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Of Chernobyl and Sultan Hassan – two women on a photographic mission

From empty villages in Ukraine to busy streets in Egypt, Anna and Maria capture life in photos

Dina Ezzat , Monday 13 Dec 2010
Rosa - home, even if all alone

Maria Bikova and Anna Voitenko are two women photographers from Ukraine. They both arrived in Cairo for a month of intensive shooting around Egypt. Bikova, with her love of "empty places and the story they tell," is particularly interested in the Egyptian oasis. Voitenko is fascinated by the roads in Cairo, explaining that "the images of people in the busy streets are very interesting."

For almost a decade now, both Bikova and Voitenko have been capturing shots from around Ukriane, reflecting its past as a Soviet state and its future as a current NATO member.

 Bikova's portfolio is a reminder of the damage inflicted on Ukraine in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster. 

 Bikova herself was only a kid in 1986, when she woke up one spring day to learn of the massive and rapid evacuation of villages around the cracked nuclear reactor. "People left in search of a safer place but today their story is still [vivd] because their things have never been really picked up behind them," she said. "Their empty houses," she adds, "are full of stories, full of history."

 Bikova's pictures remind viewers that there remain empty villages, that there are still today wide prairies where residents are prohibit by the authorities from picking wild mushrooms and berries. "Some people may think that the story of Chernobyl story is over but in fact it is not," she insists.

Meanwhile, Bikova likes to take pictures of modern Ukrainian painting which she places in public places, along "traces of the Soviet past." This way, she says, she mixes the past and the present and saves history.

However, history is only part of why Bikova is interested in Egypt. "I like to take photos of coffee shops, the place itself, and of mosques," says Bikova, who has already spent hours taking pictures inside the Sultan Hassan mosque. According to her, "those places are important to Egyptians, very important... and I am trying to look at the places and what they mean."


Bikova's next stop is Egypt's "famous oases," and she intends to go to all of them. "I am planning to have an exhibition in Kiev about Egypt and I think that pictures of deserts will be very important in this exhibition," she says.


As for Voitenko, she is intends to make a book of photos from Egypt. A photo-journalist by profession, Voitenko is constantly taking pictures of Cairo's streets, capturing the crowds and how they interact. For her, the story in the pictures is about the lives of people.

Voitenko's portofolio is indeed about people: farmers at harvest, women making baskets, couples going to blessed villages to drink from springs that are said to help them conceive twins, and lonely elderly people who cannot leave their already-deserted villages.


"Rosa; this is Rosa," said Voitenko, pointing to a picture of an older lady whose face is ravaged by the countless signs of aging. "She lives all by herself in a village that was deserted. The village is near the area of the Chernobyl disaster; when people were evicted she went with them and tried to live in another place, but she could not; she felt she would not be able to live away from her village; her roots are there and it is there that she insists to live, even if all alone."  


For Voiteka, Rosa is an example of the "many people who cannot part from their roots; they would die if they have to." She is confident that here in Egypt she will find many people like Rosa, rooted to their villages.



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© 2010 Ahram Online.