Born in Polyan’, Khmelnitsky region, raised in New Kahovka. After serving in the military he graduated the State University of Trade and Nutrition in Kharkov.
During his gig as a chef, he started taking interest in photography and soon became professionally involved in it.
Partnered with photo agencies PHL (Ukraine), European Pressphoto Agency (Germany), Focus Picture (Russia), Metaphor Images (Australia), Ask Images (France). As of 2010 he works independently.
After researching his photography, I realized that his work was a real immersion in Ukrain. Maxim proposes a unique and human vision of his own country. I interviewed him last week: he told me about war photography, gonzo-journalism and emotions.
About your vocation
From chef’s hat to camera
My Mom was an avid photographer; she taught me film developing but at the time it just didn’t stick with me. When I turned twelve one of my friend’s dad taught me the basic technical rules of photography.
But then I went to serve in the navy and moved to Kharkov where I got a job as a chef. I was spending all my time either in a kitchen or at home… You know, I really needed a hobby! Photoshop stirred my curiosity so I bought a thick manual and started retouching some of my mom’s old pictures.
In 2006 I got a camera, Nikon D70, and earned my first few bucks photographing.
I was working at night as a chef in a restaurant, and as a photojournalist in the afternoon, for free, just for the experience. But after half a year I resigned and became a full time photojournalist for a daily newspaper!
In 2011, I received Noor-Nikon Masterclass in Documentary Photography in Bucharest.
About your vision of photography
“Photography is my philosophy of life”
Through photography I discover not only the world around me, but also my own. Photography isn’t just my job or a hobby. It’s a philosophy of life, it fills me of energy every day.
Every story I shoot is an analysis of the event, time period. I’m not interested in stereotypes but I need to understand the situation. I am a fan of gonzo journalism and I always want to immerse myself in the subject I’m shooting.
For example, I was on Maidan Square during the wave of demonstrations. Actually, I was on the frontline with the protestors during the clashes with the riot police. It was a really powerful experience, I felt totally involved in it. As a photojournalist, I took pictures from both sides of the barricades: one day I was on the frontline with protestors and the day after I was on the police side. It was really important to me to truly understand the conflict in order to be able to show it to my public.
Photography isn’t just my job or a hobby. It’s a philosophy of life, it fills me of energy every day.
About what you want to express
“Photography is a container to store emotions and feelings”
I try to put my emotions into my photographs. I firmly believe that a photo is not just a technical image. It also contains my own feelings. I don’t think that photography is needed to be explained, everyone can interpret them as he wants.Photography is a visual language.
For me, photography is a container where you store your emotions. You have to share the emotions and feelings of your subjects in order to get closer to what is happening.
If you keep thinking that your deadline is coming up in 20 minutes and that you need to take a photograph to publish it into to an Associated Press report, then you will never capture feelings.
About war photography
“Today war photography is just propaganda”
Today, war photography is just propaganda. Many war photographers take pictures on the field just for money. They don’t care about what is at stake and don’t think about the people suffering…
But well, photographers can’t change anything.
“As for me, I did not film the war thinking that it may change something. Although it is about my own country’s history, I can just take pictures to inform people about the war.”
About your relations with editors of different media
“At the beginning, none of foreign editions were interested in the Ukrainian side”
After shootings I send a first selection to editors but they have the last word: they decide what photo better fits for their magazine. I had no war experience before Maidan and East Ukraine (and actually I hope it will be my first and last time) but from my own experience, when the conflict started, any foreign editions was interested in the Ukrainian side. They all wanted to publish photos from pro-Russian side… Why? Well, maybe because there were more blood and dead bodies on the pictures…
“When the conflict started, editors all wanted photographs of the pro-Russian side probably because there were more blood and dead bodies on them…”
© Maxim Dondyuk, serie EuroMaidan: culture of confrontation