A leading chronicler of the war in Ukraine, London-based photographer Anastasia Taylor-Lind documents the ordinary lives lived precariously on the front lines.
Photographer Anastasia Taylor-Lind grew up travelling across the English countryside in a caravan, spending her days reading children’s books and Wilfred Owen’s war poetry. At the time, she had limited access to the outside world so her first significant encounter with photography was when she came across Don McCullin’s reportage on the Vietnam War at school. “I had an immediate visceral reaction,” she says.
Taylor-Lind decided to become a photojournalist. In 2003, while studying at the University of Wales, Newport, she travelled to Kurdistan to report on the women of the peshmerga during the Iraq War. She later lived and worked in places such as Syria, Gaza and Lebanon, before heading to Ukraine, where she took photographs of Kyiv’s Maidan protests in 2014 that cemented her status in the field.
A lot has changed since then: in the aftermath of the uprising, Vladimir Putin annexed the Crimean peninsula and, in February 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine. However, Taylor-Lind has continued to report from the region. Earlier this year her photographs of the conflict were the subject of an exhibition at London’s Imperial War Museum.
When monocle visits Taylor-Lind at her flat in east London, she tells us that she has returned home earlier than expected after being injured in a Russian missile strike on a restaurant in Kramatorsk. Though her scrapes are still visible, Taylor-Lind is in a cheerful mood, offering us coffee and biscuits while her wheat-coloured lurcher, Blaze, looks on.
We step out for a stroll in Abney Park, an eerie but peaceful cemetery in Stoke Newington. She tells us that though the people she photographs in Ukraine are often in close proximity to death, life doesn’t stop for them – which is why her images focus on the normality that persists amid the conflict. Earlier this year, Taylor-Lind and Ukrainian journalist Alisa Sopova, a frequent collaborator, received a grant from the National Geographic Society to support their work after almost a decade of self-funding their projects.
Taylor-Lind views it as her professional responsibility to share the realities of life on the front lines while avoiding sensationalism or clichés. “Objectivity and truth-telling aren’t always achievable – but what a huge misrepresentation it is when people tell stories that don’t reflect those whose stories are supposedly being told,” says Taylor-Lind. As a woman in a field dominated by men, she has also been plagued by the question of who gets to share other people’s narratives to the point of putting her camera down for long stretches and turning her attention to poetry instead.
Taylor-Lind stresses the importance of portraying her subjects respectfully and with compassion. “In reportage, you might find yourself in someone’s bedroom, photographing children waking up in the morning,” she says. “You’re asking for intimacy and trust, and to report on life as it is, without intervention.” She still grapples with how best to do this. “I have come to the conclusion that I won’t find better ways to represent people through photographs if I’m not taking pictures,” says Taylor-Lind. “I need to deal with these issues in a practical way. Still, what right do I have to tell someone else’s story?”
Before we part ways, monocle asks Taylor-Lind how she summons the courage needed to take these pictures. “I’m not fearless,” she says. “I’m incredibly afraid and I should be. Everyone asks me, ‘What will you do when the war ends?’ But I’m pretty sure that wars never end for those who experience them.”
1981: Born in Swindon, UK.
2004: Graduates with a BA in documentary photography from the University of Wales, Newport.
2014: Her first photographic book, Maidan: Portraits from the Black Square, is published by Gost books.
2016: Becomes a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University.
2022: Taylor-Lind’s debut poetry collection, One Language, is published by Smith|Doorstop.
2023: An exhibition of her work, Ukraine: Photographs from the Frontline, opens at the Imperial War Museum in London.