FESTIVAL SELECTEE 2024

VIC BAKIN

‘Epitome’

In his project ‘Epitome’, the Ukrainian photographer Vic Bakin sensitively elaborates on the consequences and entanglements of war for a young generation of Ukrainian men. Their everyday lives are now marked by war, fragility and uncertainty. The prints convey a distinct, delicate black and white tactility that resonates to images from other wars decades ago . However, these were made by Bakin in his bathroom in Kyiv during the Russians’ long air raids just months ago.

“This pile of discarded chairs stood there like a sculpture or an installation dedicated to a time in which we are living. I immediately found an emotional connection to this object and it still is one of the main pictures of the series. The uncertainty, the unease, and fragility of being but also beauty and tenderness became the main essence of the series.”

— Vic Bakin

ENTANGLEMENT

Entangled in war: when home inhabits the heart

Project: Epitome by Vic Bakin

A pile of chairs sits in a strange formation. All tangled together. In the back, trees with no leaves left and a grey sky. This impromptu sculpture of devastation and beauty played an important role in Vic Bakin’s understanding of his project “Epitome”, which brings together portraits of young men with landscapes marked by war and scenes of sunflowers bowing their heads to winter’s gloom. All connected by the distinct, rustique black and white tactility of the prints that lifts the project into a sphere of timeless evanescence.

Photo by Vic Bakin, Epitome

The unexpected war zone

Bakin’s project started as an investigation of the coming-of-age struggles and was radically transformed when war erupted in Ukraine, in February of 2022. Bakin, who has always worked from Kyiv and still lives in the capital, went from shooting editorials and portraits for newspapers and magazines to finding himself in what was an active war zone just a few weeks earlier. The connection between the young men he recurrently photographed and the country’s new reality was inevitable: 

“The father of a friend I photographed extensively was killed in the occupation zone and the youth I portrayed years ago is now listed to the armed forces and sent to the frontline. There are a lot of friends and friends of friends who will go there. You can’t help but think about these things.”

In the context of war 

The fact that it is mainly young men who are fighting this war (if not all of them) is sensitively  touched on in the portraits we see in Epitome. The buzz-cut head of a man in his early twenties could be a style choice, but a quick context check reminds us of the hair cut employed by militaries all over the world – from World War I to now. The young naked body lying on a couch could carry an innate and ageless sensuality to it which is sharply transformed when the thousands of casualties of this war come to mind. Another beautiful association made by Bakin appears when the rib cage of a young man sucking out all the air in his belly takes the similar shape of a roof from a house. Not any house, but one falling to pieces, devastated by a military attack and hanging on by the last bits of its structure. 

“For me, these things are pretty interchangeable. In a sense, we are at home wherever we go. Especially now when so many people are fleeing and moving. Home is where the heart is. Isn’t it? The body holds the heart. The home or a feeling of a home inhabits the heart.”

Photo by Vic Bakin, Epitome

Air raid prints from the darkroom

All of these images, and the many others that make up Epitome, are prints made by Vic himself in the bathroom of his apartment, most of the time during long air raids, with the sirens as a backdrop. This small room with the red safety light as the only thing helping him navigate the chemicals took on a womb-like role, keeping him safe while providing him with room to create.

“Seems to me this tight womb-like bathroom became my place of escapism of a wartime reality too. Could I make today something that does not refer to a war? I doubt it. The war affected everyone. When I was out there shooting I was asking myself  — is there a meaning, a justification in approaching the world the way I do in ‘Epitome’? And time and time again I kept receiving the same answer — Absolutely yes.”

Intimacy, violence and the ageless decay of war

There is a powerful bond between intimacy and violence in Epitome. The connection we build to each of the men that appear in the pictures is suddenly menaced by the context in which they were put. This constant duality keeps the viewer on the edge, trying to decipher the deeper meanings the images have in them all the while thinking of Bakin in his bathroom, printing while the sirens ring outside and the ageless devastating influence of war.

Photo by Vic Bakin, Epitome

ENTANGLEMENT

“This pile of discarded chairs stood there like a sculpture or an installation dedicated to a time in which we are living. And I immediately found an emotional connection to this object and it still is one of the main pictures of the series. The uncertainty, unease, and fragility of being but also beauty and tenderness became the main essence of the series. We all, who stayed here, are mixed up and entangled in this together. I mean I’m a portrait photographer too — I see it in every face I happen to photograph.”

— Vic Bakin

Text and edit · Felipe Abreu and Christine Almlund

ARTIST BIO

Vic Bakin is a self-educated Ukrainian photographer and printer. He was raised near the Carpathian mountains in Ukraine and is now based in Kyiv. His photographic practice mainly revolves around documenting Ukrainian youth. Before the war Bakin’s focus was on different local queer communities and fashion scenes, rave and music culture. With the war his focus naturally shifted to the themes concerning the consequences of the war in Ukraine. His project Epitome will be published by the VOID Photo Publishing in 2024.

Selected achievements

  • – 2024 Grant winner, Documenting Ukraine, IVM Institute for Human Sciences, Vienna
  • – 2023 Winner of ‘The Ones To Watch’ by British Journal of Photography
  • – 2023 Recharge & Revolt group exhibition, Melkweg, Amsterdam
  • – 2023 Winner of the LensCulture art photography awards
  • – 2022 Shortlisted in Palm Photo Prize