Anastasia Taylor-Lind is a Documentary Photographer, Journalist, and Artist whose work has focused on issues surrounding women, conflict and population around the globe. She is currently based in London and her unique style of photography has brought her commissions from such clients as The Sunday Times Magazine, GEO Germany, and The New Statesman as well as others and regularly contributes to National Geographic Magazine. Taylor-Lind graduated from the esteemed Documentary Photography course at the University of Wales, Newport (now University of South Wales) and later achieved an MA in Photojournalism from the London College of Communication. She is a TED Talk fellow, a member of VII Photo Agency and is currently undertaking a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University.
Anastasia Taylor-Lind has done much for women in photography and indeed, highlighting the importance that women from across the world behold in every society. She has become a pioneer in her own right and she continues to produce work that pushes the boundaries of documentary photography and photojournalism. In 2004, her graduating project saw her photographing the Peshmerga Force for Women, a small band of Kurdish fighters in Iraq. Female guerrillas fought to maintain the Kurdish autonomous zone since 1992 and The Peshmerga Force, formed in 1996 took charge of the operation and recruited others who shared a hatred for Saddam Husseine’s regime and who sought revenge after their male partners were taken and tortured in the prison camp in Sulaimaniyah. Taylor-Lind’s photographs of these Kurdish fighters are quietly beautiful and provide the viewer a hard-hitting poignancy and sensibility.
Taylor-Lind has also explored the Supermodels of Siberia, photographing young girls and women in their quest of trying to establish their dream of becoming the next new face of a multimillion dollar brand. Some of the most beautiful women originate from Siberia and some have attended modelling schools that accept girls as young as five years of age. Here they learn how to pose, diet, walk, and apply make-up. International scouts come to Siberia every year to find the next international look and in the process quashing the dreams of so many young girls who fail to get picked. This rejection will inevitably have a knock on effect of the girls’ body-image.
Today, the Cossack people who, originated in Crimea and Southern Russia and the Ukraine around the 15th century, are rediscovering their culture and heritage. The Cossack people are renowned for their skills with horses, fearless warriors, and their immense swordsmanship in their quest to defend Russia’s Southern borders and the Orthodox Church. During the height of Communism in the USSR, the Cossack people were aggressively repressed for 74 years but since its fall in 1991, the Cossack ways have steadily begun to return. With support from the Russian Government, the Cossacks have been passing their skills on to the younger generations via Cadet Schools operating in the South. Here, normal academic lessons are learnt alongside the learning of the Cossack skills and traditions including martial arts, folk dance and Shashka performance, survival skills necessary for soldiers and parachuting. Before their oppression by the USSR, the Cossack men would lead their fight for survival and the defence of Russian borders, but today, women and girls are now playing an unprecedented role in the revival and the leadership of their Cossack heritage. Anastasia Taylor-Lind’s portraits of these girls show the very beginnings of where their Cossack journey will lead them. We are shown the quieter moments within the rigorous development of these girls. These portraits convey a tenderness and vulnerability as these girls discover themselves as future leaders of the Cossack heritage and as young women who, are about to venture beyond into the horizon.
In 2014, Anastasia Taylor-Lind released her first book “Maidan – Portraits from the Black Square” (published by GOST books). This book is a collection of portraits taken of the men and women on the front line during the violent protests in the Ukraine. The protests began on 21st November 2013 with the purpose for the greater inclusion and integration of the Ukraine with the European Union. The popularity of protests gained momentum exponentially and the focus shifted quickly to an anti-government uprising. On 1st February 2014, Taylor-Lind touched down in Kiev where the protestors had been gathered for 3 months in Maidan Nezalezhnosti. They had been protesting daily to voice their condemnation of the staunchly pro-Russian stance of their president, Viktor Yanukovych. Tensions between the protestors and the police were escalating quickly and eventually led to violent clashes primarily due to the brutal reactions from the Ukrainian Police and Special Police. Newly formed anti-protest laws were firmly being put into place when abductions of protestors had begun to occur by the police. The escalation of violence had mounted to such a devastating degree that Yanukovych fled the Ukraine to the safety of Russia on 21st February 2014 and with it, the collapse of the Ukrainian Government. When Yanukovych fled to Russia more than 120 protestors were confirmed dead and many more remained missing.
