Max Zhiltsov turns his lens to Limassol, Cyprus and the young men who are about to enter the country’s military. In the words of the photographer, we cannot claim with absolute certainty whether the people photographed are celebrating or protesting their upcoming enlistment. The images contain all the visual cues and signifiers of an upheaval - loud motorbikes, grey smoke, masks intended to frighten whoever lays their eyes upon them — so it would be easy to jump to conclusions and claim it’s a protest. But what if we look at it from another perspective, a slightly different, less aggressive angle?
What if these are men who have waited for a long time to join the military, perhaps seduced by movies and government messages, believing that they will be real, more complete men on the other side? The military has often been synonymous with the toughest of the tough and the ultimate machismo — many countries in the world do not allow either women or LGBTQ+ people to serve in the military, even though one’s sexual orientation has little to do with their gender traits. What we witness here is more likely than not people celebrating an unavoidable milestone in their lives, an event they don’t have a control or say over and have probably knew it was coming for a long time, so why not let loose and have a bit of fun?
Another question posed is of the role of the photographer in this situation. Should they be a passive observer or must they interfere if they see violence break out? The wider photographic community would argue that the role of the picture-maker is similar to that of the journalist, i.e. to record impartially rather than take part. Zhiltsov is not passing any judgment on what’s right and wrong - he is simply photographing an event he considers important so that there is a record of it without any grand statements, which feels refreshing.
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