Interview: Roman Pyatkovka of UPHA

Ukraine and it’s people have featured heavily in the photographic world this year. The political unrest has lead to an increased interest in photographers from any number of different countries visiting Ukraine, notably some superb work from Christopher Nunn, Milo Belgrove and Anastasia Taylor-Lind.

But what of Ukrainian photographers? Our new writer, Valentin Sonov spoke to Roman Pyatkovka, one of the founding members of the UPHA Collective who are at the forefront of promoting, organising and creating the new wave of contemporary Ukrainian photography.

Architecture and Interior Photography by Jim Stephenson

(Vladimir Sut –

Valentin Sonov: Roman, can you give us a bit of background to UPHA?

Roman Pyatkovka: It started from an idea to organise young photographers into a creative group, which will independently work on projects, make publications, curate shows, masterclasses and so on. Our main criteria is to facilitate an alternative look on photography. When it comes to the medium, Ukraine is full of conservatism, glamour and old‐fashioned views. Basically this idea was born when the situation with the Ukrainian Association of Photographers, which holds a lot of weight in the country, began to deteriorate, in our opinion ‐ mould and mustiness flourishes there and we felt the view there on contemporary art was inadequate.

VS: As a group you have very different styles ‐ what binds you together as a collective?

RP: We are together because we are different. We are not a group where everyone has the same views on art. It’s more like a team that represents the young contemporary Ukrainian photography world.

Будни. Вид сверху.

(Igor Chekachkov –

VS: Do you work on projects together or individually?

RP: Everyone works on their own, but because the alternative Ukrainian photographic scene was developed and curated by older photographers such as Misha Pedan, Roman Pyatkovka, Alexander Lyapin and Konstantin Smolyanikov there is a degree of shared influences. It isn’t dominant, but more like a form of guidance. Our curators try to look at as much as possible and they select projects they want to push further into the photographic world. Self criticism, feedback and competition all play an important part with the collective too.

Architecture and Interior Photography by Jim Stephenson

(Roman Pyatkovka –

VS: What sort of problems do young photographers face in Ukraine? Have you had to deal with censorship in shows or printed media? I’ve heard of labs not scanning prints that contain nudity for instance?

RP: The situation is a bit different here. Our main problem is the lack of infrastructure. There are no universities or schools where young people can learn photography. The second biggest problem is the lack of gallery space and museums that would show photography. The view on photography in Ukraine is the same as in USSR ‐ they look at it as a second rate art form.

As for nudity, we don’t have a lot of problems. There was one show that was banned, called “Ukrainian body”. Also, a few times some prints were banned from display, but it’s not a common thing. Those are the leftovers of USSR mentality and because of that young photographers have nowhere to exhibit, nowhere to study and as a result they can’t earn money from their art. Everyone has to do something else to pay for stuff. That is the main problem in Ukraine to my mind.

Architecture and Interior Photography by Jim Stephenson

(Nikita Kravtsov –

VS: I’m from Lithuania and over there there is a lack of understanding and support from the older, Soviet era photographers and the younger people making work. Do you have similar issues in Ukraine?

RP: It has to be mentioned that Lithuanian photography of that time had a big impact on the post soviet photographic world. Lithuanians always had a good friendship with guys from Ukraine. Boris Mykhailov ‐ a good example of the Kharkiv Photographic School was good friends with Vitas Luckus, for instance. If we want to discuss the old school of Ukrainian photography, then we have to mention Kharkiv School, which today has a lot of young people and I’m sure there are no conflicts there. But if we want to discuss the representatives of the Ukrainian Association of Photographers, they are more reluctant to accept new forms. But again I would like to point this out ‐ in the Kharkiv School of Photography, which has a lot of young people, there are no conflicts. On the contrary, this is why the Kharkiv School is interesting. It embodies four generations of photographers who successfully exhibit and produce new work. It evolves a lot.

VS: Is there a zine scene in Ukraine? Is it possible to self‐publish?

RP: We do have technical abilities to make zines, but unfortunately we don’t have a culture for that, and of course there’s the lack of money. Not everybody can spend even a little to publish, even if it’s done collectively. So most photographers publish their work via foreign publications. Simply because the culture isn’t there yet.

Architecture and Interior Photography by Jim Stephenson

(Sergey Melnitchenko –

VS: Finally ‐ what are your plans for future? What would you like to achieve?

RP: Well, we have a lot of plans. Our main goals are big projects related to international photographic events. We already participated in big events such as Pingyao festival in China, Houston festival in USA and Kiev Art Biennale. We would love to get to Arles, Paris Photo and London. At the moment we are participating in Vienna Photobook festival. So, as you can see, we are rather ambitious. I think that modern art in the form we have it today is in high demand. Our world is being ripped by social and political contradictions. What we see happening today is something important. In such circumstances art becomes an intuition of humanity. We are mainly talking about the occurrence of urgent political agenda in national revolutions. Today’s artist is obliged to do a radical move or a statement in support of freedom, democracy and the destruction of power hierarchies. And so, this artistic gesture must create new trends for today.

UPHA, the Ukrainian Photographic Alternative, is a small independent group created to help and support the development of contemporary ukrainian photography. Their main goals are organising and carrying solo and group exhibitions, providing help and holding educational programs along with integrating and expanding emerging Ukrainian photography further.

Roman Pyatkovka was born in 1955 in Kharkiv, Ukraine where he currently lives and works. He graduated from the Faculty of Electric Power of the Kharkiv Polytechnic Institute in 1978. After that he was accepted to the Young People’s Theatre as a lighting designer where he worked for almost 8 years. Since the early 80’s Roman became interested in photography. Roman’s old friend, the world-renowned artist Boris Mikhailov has had a significant influence on him, he became a Roman’s mentor. He has had numerous exhibitions worldwide and his work is held in a number of permanent collections. In 2013 he was awarded the Sony World Photography Awards Conceptual Photographer of the Year title.



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