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Concept, photography and text:
Karine Zenja Versluis
Karine Zenja Versluis
Tanya van der Spek
Creative Industries Fund NL
Amsterdams Fonds voor de Kunst
Stroom Den Haag
Stichting Sem Presser Archief
What does it mean to have roots in different places? What stories are known and what is there to find out? Debaltsevo, Where Are You? is a personal story about the fascinating and elusive search for one’s heritage.
Photographer Karine Zenja Versluis (NL) started her own quest in 2013 when she decided to explore her family history in the city of Debaltseve in the Donbas, Ukraine. The place where her grandmother was born. Along the way, for more than ten years, everything went differently than expected. The search itself became the common thread in her story.
We follow the story of her grandmother, who was forced to leave Debaltseve (Debaltsevo in her grandmother’s memories) and work in a German labour camp during the Second World War. We get to know three Ukrainian families who had to flee Debaltseve in 2015 and 2022 due to another war. And we travel with the narrator herself, from the Netherlands to Ukraine, in search of a city she may never find.
During this journey, Versluis wonders how her grandmother’s story has influenced her own life. Constantly overtaken by current events, her plans keep changing, symbolising the puzzling search for her own identity. The work consists of archival images, photographs and texts in English, with Dutch and Ukrainian translations available online.
Karine Zenja Versluis is a documentary photographer and visual storyteller based in Amsterdam. In her work she explores how people deal with their identity, culture and society in which they live, and how it influences their daily lives. Karine often combines photography with audio, video, found footage or text. Her work has been published and featured in various exhibitions and festivals around the world. Karine studied photography at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague. Debaltsevo, Where Are You? is her third photo book.
“Debaltseve remains something of a ghostly presence in the book. Versluis herself has as yet been unable to photograph there. We see the city only in sunny archival images (taken by her father Dick Versluis in the 1970s) and in photographs of photographs. In this way, the book tells not only a personal history, but also a universal story of uprooting and the search for roots. "I hope that even people who have nothing to do with Ukraine can recognize something in it," Versluis says.” (Amarens Eggeraat)
“Even if, ultimately, she does not manage to make it to her grandmother's home town, Versluis has succeeded in creating an exciting testimony to her time, which, with its mixture of old family pictures, contemporary portraits, letters and texts, poignantly presents the importance of family and of history.” (Ulrich Rüter)