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Mаry Mamyan

Searching for the Subjects of Three Photos Taken in Three Wars

Photo-journalist Oleg Klimov has covered numerous wars during his career.

Twenty years on, Klimov decided to locate the subjects in three photos he shot in three conflicts – Karabakh, Abkhazia and Chechnya.

Klimov confesses that the identity of people he’s photographed during war were unknown to him and merely served as characters caught up in a wider conflict.

In a film entitled “Letters to Myself”, the documentarian Masha Novikovachronicles the search of Klimov to track down these individuals, starting with Karabakh.

The photo is entitled – Madonna with Klashnikov in Hand”. Klimov can only remember that it was taken in Stepanakert, the capital of Karabakh.

Oleg and Masha searched high and low for the woman in Karabakh, and while they met many people who remembered her, they had no information as to her whereabouts today.

Eventually, they found out that the woman holding the rifle is named Elo, a native of Shahoumyan who now resides in Vartenis, Armenia.

All this time, Elo never knew that he picture had appeared in the pages of various international media. She now lives with her son and his family. Her other son was lost without a trace during the Karabakh War.

Upon seeing Elo after all these years, Oleg Klimov felt a pang of pity for this woman and her family who live in poor socio-economic conditions.

“Looking at the photo, you would think she was a fighter, but she was merely defending her family,” the photographer says.

The film then focuses on a photo taken in 1993 in Sukhumi, during the war in Abkhazia. The piano still stands but nobody plays it any more.

The history of the third photo takes us to Chechnya. It was taken at the time of a prisoner exchange between the Russian and Chechnya forces.

“I try to be objective during wars. In Chechnya, I understood that the war there related to me as well. It was a personal trauma for me as a Russian citizen. Personally, it was the worst war for me,” Oleg Klimov confesses.

Parallel to the stories of the three photos depicted in the film we follow the personal odyssey of Oleg Klimov. For years he has photographed conflicts but has still not yet overcome the psychological burden of what he has seen.

He describes the problem in simple terms – “The emotions of war follow you wherever you go.”

Top photo - Oleg Klimov

Photos 1&2 - Elo, then and now

Photos 3&4  - Abkhazia, then and now

Photos 5&6 - Chechnya; Russian captive, then and now

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