15 days ago, Peter Turnley entrusted us with his images. Today, his twin brother David Turnley is doing the same: 38 images that we publish in two parts accompanied by his very touching testimony.
Photographing the Soul of Humanity- Ukraine- by David Turnley (2)
After days in Lviv, I decided to travel in a train wagon back to Poland. It was again one of the most memorable experiences of my life. I climbed into a refugee wagon and found a seat with two sisters in their mid-twenties, with five children, all young girls, with both family’s belongings contained in two bags, I looked out the train window as we waited to depart, and saw my twin brother Peter, standing on the platform with his Leica in his hand, looking strong, determined, and tired.
And as Peter also saw me, he motioned for me to lean out the window, and raised his camera to memorialize this moment. We have been meeting each other in war zones all over the world for the last forty years. There is no one I respect more, for his dedication, passion, commitment, artistry, tenacity, and compassion for humanity as a documentary photographer than Peter. In this moment I am reminded of a moment in 1991, as the Desert Storm War in Iraq was about to begin and rage. Peter had been on the ground during the buildup for two months, and as I arrived at the Dhahran Airport in Saudi, to cover the war, Peter was getting out for a quick break before returning as all hell broke loose.
It was meant to be a dangerous war, and as I deplaned, I saw, looking out a waiting room window, Peter, waiting to get on the same plane that I had just arrived on from Paris, that would also take him home. The airport officials wouldn’t allow me to enter the airport to give Peter a hug, so I went to the window, and we touched hands, divided by the window pane.
This is the way I felt in this moment in Lviv. As the train departed, my heart felt very heavy, and I cried with love and respect for my brother, praying that he would be okay, and with so many memories of the life we have both led, our paths crisscrossing in so many places of heartache, both feeling the enormous privilege of having found photography, as a means to live our lives, trying to make a difference, with our pictures.
After arriving once again, inside Poland, and after a quick needed sleep, I went to the train station, to leave for Krakow, where I will once again, have the good fortune to return to my family, and ‘Paname’, otherwise known as Paris, the city that I have loved with all of my heart since I first arrived when I was 19.
On the train platform, I meet a family of Ukrainian Refugees, the matriarch, a woman who reminded me of my own grandmother, named Irma, with her two daughters, and their children, headed towards a new life in Berlin, fleeing this tragic war. I will never forget Irma. And as we stood, not talking to one another, but rather feeling each other’s souls, I had the privilege to make pictures of this beautiful woman, whose emotions embody, the absolute tragedy and pain of this unnecessary, unjust war!
I pray that these photographs share these feelings in solidarity to mobilize the world to end this war, and to strive for a world filled with better angels. I was moved in that moment with so much gratitude for the incredible time and privilege I have had to photograph Nelson Mandela over twenty years, and was reminded of his beautiful spirit, courage, and strength the world so desperately needs right now.
As I boarded the train to Krakow, having been on refugee trains coming out of the Ukraine, where there was barely anywhere to sit, let alone sit down, it was unusual to find an empty compartment. As I sat down, I looked across the tracks at another train headed towards Europe, many of the passengers refugees, when I saw a woman, seated alone, waiting for departure. I may never know her story. But at that moment, with so many heading into the unknown, I was deeply moved by her grace, strength, and dignity.
And then a man carrying one bag, named Valery, a Ukrainian refugee, entered the otherwise empty compartment and sat across from me. Valery and I could not talk, but somehow we exchanged and over the course of our journey, with this humble, unassuming, gentle man, who I learn is the same age of myself, I learned without knowing the details, that he had to flee intense bombing, and I fear, the loss of members of his family.
The train travelled across the gentle farm fields of eastern Poland, and we both sat in silence, our knees touching, our minds, separately, but simultaneously digesting what we had just experienced, in the way that trains inspire, Valery began to cry. It was so painful to see a grown man cry, and I felt closeness and empathy for this gentle man.
And as I raised my camera, to photograph his grief, every ounce of my being, wished that I might make a photograph, that might help in my own small way, to not only share Valery’s pain, but to touch human kind to love one another, to put an end to war. To unleash our collective better angels. And as John Lennon so poignantly sang. To Imagine.
As I arrived back in Paris, I jumped in a taxi, and called my wife Rachel and daughter Dawson, to please meet me at the Brasserie de L’Isle Saint Louis, that had been my choice of homecoming for all of these years.
And when we met, we sat together in a long embrace. As I write this journal of my time in Ukraine, I acknowledge that covering this war, and this epic exodus of refugees from the war in Ukraine had really left its mark on me.
I needed to write this morning- and I am so grateful to Jean-Jacque Naudet to share my photographs and writing in his incredible online publication ‘L’Oeil de la Photographie’.
As I have been striving to photograph the soul of humanity over these last 50 years, I have strived in my humble way, to photograph the soul of humanity in this tragic war in Ukraine.
I want to extend with all my heart, my gratitude to Ukrainians who I have had the privilege to meet and to photograph.
And I want to extend with all my heart, my respect and gratitude to all of my incredible colleagues, who at great risk, are documenting this tragic war.
David Turnley Biography
American-born David Turnley, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Photography, the Robert Capa Gold Medal for Courage, and two World Press Photographs of the Year, is considered one of the world’s greatest documentary photographers.
He arrived in France in 1975 at the age of 19. He then lived in a maid’s room next to Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral, he studied French at the Sorbonne, sold ice cream next to the cathedral and met the greatest photographers of the century, Henri Cartier Bresson and André Kertész to name but a few.
Throughout his career, David has worked in some 90 countries, covering all the major historical moments of the last fifty years.
Paris has been for many years his base and his spiritual city where he always photographed “the soul of humanity”.
After many trips, as a war photographer, including more recently the tragic war in Ukraine, he loves to return to Paris – the city he loves so much – relieved.
David’s twin brother, Peter Turnley, is also a great Documentary Photographer, and Parisian of French and American nationality.
David lives in Paris with his wife Rachel, a great ballet dancer, and their 10-year-old daughter, Dawson, who studies in a public school in Paris Centre. His son Charlie, 28, was born in Paris.