With Ukraine constantly being in the news this year, regrettably, for all the wrong reasons, it’s easy to forget the profound beauty and landscape that envelops this majestic Eastern European nation. The Ukrainian landscape is characterized by a multitude of glorious steppes, plateaus, lowlands, and mountains.
Native Ukrainian photographer Yevhen Samuchenko‘s debut illustrated book, “The Beauty of Ukraine: Landscape Photography,” provides a stark reminder of the beauty, diversity, and richness of color in the Ukrainian terrain. And how it is a nation far greater than the devastation it is currently experiencing.
Hailing from the port city of Odessa, Yevhen (also goes by Q-lieb-in) is an acclaimed photographer specializing in travel, night, and aerial photography with drones. Invariably inspired by nature, his work exhibits the tender beauty of our planet and examines the continuously changing relationship between man and wilderness. He has been awarded many prestigious photo awards, such as HIPA, Travel Photographer of the Year, Nature Photographer of the Year, IPA, and Sony Photo Awards.
Personal photography empowers introspection and exploration by giving photographers artistic license to delve into a subject they feel connected with. Yevhen comprehensively grasps this notion with “The Beauty of Ukraine: Landscape Photography.” His impassioned declaration of love for his homeland, amid the daily horrors occurring in Ukraine, reveals a stoic beauty and integrity to it.
It was my first experience creating a personal book. I have been involved in many international print projects before, but they were all projects with many photographers involved simultaneously. This was a completely new venture for me.
Yevhen uses his distinctive expertise to significant effect in his inaugural book. Delivering eye-catching aerial imagery of the landscapes that pay tribute to the scenery from a unique perspective with an expansive and serene quality, a haunting juxtaposition to the current events in the country. And by looking down on it using his drone, Yevhen allows the immense dimensions of Ukraine to become more visible and perceptible.
This project materialized about a year before the start of the war. As a travel photographer, I have traveled to over 30 countries worldwide. I saw the beauty of other places on earth, and I wanted to show the beauty of my country through my photography skills.
However, the book wasn’t just an ode from Yevhen. But a heartfelt collaboration with fellow Ukrainian Lucia Bondar, who narrated and published the book through her company “CP Publishing.” Lucia, like many Ukrainians, has been unable to return to the country since the start of the war. A poignant example of the dark times in which the book was created. But the hardship does allow us to see the true beauty and vulnerability of Ukraine outside the atrocities and photographs of war that we are currently presented with. The desolate circumstances currently facing the country are also mirrored in the unrestrained disposition of the book.
It was Lucia’s initiative that prompted me to launch this project; without her, it would not have been possible. She already had a lot of experience and a well-coordinated team. In addition, she sincerely liked my style of photography and the way I unusually show ordinary places in Ukraine.
The images featured in the 192-page book have a painting-like aesthetic and communicate to the audience the variety and magnificence of Ukraine’s landscape with Yevhen’s unique composition. A distinctive feature of his work is the inclusion of people in his photography. Often depicted in a minor key compared to the landscape. Therefore, every viewer of the book can visualize themselves in the surrounding. And make their own personal insights into exploring the extraordinary places that Yevhen captured.
I wanted to go beyond the classic landscape presumption that only shows the most famous places in my country. I wanted the book to contain, in addition to standard realistic landscapes, many pictures with concepts, but not usual travel postcards, but rather conceptual ones, art with unusual compositions and ideas.
With an area of 603,628 km2, Ukraine is the second largest country in Europe. This alone provided tremendous logistical challenges for Yevhen. Who wanted to create a book that provided imagery across the entire Slavic nation. Consequently, Yevhen traveled the length and breadth of the country for optimal shots.
While some pictures included were shot just five minutes from Yevhen’s house on the Black Sea in Odessa, others of the Carpathian Mountains were more than 1000km away from him. And even when arriving at this mountain range, hidden in the southwestern corner of Western Ukraine, Yevhen then had to climb to a height of 2000m, and 15 km long in one direction, for the final shot that enchants with its untamed nature.
The conditions were always different – some photos took only half an hour, while it also took all night to create one night shot with star trails. These photos are the result of many years of shooting and thousands of kilometers worth of trips
The accessibility of the diverging locations of the shoots was also a major problem for Yevhen. With numerous locations only accessible by poor road infrastructure. None more so than the journey to the remote Lake Lemuria (Pink Lakes) in Kherson — an area bordering the Russian-occupied region of Crimea. Which has been war-torn even before the current conflicts.
The strikingly pink color of Lake Lemuria is due to the movement of algae which produces large amounts of beta-carotene. The coloring and lighting make it appear as a land-sea type of fine art that could pass as an abstract painting.
It’s not always easy when you’re trying to go beyond the standard landscape in blue hours and trying to create conceptual landscape photos that are different from others.
Yevhen transformed these quarries into abstract structural shoots with his individual perspective. Using the unwavering colors and elements to create an aesthetic of diverse shades and shapes.
I always shoot in a state of resonance with the subject and love for my work. Therefore, the atmosphere was always pleasant for me. Sometimes, this resonance occurs instantly, and at other moments, I had to visit the location several times, in different seasons and times, for it to arise. I understand immediately when the resonance comes – it’s like a state of goosebumps. In this state, I literally feel the object’s beauty and admire it. In any case, I wait for this resonant interaction, and only then do I shoot.
The illustrated book does not just make us marvel at the wonders of Ukraine’s landscape. It also provides a powerful caution of the destruction of war and its disastrous effects on a nation’s people, land, and very identity. Some of the locations captured by Yevhen are now destroyed, and others are in considerable danger of facing the same plight. A compelling advocacy for peace if there ever was one.
My goal with the book was in creative implementation to show and partly perpetuate the beauty of my country. No one knew that it would be especially valuable after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. After all, several locations that are shown in the book are already destroyed or badly damaged due to the war.
We sincerely hope that Ukraine will return to the tranquil and glorious state depicted in Yevhen’s work. And like a light at the end of the tunnel, the dark times will soon be over.
See more of Yevhen’s work on his website.