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Caimi & Piccinni: War Dreams
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Caimi & Piccinni: War Dreams

Denis, 19, from Kiev. About mother.
Foto: Jean-Marc Caimi & Valentina Piccinni

War Dreams

What do you see when you close your eyes? This was the starting point when the Italian photographer duo went to Ukraine to shoot their latest project, War Dreams. A simple question asked to a group of soldiers of a military base near Donetsk, prior their departure for the front line of the Ukrainian war.

Jean-Marc Caimi and Valentina Piccinni met a few years back when Jean-Marc was working on his personal project “Daily Bread” (later exhibited at Fotogalleri Vasli Souza in Malmö). They discovered the benefits of teamwork and have worked together on several projects since then, including documentary work. It was time to catch up, so I sent them a mail to learn about the new project, the Ukrainian war and the dreaming soldiers.

Anya, codename Bahira, 19, from Dnipropetrovsk region. I was dreaming about the fact that I am already living in peaceful and free country, about the fact that we have already won and we were celebrating our victory. I was thinking about all people who were our enemies who became one nation, one strong nation which cannot be conquered. Glory to Ukraine!
Anya, codename Bahira, 19, from Dnipropetrovsk region. I was dreaming about the fact that I am already living in a peaceful and free country, about the fact that we had already won and that we were celebrating our victory. I was thinking about all the people who were our enemies who became one nation, one strong nation that cannot be conquered. Glory to Ukraine!

Floret: Could you short describe War dreams and what it’s about?

JMC/VP: It’s a project conducted in a Ukrainian soldiers training camp in Donetsk, close to the war front line. We wanted the soldiers to tell us their visions, dreams, hopes and fears prior to their departure for the firing line. We asked them to close their eyes, for a while to let their inner emotions arise. Meanwhile we took a polaroid portrait and a regular SLR camera picture. We taped the polaroid on a notebook and asked them to write beneath what they saw while their eyes were closed. Exploring the inner emotions of a person ready to undertake such a dangerous journey, possibly ready to die, represented the core concept of the work, and a strong and touching human experience.


Codename Dracula, 30, from Ivano-Frankivsk region. Dracula, 30. I'm thinking why they didn't take me to the first regiment where all my guys are.Codename Dracula, 30, from Ivano-Frankivsk region. I’m thinking why they don’t take me to the first regiment where all my guys are.

Floret: Obviously you were going to Ukraine to cover a very serious event, yet you managed to produce a body of work so harmonic and peaceful in away. Was this your intention when you went there?

JMC/VP: We followed the Maidan uprising in 2014. We were shocked to see people of all social classes and age gathering for an ideal, standing for their country. More than the clashes to us it was crucial to describe the persons. The human aspect of the war more than the war itself. When the Donbass war erupted, we decided to go back to Ukraine to follow this idea of people behind the war and we had a general idea of interacting with soldiers through some kind of ritualism. Taking a polaroid, waiting for the image to appear and writing dreams on a diary was exactly the physical ritual we were looking for. We had to learn how to operate with a very old Land Camera and a cheap strobe. We made several tests. There was little improvisation. We had a precise idea of the work. Of course we couldn’t expect such an enthusiastic response of the soldiers and the ”harmonic” output you have noticed.


Yaroslav, 22, from Lviv. Yaro, codename Lys (Fox), 22 years old. Usually people measure time in seconds, minutes or days. Here I measure time with the lives of those who give them away, for others to live.  How many more?
Yaroslav, 22, from Lviv. Yaro, codename Lys (Fox), 22 years old. Usually people measure time in seconds, minutes or days. Here I measure time with the lives of those who give them away, for others to live. How many more?

Floret: What was the most difficult part of doing these portraits?

JMC/VP: Overcoming some people’s initial skepticism or shyness. But after some days in the soldier’s camp, getting to know each other, everything went smoothly. Making an old Polaroid Land Camera working correctly in such an unusual situation was also quite complicated, yes.


Slavik, 23, from Lviv. I was thinking about my mother who is constantly worried about me and I'm sitting here taking pictures, and about my girfriend Ulya,  I miss her.
Slavik, 23, from Lviv. I was thinking about my mother who is constantly worried about me and I’m sitting here taking pictures, and about my girlfriend Ulya. I miss her.

Floret: You are in a place surrounded by young, old, women and men, waiting to go to war. How would you describe the atmosphere in a place like that?

JMC/VP: It was quite surreal. The training fields were set in a children summer camp in the bushes near Donetsk, with all the kids stuff still there. We experienced this suspended, childish and friendly atmosphere of a vacation spot in an awkward way and we do believe that also the soldiers were influenced by this aura. This was making the concerns of the imminent deadly clashes even more absurd and dramatic.


Codename Marusya, 21, from Dnipropetrovsk. I was thinking about the carpet but I was dreaming about peace.
Codename Marusya, 21, from Dnipropetrovsk. I was thinking about the carpet but I was dreaming about peace.

Floret: It’s been some months since you finished your work in Ukraine now. Do you still keep in touch with any of the subjects? Have you heard from them? Are they okay?

JMC/VP: The camp is set in a secluded and secret spot. Soldiers are concerned about having too many contacts with the outside world for security reasons. But occasionally we broke the rule and had a few feedbacks from some of the guys, mainly to exchange videos and photos.


Slavik, codename KPD, 24, from Khmelnytskyi region. About tomorrow's tasks.
Slavik, codename KPD, 24, from Khmelnytskyi region. About tomorrow’s tasks.

Floret: Any plans on going back there soon? Or where will your next assignment take you?

JMC/VP: We have been thinking about a new work based on some of the soldiers we met. Nothing has been decided yet. We are currently working on our new black and white photographs book ”Forcella” plus an exhibition. It is very complicated for us to tackle more than one project at a time.


Borys, 74, from Kiev. I thought, why are they taking a picture of me and what will happen to Ukraine.
Borys, 74, from Kiev. I thought, why are they taking a picture of me, and what will happen to Ukraine.

War Dreams has just been shortlisted for the Delhi Photo Festival 2015, where they plan to publish and display a 1/1 reproduction of the notebook with the soldiers polaroid and handwritten notes.

Visit Caimi and Piccinni’s website here, to see more projects and to learn about the release of their third book “Same Tense” (published by Witty Kiwi books), and their upcoming exhibition “Forcella” at Cascina Farsetti in Rome next Thursday, June 25th.

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