Sasha Maslov – a photographer based in New York tells many stories, from women working in the Ukranian railroad to US Veterans who have been deported. His photography covers many subjects and his most recent project, Ukranian Railroad Ladies, is a reflection of the vast expanse of the Ukranian railroad and the different lives associated with it, and provides colour and charm in doing so.
His work has also included photography of war, in his home of Ukraine, and the impact of war – in Veterans. He does so in a compelling way, detailing the personal lives that have been touched by war, whilst allowing the viewer to feel the emotion of the subject. His work is touching and builds a story around each portrait, making each photo seem like an opening into the life of each subject. He takes his personal experience and blends it with his belief in sharing the lesser known to create uniquely intriguing work.
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Sasha, your work is incredibly emotive and always tells a story. Is this how you would describe your work?
Well, I’ll take it.
Your stories, for example A Day of Delivering Meals and Hope offers a keyhole, yet illuminating view into the lives of the subjects. What inspired you to mix both storytelling and photography?
Small stories like that are my bread and butter, yes. And as for the mix – I would say I have experimented with the medium of photography and storytelling format for a while and worked out something that performs well for me, that is telling stories via portraiture. I didn’t invent anything, and in fact I think it’s all been done in a million different versions and sub-versions but the goal is to find a format that you are comfortable working with and advance it.
You cover a lot of lesser-known subjects, and serve as a conduit for telling their story. Does this burden you at all, knowing that you are one of the only people to show their story to the world?
On the contrary. I think it’s important to give voice to folks who might not have that voice unless you find them and come to them, and I think it is important to tell their stories and introduce some lesser known aspects of life to a wider audience.
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You are Ukrainian-American, and your projects are often featuring American or Ukrainian subjects. Do you find yourself drawn to covering topics that feature both sides of your cultures?
Well, the easiest explanation here it’s the worlds that I know well and know how to operate within. It doesn’t mean that I find other countries or communities uninteresting, in fact I have a long list of potential series in all corners of the World. But I have been concentrating my attention mostly on the stories that are happening close to home, it just happens that I have two homes.
Railroad Ladies is such an interesting project, about a subject that to many people who have been on the Ukrainian railroad will not necessarily be aware of. Exploring both the aesthetics of the buildings and the legacy of the past on the women who work there. What was the reaction of the women upon hearing your project?
Ah thank you! It is a very dear project to me personally. A project where I got to go back to my childhood and revisit memories growing up in Ukraine. Anyway, the people I have met shooting this series were the most sincere, wonderful and welcoming kind of folks you can imagine. We had some women who said they don’t want to participate which of course is always a letdown especially when huge travel distances are involved. But for the most part people were somewhat surprised, somewhat humbled, but mostly just confused as to what exactly do I want. Sometimes it took a bit of explanation, a bit of convincing, sometimes calling some superiors to get a permission… Overall it was just rewarding especially after the book came out and some of the women were able to visit a show in Kyiv and received the book – just a lovely a feeling that all this nonsense is actually bringing someone a little joy.
Your project Dobro Voltsy, how was it to be making a project of a war that was tearing apart your country?
Hearbreaking. In 2014 during the Maidan protests and the violence that followed and resulted in a full blown war the country was in an extremely fragile state. Russia took a full advantage, people were dying every day for no good reason, and the Ukrainian government was barely functioning. It was horrific.
As a result of all this the volunteer battalions were forming sporadically and outside of government regulations. You could have a group of people who met during Maidan, one would be kid who just finished school and another could be an Afghan war veteran, and another could be a 30-something tech startup guy and they all would end up volunteering as a group and joining one of these formations. They’d buy their own ammo, clothing, flak jackets and helmets and go off to fight the Russians and pro-Russian groups. It was chaos.
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Your recent project Honorably Deported is difficult to learn about, how did you learn about the deportation of veterans?
I think in 2016 or 2017 I was working on a story in Tijuana and saw a guy who was meeting with his son through the border fence. He was a deportee himself so he couldn’t enter U.S. and his son had a position is U.S. Military that prevented him from traveling abroad. Situation seems pretty absurd, right? But border-life is a whole different world with stories like that you see left and right. We got to talking. Guy’s name was Robert Vivar, he was a part of Unified Deported Veterans organization – a volunteer group that helps veterans who been deported to settle in a new environment. Which is not a simple task as it turns out. A lot of people who have been deported are in bad shape. Psychologically, physically damaged. Some are able to stand on their feet but some fall further down. Anyway, I felt like it’s an incredibly important story that needs to be told.
The subject of veterans seems to be frequent in your work and often the way in which they are forgotten, or how they are treated after their service. What draws you to their stories?
I am drawn to a subject of post-conflict in general. Veterans of course are a big part of any armed conflict, war, you name it. Analyzing a tragedy and helping to understand it to avoid it in the future is an important part of our existence. Although, it doesn’t seem that we as human beings learn anything.
Your project Veterans: Faces of World War II tells the oral and personal stories of the brutal conflict, and the impact it had around the world. How did you manage to get in touch with such a broad range of people and stories, and what impact did this have on you after hearing each story?
This series was my introduction in working with large amounts of text. And it was my white whale in a sense because I was working on it for so long that it didn’t seem like I will ever finish it. Which kin of explains the scope.
The way the project was built, it was crucial to show this range, and to include people form as many countries as possible. It was also very important to give a personal voice to the photographs, so each story was written as it was told – from the first person and almost verbatim.
My personal impact is hard to underestimate. This series and every person in it will live with me for the rest of my life. This is a project that formed me.
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The immigration system in the United States is one that is often in the news, and you cover it in your project Dreamers. The ‘Dreamer generation’ and the stories they tell are incredibly moving, from the passage of the DACA bill to the election of Donald Trump, and the rescinding of rights for the generation. What made you decide to cover this in 2018?
Partially a realization that it could have easily be me. Many things in life are up for a chance. Many of our personal traits that make us who we are, what we take pride in or sometimes what we ashamed of – most of these things are not even up to us. And it was both painful and frightening to see how this develops.
DACA was a program adopted by Obama administration that was putting a large group of undocumented people living in the United States on the path to a normal life. It was if I’m not mistaken a group of about 700.000 individuals who were as kids illegally brought to the country by their parents. They grew up here, went to school, started families. There is a crazy percentage from the recipients of DACA who work as first responders. So when COVID hit so many of them ended up on the frontlines of the pandemic. They are full and contributing members of American society.
So I won’t characterize the decision of the Trump administration to resent the DACA program which would make all the recipients vulnerable to deportation, I just thought it is an important story to be told and I wasn’t alone in this of course. This subject has been covered very well, and I am proud that it has received the attention it deserved and as we all know now, that the U.S. Supreme Court has eventually overturned Trump’s decision. 
You have completed commissions for the New York city Commission on Human Rights and the NYC Office of Immigration. How was working for these important and vital organizations? Did you feel a pressure to represent them in the best way possible?
Well, I worked with a few governmental organizations and non-profits. My personal values aligned with the ones I worked with and I hope it goes both ways. But in this type of work it’s a bit more technical, the message is what’s important.
And finally, what are your plans for the future, given the global circumstances? How are you approaching this as an artist and an individual?
Oh boy. Quite a few months we had. I am approaching it with calm head and by looking forward to the days when this is over. We just have to wait this out, take care of ourselves, people around us and those who are in need. I continue to work, most of the stories have been COVID related. It’ll be over, and I am looking forward to what will come next. I think there will be a renaissance of ideas and creativity that will follow these dark days. But then of course we’ll fuck up again. That’s just how we operate.
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