The image of a soldier kissing a cross by Shirak Karapetyan Milshtein is a pretty famous portrayal of the varying shades of conflict and its impact on humanity. While originally thought of as having been an original archive photograph from the Kursk battle, the picture is really a re-enactment photograph for a photo project titled “The Chronicles of a War Correspondent” in 2007, taken and curated by Shirak Karapetyan Milshtein. In the words of the photographer:
“I hasten to note that this is not an archival footage that’s based on photographs of the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945, it’s a reconstructed photograph taken in 2006-2007 in the city of Armavir (Krasnodar Territory). I would like to thank all those who remained indifferent to the works, and experienced through them what I experienced … Sincerely, the author Shirak Karapetyan Milshtein.”
Despite being a re-creation and not the original, the image has a poignant story to tell. It talks of the fallibility of human endeavour, and the vulnerability even the ones saddled with the assumption of bravery exhibit. To most people, a soldier is a representation of courage, of brute force and strength. To most, a soldier is a reiteration of everything we have learned, read and studied about them: that they do not hesitate to kill, that they put the nation before everything else.
And yet, you have this photograph.
In that gentle kiss that the soldier plants on the cross, there is a microcosm of emotion. One cannot potentially fathom all of the things that run on a soldier’s mind. But one can be sure, that to be human, is to think of what he loves most, first. To this end, the choice to send a prayer is not an exhibition of weakness. Of vulnerability, yes. Of hope, yes. Of hopelessness, yes. Of faith, yes. But not weakness: for it is the repository of courage that man turns to in times of adversity.
The sharp contrast of the praying man with the face of a soldier in the backdrop, frozen in Polaroid as he sounds what could arguably be a war cry. The spectrum of wartime reality is explored in the photograph, with a sense of careful and sensitized thinking backing the approach. The contrasts are not just explored in the mannerisms, but also in the way in which it is captured. The contrasting shades, the attention to detail, and the very thought behind putting the contrasts in perspective bleed from the picture.
Regardless of the fact that Shirak Karapetyan Milshtein’s work of art by itself was not captured in wartime Russia as has been perceived to be, the photograph is an important tool for reflection. It is a reminder that this could be any soldier’s story. This could be a photograph set anywhere: and the narratives will be the same. The photograph is a silently painful tribute to the futility of war, and to the human cost of conflict that the world is aware of, but does nothing about.