This image was captured nearly three decades after the fall of the USSR, and yet the caption reads: “Waiting for a miracle”. The photo is less brooding than the Caspar David Friedrich painting which it echoes, yet it projects the same uncertainty. Much like its central, immobile figure, the moment captured here seems to stretch for an eternity; the sky and water melt into one grey mass, and we can barely make out the horizon. However, the Kiev Sea, where this image was shot, is not a “sea” at all, but a reservoir just 30 minutes from the city centre, running all the way from Ukraine’s capital to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.
Photographer Pavel Borshchenko was born in eastern Ukraine, in the city of Sumy. “Small cities are resistant to new changes,” he says about growing up during the collapse of the Soviet Union. “So in many ways we felt stuck in time. There were no more pioneers, but there were pioneer camps; there was no Lenin at school, but he was still on our squares; there were no cosmonauts in the news but they still existed on badges and stamps.”
For Borshchenko, the boundless, frozen landscape stands for a kind of non-place — or rather, a promised utopia which doesn’t exist. Real life is subject to its own restrictions and borders. Of his work more broadly, the photographer says that he is interested not only in collective memory, but also our “post-truth” present. The last few years have taught us to be attentive, lest we, like Borshchenko’s priest, lose sight of whether we are looking into the future or the past.