July 06, 2016 @ 16:46 EET

Dear Anton,

in Mariupol I’ve been avoiding the mid-day sun. The light refracts off the Sea of Azov, harsh and clear, unless the wind blows haze over the city from the Illich and Avostal steel plants. Which has led me to a belated realization: when you speak of finding your sunshine, you don’t mean it only as a conventional metaphor for happiness, or as literal heat and light. You mean it as a concept, in which sunshine stands for emptiness, or, to be more precise, for something sparse and enduring.

Perhaps you have other words. To your point about the limits of language, and context. The past few days I’ve been trying to make images that create an idea about Mariupol that I’m also having trouble naming. This is a city under pressure, an object of interest for both Ukrainians and Russians, and many versions of what that means. Yet it has mostly avoided the destruction visited upon other towns. The residents are keeping their heads down. Reticent comes to mind, as does fugitive. But I’m not sure that’s right. Maybe that’s how I’m feeling. 

I keep trying to find the space to tell you a story about something that happened last week in London. I was having a quiet drink with a friend. Sitting next to us were three men, and one began jew-baiting us. For 10 minutes he explored every grammatical form of jew available in English, mumbling jewy jew jews jews, jew and so on. I usually ignore this kind of provocation, as acknowledging it leads to escalation. Yet saying nothing grants impunity to the abuser. Shift this to the social scale, and we arrive in our current situation, the veiled rhetoric of bigotry allowed more and more public space, until it becomes the norm, and blooms in political upheaval, in public violence. 

In any case, it’s unclear to me whether laying low is the right strategy for Mariupol, or what the alternative might be. There is near-daily shelling 20km from here. We can hear it when the wind blows west. 

#image_by_image is an ongoing conversation between photographers Ivan Sigal and Anton Kusters.
@ivansigal @antonkusters on Instagram