Vanessa Winship

Simferopol, Ukraine


Not on display

Vanessa Winship born 1960
Photograph, inkjet print on paper
Image: 360 × 540 mm
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Acquisitions Committee 2019


This black and white photograph is one of several works in Tate’s collection by the British photographer Vanessa Winship. It comes from a series entitled Black Sea: Between Chronicle and Fiction 2002–6 (Tate P82421P82436). The series exists in an edition of twelve Fine Art pigment prints, all the same size, and Tate’s prints are various numbers from the main edition. As the title indicates, the photographs were shot around the Black Sea, starting from the artist’s then base in Istanbul. Prior to this, Winship had completed her first major series, Imagined States and Desires: A Balkan Journey 1999–2002 (see Tate P82415P82420), in which she had developed what would become her signature style. Using black and white photography, she approached her subject not as a photojournalist – a recorder of specific events – but as an artist working with a poetic sensibility and applying an oblique gaze to geopolitical realities. Her experience in the region led her to focus on the impact of history not just on the terrain but on human identity, becoming fascinated with the mark that history makes on people. She also realised that black and white photography, as an abstraction from real life, suited her purpose better than colour, because it encourages the viewer to move between real time and memory. Speaking in 2018, she explained: ‘This is the paradox of photography – it captures the now, which is immediately then of the past.’ (Quoted in Marigold Warner, ‘Time Folds for Vanessa Winship at Barbican Art Gallery’, British Journal of Photography, online, 12 June 2018,, accessed 24 August 2018.)

From the Balkans, Winship moved to Istanbul and Turkey became her base for almost five years between 2003 and 2007. In the country that straddles Europe and Asia, and meets both Russia and the Middle East, she positioned herself on one of the most significant geopolitical fault lines of our times, embarking on a photographic study of the sea that has stood at the centre of three major empires and the people of the six countries – Ukraine, Russia, Georgia, Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania – whose lives are both linked and divided by this near-landlocked stretch of water. Tide-less, ninety percent dead and of variable beauty, the Black Sea has been the setting for numerous tumultuous events in history. From the Crimean War (1853–6) to the Battle of Gallipoli (1915–16), it has been a political earthquake-zone, yet also a place rich in literature, myth and legends. From her point of departure from a Turkish pier, Winship’s series documents a four-year odyssey as she crisscrossed the water between Russian, European and Ottoman cultures. The early years of the work coincided with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s election as prime minster of Turkey in 2002, as well as with a time of post-Soviet upheaval: The Rose Revolution in Georgia in 2003 and the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine in 2004. Photography historian David Chandler noted in Vanessa Winship: And Time Folds that Winships’s ‘Black Sea images reflect a sense of perpetual instability trailing back in time, as well as an ambiguity between cultural identification and transience; both her own and among the people she photographed’. (David Chandler, ‘Waiting, Holding, Remembering’, in Winship 2018, p.31)

Despite this instability, Winship’s photographs give mythic weight to small things precisely observed – a gesture, an expression, an interaction. In Odessa, Ukraine (Tate P82424) a group of Roma women on a beach near Odessa are swept up in the song of a wandering minstrel; an elderly sun worshipper in Arkadia, Ukraine (Tate P82423) salutes a Soviet-style edifice; while in Sevastopol, Ukraine (Tate P82435) a crew of young Crimean sailors perch precariously on the very edge of dry land. She has characterised her work as focusing ‘on the junction between chronicle and fiction, exploring ideas around concepts of borders, land, memory, desire, identity and history. I am interested in the telling of history, and in notions around periphery and edge. For me photography is a process of literacy, a journey of understanding.’ (Quoted in Georgia, Schoolchildren, 2011,, accessed 11 August 2018.)

Further reading
Vanessa Winship, Sweet Nothings, exhibition catalogue, Foto8, London 2008.
Vanessa Winship, exhibition catalogue, Fundación Mapfre, Madrid 2014.
Vanessa Winship, Vanessa Winship: And Time Folds, London 2018.

Kate Bush
August 2018

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