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How Mykolaiv-based photographer Serhii Melnychenko is implementing a €50,000 grant project called "Under the Dnipro"


The Alexander Tutsek-Stiftung Foundation from Munich, which supports contemporary art and natural sciences, has awarded a scholarship of 50 thousand euros to Mykolaiv photographer, founder of the MYPH school of conceptual and art photography, UAPF member Serhiy Melnychenko for the implementation of the photo project "Under the Dnipro" in November 2023. Under the terms of the program, the photographer is obliged to prepare photographs for the upcoming exhibition, as well as shoot a documentary and publish a photo book. We talk to Serhii about how he managed to get such a grant, how the project is going, and what he has already created.


About the beginning of cooperation


- In 2022, at the beginning of the full-scale war, around March or April, I was contacted by the curator of the Alexander Tutsek-Stiftung. At that time, they bought 16 works from me. Then in March 2023, the foundation opened an exhibition featuring these photos. I went to Munich and later gave a lecture there. I presented them with several photographs from my project Tattoos of War. And they bought 9 more large paintings to support my project. At the same time, the foundation was working on launching a grant program. They told me that they would like the first wave of three grants to include photographers with whom they already collaborate. So I started preparing an application.


Serhiy Melnychenko in Munich at the exhibition with the curators of the Alexander Tutsek-Stiftung


About the application


- The theme of the program was Stories On Humanity. I had to submit my idea in three pages in PDF format. Of course, I would like to implement a project to showcase Ukraine and Ukrainians. I wrote down the idea, my vision of the topic, and explained why this project was important, what it would mean to me and my characters. To present the visual component, I submitted references to photographs, as well as to exhibition realizations and photo books. In addition to the photo project, I wrote that I really want the final product to be a photo book with these stories and photos, as well as a documentary. That is, we are taking both photographs and filming video material at the same time.


About the project "Under the Dnipro"


- My project is called Along the Dnipro. I chose the Dnipro River as the main artery of the country symbolically. I want to document the stories of people who live from Mykolaiv and Kherson region and further up the Dnipro: Zaporizhzhia, Dnipro (city - ed.), Cherkasy, and Kyiv. I want to tell the stories of the heroes who live in these cities and towns and how Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine has affected their lives. The main characters of the project include the military, rescuers, volunteers, and ordinary people. This is a very diverse pool of people.


About the photo exhibition in 2026


- I received a scholarship for a year, but every three months I make reports on my work. At first, I was preparing for the project for 3 months: calculating logistics, looking for heroes, buying equipment. I started filming in March. The main thing for grantors is photos, their quality and quantity. A movie and a photo book are another matter. The exhibition "Under the Dnipro" is already planned for 2026 in Munich. I really hope that it will be earlier. However, until then, I cannot show the photographic material I am working on anywhere. The photos should be exclusively presented for the first time at the exhibition.


Backstage of the work on the project "Under the Dnipro". Video by Sergiy Melnychenko


About the basis of the project


- We have already documented a lot of material and still have a lot of work to do. Mykolaiv, Kherson, Odesa - we've already shot there. Currently, most of the photos are documentary. I use a medium format film camera, a digital camera and a Polaroid. But I have some works where I plan to implement some artistic solutions. Perhaps I will use the same technique as in the Tattoos of War project, or perhaps I won't, precisely to avoid duplicating myself. The project is based on documentary.


About volunteering


- Receiving such a grant is both a great motivation and an honor for me. Of course, I'm glad to be able to implement a large-scale long-term project about my home country and thus draw attention to the Russian-Ukrainian war. While working on the project, we meet a lot of cool and interesting people with powerful stories, and at the same time, we can still help them. I mean, if we meet with volunteers, interview them, we also donate and distribute the funds. For example, for an animal shelter located on the border of Mykolaiv and Kherson regions, we filmed a video and then raised funds for these animals. In other words, in addition to documenting, we can help our heroes. This is very important to me. I see the point in it. Also last year, after the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant was blown up, we raised funds to rebuild houses in Snihurivka. I would really like to go there in a year and shoot some material about them, talk to the locals, find out how they live a year after such a disaster, what is going on in their lives. To reflect internally, not only from a professional point of view, but also from a human point of view.


On advice


- I did not receive this grant through the standard Open Call. This is what I always advise my students to do: work and communicate with colleagues, try to be among gallery curators. This opportunity came to me through exhibitions and sales of my works, through ordinary human communication. When someone sees your professionalism and responsibility with their own eyes, they are happy to meet you. It doesn't matter what kind of awards, contests, grants, scholarships or residencies, I think you just need to be as active as possible and try everything.


 

Serhiy Melnychenko  is aphotographer, teacher, and founder of  the MYPH school of conceptual and art photography . He started taking photographs in 2009. Since then, he has participated in about 200 solo and group exhibitions, fairs and festivals around the world. Organizer and curator of more than 40 projects and exhibitions with works by MYPH students around the world over the past 5 years. Winner of national and international competitions and awards, including "Leica Oskar Barnack Award Newcomer" in 2017 (Berlin), "Photographer of the Year" 2012, 2013 and 2016 (Kyiv, Ukraine), "Golden Camera" in 2012 (Kyiv, Ukraine). Finalist of "Krakow Photomonth", "Pinchuk Art Center Prize", "Off_Festival Bratislava 2014", "DEBUTS 2018", "Kolga Tbilisi Photo Award", "Batumi Photodays", etc.


Participant of Paris Photo, Volta Art Fair, Photo L.A., Photo Basel, Unseen fair. Nominated for the Foam Paul Huf Award in 2020 and 2023. Selected to participate in the European platform for photographers "FUTURES" in 2022. Serhii's photographs are kept in private and public collections in the USA, Hong Kong, Ukraine, Poland, France, Germany, Belgium, Lithuania, Czech Republic, Japan, the Netherlands, Italy, Switzerland, Norway, etc. In 2022 and 2023, two series, and a total of 25 works by Serhii were included in the permanent collection of the Alexander Tutsek-Stiftung. In 2023, he received a one-year scholarship (grant) from the Alexander Tutsek-Stiftung Foundation to create his own photography project.

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