flanked by collapsed building, and this mood continues with images filled with skull-and-crossbones signs warning against the dangers of mines, booby traps, unexploded artillery and tank shells, and elements of cluster munitions. Spindly trees and non-functioning electrical towers are seen similarly, like marching silhouettes against the grey sky, and ultimately winter comes again, with a dusting of snow frosting the tanks, barriers, and piles of supplies, with one ruddy pair of birds taking shelter from the cold atop some tires underneath a sheet of corrugated tin. 

Spending time with these four zines, what comes through most strongly is the harrowing elegance of Glyadelov’s photographic vision. Time and again, he walks an aesthetic knife edge, documenting scarred lands and widespread desolation across Ukraine, but still finding moments of resonant humanity or understated compositional order within that wreckage. As compelling visual storytelling, they bring us face-to-face with the plodding aftermath of contemporary war, where the healing of wounds, to both land and community, stretches far beyond the beating back of the invaders.

Collector’s POV: Oleksandr Glyadelov does not appear to have consistent gallery representation at this time. As a result, interested collectors should likely follow up directly with the book publisher (linked in the sidebar.)

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