Oleksandr Mykhed is a Ukrainian writer and art curator residing in Kiev. In Fragments, he vividly depicts the first hours of Russia’s invasion of his country: “We wanted to amplify a Ukrainian voice. Given carte blanche, Oleksandr tells us about the night of February 23–24, giving us a picture we didn’t have,” explains Antoine Kimmerlin, MYOP’s editorial director.
This 300-page volume, assembled by a French photo agency founded in 2005, brings together a year’s worth of reports by six of MYOP’s 22 photographers: Guillaume Binet, Laurence Geai, Zen Lefort, Chloé Sharrock, Michel Slomka, and Adrienne Surprenant.
A book never to forget
This sober book stands as a testament to the conflict, urging us not to forget and extending solidarity to civilian populations caught up in the war. “In our small way, we’re trying to improve the daily lives of people living in terrible conditions. That’s what gives meaning to this project,” explains Antoine Kimmerlin, who admits that Fragments is the result of “a rather madcap adventure.”
The book was meticulously designed from start to finish as a volunteer effort.* This was made possible through the initiative of the ABM graphic design studio, recognizing the coverage of the conflict by MYOP members in both French and international media. The unwavering personal dedication of the photographers from the collective, along with every participant in the production chain, played a crucial role. All profits from the sale of the book will go to the NGO “YES.” This association, based in the Zaporizhzhia region in eastern Ukraine, brings aid to the civilians still residing there. “Guillaume Binet [photographer and co-founder of MYOP with Lionel Charrier, current photo editor of Libération – Ed.] personally visited them. The association is overseen by two young individuals in their thirties who are doing a tremendous job.”
Plunging into Fragments gives one a thoughtful perspective on a conflict of a magnitude not seen in Europe since World War II. The layout presents a raw, silent chronicle of events spanning from February 2022 to February 2023. It grounds one the tangible reality of the war, especially when our minds have been inundated with images to the point of oversaturation and loss of meaning. Captions, as well as photo credits, appear only at the end of the book. They put names to the faces, describe the deafening blasts of artillery fire drowning out the prayers of a priest over two coffins in Severodonetsk, evoke the horrors of Bucha, and speak of the tears of Alexander, a new father, cradling his newborn at the Mykolaiv hospital—a city subjected to daily drone attacks by the Russians. “We aimed to capture what it’s like to live through wartime, how life tries to carry on, even mere five kilometers from the battlefront,” says Kimmerlin.
During the first year of the conflict, there was at least one MYOP photographer in the field, sometimes three, working on press assignments commissioned by Le Monde, in the case of Laurence Geai, or L’Obs for Guillaume Binet. “But the story we tell is necessarily fragmentary: you can’t capture a whole war,” explains Kimmerlin. Hence the book’s title. “One of our biggest frustrations has been obviously our inability to go to the Russian side. On the Ukrainian side, access to the front lines has also become very complicated.”
As the readers make their way through the book, they are immersed in the various authors’ perspectives on the war. What stands out in MYOP is its vast array of approaches. The series begins with “press” photographs by Laurence Geai and culminates with Michel Slomka’s striking black-and-white Google Earth archaeology of the trenches on the Donbass frontline, dug out between 2014 and 2017. These are all different ways of narrating the conflict, of bearing witness through images. “The distinction between journalist and artist-author is meaningless; we’re just photographers, we have our own way of telling the world, but in the end we’re all doing the same job,” insists Kimmerlin.
Strength in numbers
This new type of project encapsulates the essence of MYOP whose name is an acrostic of a line from Paul Éluard: “Mes Yeux, Objets Patients, / étaient à jamais ouverts sur l’étendue des mers où je me noyais.” (“My eyes, patient objects, / were forever open onto the expanse of the sea where I was drowning.”)
“MYOP possesses the professionalism of an agency while embodying the creativity of a collective,” quipped Stéphane Lagoutte, photographer and director of MYOP, in an interview with France Inter. Established in 2005, MYOP has always been a confluence of different generations. Pascal Maitre and Alain Keler work alongside budding talents like Zen Lefort and Chloé Sharrock. “The photographers feed off one another. Our ages span from 30 to 78. MYOP is about striking a balance between generations and styles. It’s a hub for dialog, debate, and camaraderie,” sums up Kimmerlin.
In a profession often marked by isolation and intense competition, the power of the collective can be an asset. Another reason why photographers flock to MYOP is to ensure the longevity of their work: “An image in the press typically has the life span of a week. At MYOP, you find yourself in a modest institution, but one where images can endure.”
“We aim to pioneer a new approach”
Amidst the ever-evolving, precarious landscape of photography, entities like MYOP strive to maintain equilibrium. “We aim to pioneer a new approach,” asserts the editorial director.
Though part of this collective, each photographer manages their finances independently. “We couldn’t afford to support 22 photographers. [Geai, Lefort, Slomka, and Surprenant joined the agency in early 2022. – Ed.] Our role is to curate their archives exclusively. In addition to a membership fee, we also earn a commission on all the projects we bring to them,” explains Kimmerlin.
Their quest for balance reflects the broader trend of photographers diversifying to navigate dwindling traditional press commissions and fees. The conflict in Ukraine did, however, bring a surge in editorial budgets.
For over a decade, the alternative was humanitarian photography: “It catered to those who could still fund their own travel and subject-matter. But now, it seems we’re navigating an economy driven by pricing and grants,” observes the editorial director. Case in point: sixteen of MYOP’s twenty-two photographers recently collaborated on the “Radioscopie de la France” project commissioned by the Ministry of Culture.
MYOP’s mission is twofold: adapting to these evolving paradigms to ensure sustainability, while upholding its own identity through exhibitions, like the acclaimed Rencontres d’Arles, as well as through publications and workshops. The agency is determined not to slip into the communications sector, lest they “sell their soul.”
Ukraine: Fragments, Manuella Éditions, 300 color/B&W photographs, Bilingual French/English, €33.20, 256 pp.
* All those involved in crafting this book volunteered their services, including ABM Studio, MYOP, the Artisans du regard, Manuella Editions, Impression Maestro, and Belles Lettres Distribution. All sales proceeds will be channeled to the Ukrainian NGO “YES,” based in Zaporizhia. They provide food, medical supplies, and other essential items to vulnerable populations and war-displaced people.