Evgeniy Zaets was born in 1991 in Kyiv, Ukraine. He has been developing his art as a photographer since 2011, focusing his research mainly on the body and how the photographic medium can reflect one’s inner life. He graduated from MYPH School of Conceptual and Art Photography in Mykolayiv.
In Ordered Chaos, Evgeniy finds a way to look at his war-torn country by seeking and creating order out of the chaos that now surrounds him. In his quiet compositions, he documents what he sees around him in images that feel closer to abstract paintings than photojournalism.
In this interview for LensCulture, Wesley Verhoeve speaks to Evgeniy about how he arrived at this project.
Wesley Verhoeve: Evgeniy, can you tell us how you arrived at your ongoing project Ordered Chaos?
Evgeniy Zaets: Since childhood, I have looked at everything differently. What one person might find terrible, is sometimes funny to me. In this project, I wanted to explore destruction and chaos, and how attractive and friendly it can appear visually.
Many tend to idealize everything around them which causes boredom. It seems to me that that way of looking is not alive. Not honest. While making this project I realized that the human brain looks for order in everything, because it’s easier to live this way. And when people create order, life becomes predictable and no change occurs.
Therefore, idealization and order are equal to petrification. If you are stagnant in one place and cannot get out, bring a little chaos into your life, break the order.
WV: What role does photography play in your daily life now? Has it changed since the war began?
EZ: Photography plays a big role for me at any time. It is an instrument of knowing the world and understanding it. I always think a lot about different life topics and some of them do not leave my head until I express them visually. This process is stronger than me, and I do not resist it, because creativity makes my life more exciting.
Undoubtedly, the war had an impact on my condition, and consequently on photography. On the day Russia attacked Ukraine, my family and I were forced to leave for the countryside, and when I was going, I took my passport, camera and several books with me. When we were driving, I caught myself thinking that everyone took what was dear to them. I looked at the books and the camera and smiled—these are my values. Photography is life for me. And I’m not being romantic when I say this. I often have financial problems because I am looking for my place in this field, but for 10 years I have not left art and will not leave. Because I don’t want to repeat the mistake that so many people make—working at a job they hate. To answer the question of whether this is a hobby for me: no, it is much more.
WV: Do you have a goal for the photography you are making right now?
EZ: Now it’s hard for me to think about goals and projects. Because of the war I was left without a job, so I try to sell my photos as NFTs. Recently, my computer burned down, but thanks to several sales, I restored the computer, and now I will think about what I would like to say with my photographs. And then I’ll get to work. The current events in Ukraine are very different from my usual life and I need more time to change my mind and move on.
WV: How do the people around you feel about your current photography?
EZ: It is not very easy to take pictures on the streets right now, because it arouses suspicion. You need permission to take pictures freely. In the village where I lived in the first days of the war I saw an owl one evening and took a picture of it. A few days later the military came to my house to check what I was filming. And it’s not very pleasant when you are suspected of something you are not involved in, but I understand that we live in such a time.
In Ukraine, photographers even in normal times arouse suspicion. I have been approached more than once and asked what I was photographing, and now people are scared and more vigilant. But in general, photography is not forbidden, but since it is I who for some reason arouses suspicion, I now work more with archives.
WV: Do you believe that art has a role in wartime?
EZ: Art undoubtedly has an impact on life. And war is no exception; for this you need to be open to being a new person, and not put up with the ongoing cruelty and injustice. I know that many photographers dream of taking a photo that will change something in people, lead to new views, make them kinder and more conscious. I am no exception and I will always strive for this.