Stupefyingly Normal

February 26, 2022 Ukraine Russia Photography

A few years ago, when I wrote The Banality of Color”, I remarked that the past is strangely alive” in the rare color photos that survive from the early 20th century. I was referring to the jolt I would get when seeing a supposedly historical event come alive, when it became more visceral simply for being rendered in color. I wrote The color in these pictures shows how real it all was, how much closer to our present time — and how stupefyingly normal.”

These days, anxiously watching Putin’s assault of Ukraine, I was noticing a similar effect in the photos from the Kyiv metro. As the invasion moved ever closer to the capital, countless people took refuge in the metro stations to shield themselves from the attack. Photos of these bomb shelters visualizes the surreal reality of the event and the terror these people are facing as the unthinkable happens and their country is being invaded.

But what really drove the this-can’t-be-happening” nature of the moment home was that many people were pictured wearing masks and holding smartphones. It was jarring to see these everyday items among the Soviet decor of the metro, this context collapse of present and past. There was no mistaking that this moment of terror, something we’ve seen so many times in historical pictures, was in fact happening right now_.

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