After covering conflict and other difficult subjects, some photojournalists can reach a burnout point. It’s not surprising that this often leads them to work on side projects that are, well, less heavy in nature.
Mathias Depardon, a freelance photographer based in Istanbul, had a brief experience covering conflict photography in Libya before realizing he wanted to redirect his energy into work like his most recent project, Black Sea Postcards, which delves into the many cultural layers of the Black Sea region—made up of the coastal areas of Turkey, Georgia, Russia, Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria.
Depardon says he was drawn to the region because of its history, which has post-Soviet influences in some areas, and European or Middle Eastern influences in others.
“It seems like the younger generation carefully purges memories of Soviet times, but the older inhabitants cling on to ideas of security delivered through communism,” he said. “I wanted to trace the visual scars of past eastern European conflicts, of an unadorned daily life, of diminished prosperity. I wanted to feel this paradoxical coexistence between the former Soviet-Union socialism and the fervent liberalism that has taken root in the region and persists to this day.”
Depardon says this project was unlike past projects because of its fluid nature. “Every day I woke up with no idea of what I was going to find.”
This approach was entirely different from his experience covering news events, where he follows the action and can loosely predict what might happen each day. He said it was a therapeutic change for him after covering immigration, natural disasters and the Arab Spring, even though it required several months of work, including days where his search for images came up dry. But his persistence paid off—resulting in photos that have the light, effervescent quality of being on holiday, while showcasing the region’s storied history at the same time.
Traditionally, postcards show us small snippets of a place, yet are also meant to convey something about its meaning or significance—whether it’s a landmark or landscape. So, while Depardon’s project is essentially an essay about a body of water and the people who live there, his “postcards” showcase the uniqueness of the region while still containing the weight of a complex past.
Black Sea Postcards has been shown at the Angkor Photo Festival in Cambodia, the Obscura Festival of Photography in Malaysia, and at the Dust and Scatches Gallery in Moscow. See more of Mathias Depardon’s work on his website, and follow him on Twitter and Instagram.