Michael P. Smith Fund For Documentary Photography 2019 Finalist J.T. Blatty Frontline–Peace Life: Ukraine’s Revolutionaries of the Forgotten War

Since 2018, I’ve photographed and conducted oral history recordings with over 30 volunteers in Kyiv and embedded with those who are still serving in the Donbas, where since 2014, over 336,000 soldiers (documented) have fought and returned home to what they have labeled the “peace-life,” a train ride or sometimes only kilometers from the frontline. Within my wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, we fought in another land and escaped the proximity of combat after our rotations, to a place where we could address the physical and mental trauma of our experience. But Ukraine’s soldiers face an inescapable reality, fighting a war on their own land, making a transition to the “peace life” nearly impossible with no end to the war in sight. For the undocumented 2014 volunteers, they must fight in courtrooms to attempt achieving “combat participant status,” a label granting access to state funded support for the psychological and physical distresses of war, including brain injury.
I left my last warzone 15-years ago, but over time found myself drawn to a conflict on another land, to the community of the soldier and a sense of purpose that comes from within, such as the volunteers did in 2014. War-fighters around the world share a commonality that transcends the boundaries of nation and conflict, and I’m dedicated not only to archive the faces and stories of these fighters, but also to tell the story about the ongoing war, about those who continue to fight it, and about Ukraine's status as a country fighting for its independence, in the middle of Europe, in the 21st century.

Frontline, Peace Life will exhibit at the Ukrainian National Museum of Chicago in May 2019, a collection of large-scale portraits, first person text narratives, and a photojournalistic photo essay following the volunteers as they move from the frontline to the peace life. Funding from the grant would directly support this project to exhibit in multiple American cities, including the Ukrainian Institute of America in NYC in Jan 2020.

About J.T.Blatty

Jenn Tuero (J. T.) Blatty was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1978. She graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 2000 and served six years as an active-duty U.S. Army officer, deploying with the first troops into Afghanistan following 9/11 and again into Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom. After completing her service to the military and inspired by a love of capturing life, people and her personal experiences with disposable cameras, notebooks, and pens, she pursued photography and writing as her career. She currently resides in New Orleans, where she returned in 2010, after a photo internship with National Geographic Traveler.

Blatty is the author of Fish Town: Down the Road to Louisiana’s Fishing Communities, a photojournalist, and FEMA disaster reservist photographer whose photographs and articles have been published in Bloomberg Magazine, National Geographic, PDN Magazine, Smithsonian Magazine, Savannah Magazine, The Daily Beast/ Newsweek, The Oxford American, and CNN Photos amongst others. Her work has been exhibited in the Multimedia Moscow House of Photography in Russia, the Borges Cultural Center in Argentina, the Detroit Center for Contemporary Photography, and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans, among other museums and galleries. Since early 2018, she’s spent months embedded in the war in eastern Ukraine, working with Ukraine’s volunteer soldiers and veterans of the war in the Donbas. The project, Frontline–Peace Life: Ukraine’s Revolutionaries of the Forgotten War, will be exhibited at the Ukrainian National Museum of Chicago in May 2019, and at the Ukrainian Institute of the America in New York City in January 2020, in addition to other locations throughout the United States.

Congratulations to all of the Finalists in the 2019 Michael P. Smith Fund For Documentary Photography