Can war become an inspiration? How can something that cruel, chaotic and bloody trigger imagination and be turned into a work of art, a fleeting moment melted into a lasting shape of a photograph? Noah Brooks has been looking for an answer in the trenches of Shyrokyne, Ukraine.
Noah had been following news about the Revolution of Dignity and sniper attacks when the conflict with Russia broke out in late 2013. He could not but listen to the feverish beat of the heart of the war with bated breath. Though always interested in war films he had never really thought about documenting a conflict with a camera. But with Ukraine it was a calling, he knew he had to go, and all he wanted to do was to take pictures of those courageous people fighting for their freedom, their nation and their future.
In Ukraine Brooks was embedded with a few Ukrainian soldiers who would share with him hardships of life at the front line. Being in the trenches is always a great risk, no matter if you are a soldier, a nurse or a photographer. Noah says that looking through the lens of his camera helped him stay detached. He concentrated on what he knew best – his profession. But he was still at the very heart of the fiery, bloody storm. How did he manage to stay sane and go on with his professional duties? Brooks answers that he often feared he could panic or ‘freak out’, but he felt so comfortable with the soldiers he was embedded with that it never happened.
Even being a former certified lifeguard, Noah cannot say that he was prepared for becoming a part of a real burning conflict. Knowing some basics is not enough. So now he wants to learn more about things that are important in combat and can save lives. He treats his mission with responsibility and seriousness that do credit to his expertise as a photographer and his moral caliber as a human being. He has done a lot of research to try and understand both sides of the conflict: he read about the history of Ukraine, the history of Russia, about the different battalions and their beliefs. And still Brooks is eager to know more, to continue his investigation both in the library and field.
One thing that Noah Brooks has already understood is that he and Ukrainian soldiers have much in common: “I learned what it means to fight for what you love. They were fighting for their country; I was fighting for my work. We all put everything we had into what we were doing.” Perhaps this understanding is what helped Brooks make those stunning, unsettling, deeply moving photographs of his. Looking at them you can see all the faces of the war: trenches and fire, cigarette breaks and front line barbeques.
People on these photographs are all the more amazing for us because they have not lost their ability to smile and be friendly. They have stayed humane even under unhuman conditions. Bravery, resilience and devotion can be seen in the eyes of the soldiers. But one can also see hope and humor and longing for home. This is what photography can do for us – give us immediate access to stories of people around the world which we are able to see with our own eyes, not in the distorting mirror of mass media.
See also: ‘Pain in heart’ – dedication to patriots
So can war be an inspiration? I don’t think so. War is a calling, a challenge and an ordeal – both for a soldier and a photographer.
Visit Noah’s YourShot profile for more Ukraine conflict photography and his other shots made in different parts of the world.