15 days ago, Peter Turnley entrusted us with his images. Today it’s David Turnley his twin brother who does the same: 38 images that we publish in two parts accompanied by his very touching testimony.
Jean Jacques Naudet
Photographing the Soul of Humanity – Ukraine – by David Turnley (2)
After a few days in Lviv, I decided to return to Poland by train. This was again one of the most memorable experiences of my life. As I got into a refugee wagon, I found a seat with two sisters in their twenties, with five children, all young girls, with the belongings of the two families contained in two bags, I was looking out the train window as we waited for departure, and I saw my twin brother Peter, standing on the platform with his Leica in hand, looking strong, determined and tired.
And when Peter saw me, he motioned for me to lean out the window, then raising his camera to commemorate the moment. We have met in war zones around the world for forty years. There is no one I respect more, for his dedication, his passion, his commitment, his artistry, his tenacity and his compassion for humanity as a documentary photographer than Peter. Right now I remember a moment in 1991 when the Desert Storm War in Iraq was about to start and rage. Peter had been on the ground during the build-up for two months, and as I arrived at Dhahran airport in Saudi Arabia, to cover the war, Peter was leaving for a short break before returning because hell was about to break unleash.
It was supposed to be a dangerous war, and as I disembarked I saw, looking out of a waiting room window, Peter, waiting to board the same plane that was bringing me from Paris, which was going also take him home. Airport officials wouldn’t let me into the airport to show Peter, so I went to the window and we touched hands, separated by the glass.
That’s what I felt at that time in Lviv. When the train left, my heart was very heavy, and I cried with love and respect for my brother, praying that he would be well, and with so many memories of this life that we led all the two, traveling the world both feeling the enormous privilege of having found photography, as a way to live our lives, trying to make a difference, with our images.
Back inside Poland, after a quick and well-deserved sleep, I went back to the station, to take a train to Krakow, where I will once again have the chance to return to my family, and ‘Paname’, otherwise known as Paris, the city that I have loved with all my heart since I arrived at the age of 19.
On the train platform, I met a family of Ukrainian refugees, the matriarch, a woman who reminds me of my own grandmother, named Irma, with her two daughters and children, heading for a new life in Berlin, fleeing this tragic war. I will never forget Irma. And as we stood, not talking to each other, but rather sensing each other’s souls, I had the privilege of making photos of this beautiful woman, whose emotions embody, absolute tragedy and pain of this useless and unjust war!
I pray that these photographs will share these feelings of solidarity to mobilize the world to end this war and fight for a world filled with better angels. I am moved right now with so much gratitude for the incredible time and privilege I had to photograph Nelson Mandela for twenty years, and it reminds me of his beautiful spirit, courage and strength that the world so desperately needs right now.
As I boarded the train to Krakow, having been on trains packed with refugees from Ukraine, where there was hardly any room to sit, it seemed unusual to find an empty compartment. As I sat down, I looked across the tracks at another train heading for Europe, with many refugees, when I saw a woman, sitting alone, waiting for departure. I may never know his story. But in that moment, when so many people were heading into the unknown, I was deeply moved by his grace, his strength and his dignity.
And then a man carrying a bag, named Valery, a Ukrainian refugee, entered the otherwise empty compartment and sat across from me. Valery and I couldn’t talk, but somehow we chatted, and on our journey, with this humble, unassuming, gentle man, who I discovered had the same age as me, I learned without knowing the details, that he had fled intense bombardments, and I fear, the loss of members of his family.
As the train passed through the sweet farmlands of eastern Poland, and we both sat in silence, our knees touching, our minds, apart, but simultaneously digesting what we had just experienced, Valery s started crying. It’s so painful to see a grown man cry, and I felt a great closeness and true empathy for this gentle man.
And as I raised my camera, to photograph his grief, every ounce of my being wished I could make a photograph, that could help in my own way, not only to share Valery’s pain, but to touch the human race to love one another, to end the war. To release our best collective angels. And as John Lennon so poignantly sang it. Imagine.
On my way back to Paris, I jumped into a taxi, and called my wife Rachel and my daughter Dawson, to meet me at the Brasserie de L’Isle Saint Louis, which has always been my choice for a return to the sources during all these years.
And when we met, we sat together in a long embrace. As I write this diary of my time in Ukraine, I acknowledge that covering this war and this epic exodus of war refugees from Ukraine has really impacted me.
I needed to write this morning – and I am very grateful to Jean-Jacques Naudet for sharing my photographs and writings in his incredible online publication “L’Oeil de la Photographie”.
As I have endeavored to photograph the soul of humanity over the past 50 years, I have endeavored, in my humble way, to photograph the soul of humanity in this tragic war in Ukraine.
I would like to express with all my heart my gratitude to the Ukrainians whom I had the privilege of meeting and photographing.
And I want to express with all my heart, my respect and my gratitude to all my incredible colleagues, who, at great risk, document this tragic war.
Biography of David Turnley
American-born David Turnley, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Photography, the Robert Capa Gold Medal for Courage and two World Press Photos, is considered one of the world’s greatest documentary photographers.
He arrived in France in 1975 at the age of 19. He then lived in a maid’s room next to Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral, he studied French at the Sorbonne, sold ice cream next to the cathedral and met the greatest photographers of the century, Henri Cartier Bresson and André Kertész to name but a few.
Throughout his career, David has worked in some 90 countries, covering all the major historical moments of the last fifty years.
Paris was for many years his base and his spiritual city where he always photographed “the soul of humanity”.
After many trips as a war photographer, including more recently the tragic war in Ukraine, he likes to come back to Paris – the city he loves so much – relieved.
David’s twin brother, Peter Turnley, is also a great documentary photographer, and Parisian of French and American nationality.
David lives in Paris with his wife Rachel, a great ballet dancer, and their 10-year-old daughter, Dawson, who attends a public school in central Paris. His son Charlie, 28, was born in Paris.