“Maidan – Portraits from the Black Square” present us with portraits of men dressed in homemade armour and makeshift weapons behind a black background. The decision to use black as the background was chosen based on the colour of the square. The fires that ravaged the square billowed black smoke and left black soot in its wake. Taylor-Lind has said she “was also drawn to the colour black as it is the colour of grief and of mourning” in the interview given by Gordon MacDonald featured in her book. With the background in place, her subjects are removed from the devastation of their environment and we are presented with the honest fragility of the situation. The desperation is clear for these revolutionaries. The clothes that are worn have become part of their identity and a clear visual representation of who they are. The protests began as a student led protest but as soon as the escalation of violence began it became more organised. Men would predominantly lead the fighting on the front line in Hrushevskoho Street and women would be positioned deep behind the lines constructing weapons, transporting broken paving stones and making Molotov Cocktails for those at the front. Ordinary objects such as table legs and metal poles were fashioned into makeshift weapons and thick jackets and gardening gloves used to protect their body and hands. The inspiration for focusing on the clothes of her subjects was born from a previous assignment working alongside journalists in Libya. The journalists would dress as natives to fit in within their environment, something Taylor-Lind and her team had done when they arrived in Kiev. There were many photographers and photojournalists in Maidan documenting the pain and anguish that was happening all around the square, often making similar decisions photographically. Taylor-Lind questioned her individual contribution to the documenting of the Ukrainian uprising and began taking portraits of her subject.
“I felt that I wanted to really draw attention to the way people were choosing to represent themself. Slowly, as I started the portraits, I realised I did have something to say. I did have contribution to make. I was keeping myself focused on the idea that these pictures were part of a bigger story, and part of the collective historical record of Maidan.” – Anastasia Taylor-Lind in conversation with Gordon MacDonald from GOST.
On 20th February during the height of the violence, snipers had begun firing on to protestors and civilians in Maidan. Bodies began to line the streets and blood began to fill the square as the bullets from the snipers pierced the vests and helmets that had been handmade or taken from the police. There were over 77 people shot on that Thursday, mostly ordinary people from all walks of life. It became known as Bloody Thursday. On the 23rd February, when Yanukovych had fled the Ukraine and the violence had stopped, the protestors were joined by tens of thousands people many of which were women filling the square to come together to mourn collectively. They brought flowers to mark respect to those who had fallen. The women were dressed in bright colours which starkly contrasted the blackness of Maidan and the flowers they brought become a symbol of not only respect but of life where only violence and death had dominated for so long. The portraits of women are different to the portraits of men. The portraits of men are about masculinity and pride and fighting for their country. The portraits of women are about mourning and loss. The portraits of these women emanate beauty and their clothes are crisp and impeccable which contrasts the worn torn, bleak coloured clothes of the men. These women are not only there to mourn and mark a respect of the dead but with them they bring life, love and hope. They reveal subtlety a hope not just for a new life but also for a new Ukraine.
Anastasia Taylor-Lind has placed these two sets together in the form of a book and the juxtapositions of these portraits create a deeper, more meaningful poignancy and understanding of what happened during the events of the Ukrainian Revolution. Together, the two sets of portraits portray a greater narrative about who they are as individuals and gender roles of the Ukraine as well as how men and women respond to each other in times of conflict and death.
Anastasia Taylor-Lind frequently produces work that is current, relevant and important. Her work continues to evolve and pushes the nature of documentary photography to its boundaries whilst persistently upholding quality. She shows us through her lens her viewpoint of insight and intrigue in communities and cultures around the world not only as an informed, talented contemporary photographer but as a talented contemporary female photographer. This inevitably lends an alternative perspective which gives as much importance to the work of documentary as do the nature and subjects of her stories.
All photographs copyright to Anastasia Taylor-Lind
Buy a copy of Maidan – Portraits from the Black Square from GOST website.
Words by Christian Fowler