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Mykolaiv School of Photography MYPH: from conceptual to documentary shots

Mykolaiv School of Photography MYPH. Mykolaiv, spring 2019. Photo by Valerii Veduta

MYPH, a well-known school of conceptual and art photography in the South of Ukraine, was founded by Serhiy Melnychenko in his hometown of Mykolaiv. The school aims to popularize and understand contemporary conceptual and artistic photography among artists. During Russia's full-scale invasion of our country, Mykolaiv photographers took an active volunteer position. Some joined the ranks of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, and some switched from artistic photography to documentary photography to record the consequences of the occupiers' actions. We talk to MYPH founder Serhii Melnychenko about training young photographers, their projects, his projects, and the impact of the war on photography in Mykolaiv, a city that has been granted Hero status.

Promote the development of young talent

"MYPH is Mykolaiv Young Photography. The abbreviation is consonant with the Ukrainian word "myth". This is how the name took root organically. Our photographers often work with mythological themes," Serhii Melnychenko, the founder of the school, begins his introduction to the school. It all started in 2018 with photography courses. Serhii created a pilot project to see how young authors in Mykolaiv would react. "I wanted to find out if there was interest in conceptual contemporary photography. There were a lot of commercial photographers in the city at the time, but not many conceptual ones," he recalls.

Since then, through theory and practice, online and offline, and even during a full-scale invasion, Serhii, along with guest lecturers, has been sharing his artistic and commercial experience with students.

The authors work in various fields: "We have photojournalists, documentary filmmakers, portraitists, etc. However, the main direction is artistic. During this time, we have formed a powerful community that promotes young authors and helps them to expand the range of their photographic knowledge and practices, as well as to find exhibitions, festivals and fairs," Serhiy continues.

The school's goal is to unite the community of photographers and promote the development of young talent. One of the ways they do this is through grant programs. "We're in the process of getting a grant to support our community, which means we're giving out five subgrants to create projects in the southern region, tell the stories of its residents, etc."

Exhibition "Visual History of Mykolaiv". Mykolaiv, October 13 - November 30, 2023, 8 PIECE

Reflections of war

70% of the projects created by Mykolaiv-based artists are about reflections on the war. Serhii believes that true artists cannot be abstracted from the moments and events that are happening around them.

"These are self-portraits and storytelling - all of them are closely related to the theme of war. Some of the authors stayed in Mykolaiv. For example, our student Maria Gorshkova. She worked as a photojournalist in the media and documented a lot of things."

From October to November 2023, the team implemented the Visual History of Mykolaiv project. The city had been on the front line for nine months, suffering from shelling and narrowly escaping occupation. Using artistic photography and documentary photography, 20 artists from the school conveyed the mood of the city over the past two years.

Serhiy says that this exhibition captures the impact of the war on Mykolaiv and the moral and psychological state of the local population: "The goal is, in particular, to help restore the morale of the local community, as well as to emphasize the unsurpassed strength and ingenuity of Mykolaiv residents, which led to the awarding of the title of 'Hero City' to Mykolaiv."

"Vova with a projection of a neighboring bombed-out house next to his own in Kyiv." Photo by Serhiy Melnychenko from the series Tattoos of War. Mykolaiv, summer 2023

«Tattoos of war»

In addition to exhibition projects for his students, Serhii continues to realize his own ideas. "I don't do documentary photography," he says, "but I have a photo series called Tattoos of War. It's more of a conceptual project, but with elements of documentary photography." He began to realize this idea in April 2023, shooting with a medium-format film camera. Serhii gives his characters the opportunity to choose the shot that will be directed at them with the help of a projector.

"I ask my characters to choose the moment that comes to mind first. We exhibit this shot using a projector. One of the latest works is about IDPs from Mykolaiv who live in Ivano-Frankivsk. The image projected on them is the destroyed Ingul Hotel in Mykolaiv. It was one of the first big hits in our city. This is what they remember."

"Viacheslav, Maria, Artem, and Maya with a project of the bombed Ingul Hotel in Mykolaiv." Photo by Serhiy Melnychenko as part of the Tattoo of War project. Ivano-Frankivsk, 2024

Serhii has already started working on a new documentary project, "Under the Dnipro," which will include human stories from Mykolaiv, Zaporizhzhia, Cherkasy, Dnipro, and their regions, as well as a photo book and video works: "This project will consist of at least 50% documentary content. The idea will be realized with a grant from the Alexander Tutsek-Stiftung in Munich as part of the Alexander Tutsek Photography Grant program.

War is an opportunity  

Serhii is convinced that the level of photography development in Ukraine is high, but it could be even better: "We continue to work actively and participate in exhibitions and festivals to popularize Ukrainian photography at home and to present it to an international audience."

He admits that he keeps a close eye on young authors who managed to discover themselves during the war.

"Their works are authentic, they are different. The authors have been inspired. Students such as Maria Gorshkova and Veronika Mol have shown their interesting vision. Among them is our own Oleksii Charei, who joined the ranks of the Armed Forces and documents the war by directly participating in it," says Serhii.

The exhibition "Visual History of Mykolaiv". Mykolaiv, October 13 - November 30, 2023 * 8 PIECE

How to become a photographer?

Anyone who wants to become a photographer or those who just want to get to know the art of photography can find all the necessary information on the MYPH website. The school is constantly working on expanding the curriculum by attracting new lecturers. 

"In the future, we are considering launching a course in documentary photography, involving the best Ukrainian photographers who document the war," Serhiy shares his plans.

Currently, the works of the authors of the Mykolaiv School of Photography MYPH can be seen at exhibitions in Lviv (location: Powder Tower, exposition "Subconscious") and in Stockholm (location: Ukrainian Cultural Center, exposition "One Day").


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