Wwii Photo Essays

World War II is the story of the 20th Century. The war officially lasted from 1939 until 1945, but the causes of the conflict and its horrible aftermath echoed for decades in both directions. While feats of bravery and technological breakthroughs still inspire awe today, the majority of the war was dominated by unimaginable misery and destruction. In the late 1930s, the global population stood at approximately 2 billion. In less than a decade, the war between the nations of the Axis Powers and the Allies resulted in some 80 million deaths -- killing off about 4 percent of the whole world.

This series of entries was published weekly on TheAtlantic.com from June 19 through October 30, 2011, running every Sunday morning for 20 weeks. In this collection of 900 photos spread over 20 essays, I tried to explore the events of the war, the lives of the people fighting at the front and working back home, and the effects of the trauma on everyday activity. These images still give us glimpses into the experiences of our parents, grandparents and great grandparents, moments that shaped the world as it is today.

“People who fought in the war know what war really means,” says World War II veteran Uli John. Spanning political parties, generations and borders, war leaves its impression on thousands, shifting the world we live in. In his new book Veterans: Faces of World War II, photographer Sasha Maslov delves, through portraits and personal essays, into the stories of those who saw the reality of war firsthand. Observer spoke with Maslov on this project.

Hakushu Kikuchi. Sasha Maslov

Observer: What inspired you to create this series?

Sasha Maslov: I was always interested in history and WWII in particular. At the time I was starting this project (end of 2010), I was transitioning into portrait photography, and I thought it would be a fantastic way to unite my interests and do a series of portraits of World War II veterans from various countries fighting for different sides, see their lives now and hear their stories.

Jack J. Diamond. Sasha Maslov

How did you approach capturing each person and their story?

Each person was different, and of course, their home environments played a role in portraying them. So many times, the rooms they were photographed in could tell so much about who they were—not just about their cultural background and social status but about small things as well. If you spend some time looking around the environments, I feel like you can draw so much about who these people are.

Dmytro Verholjak. Sasha Maslov

Each veteran is shot in their home: Did any of their spaces stand out to you more than others?

Each of them was so representative of their individuality, and that was enough for me. I have photographed couple of people outside of their homes, like Luigi Bertolini, who spent his entire life in his garage that was built right next to his house—it was more representative of who he is.

Luigi Bertolini. Sasha Maslov

How did the veterans feel about letting you into their homes and sharing their stories?

Most were very welcoming. Some people I had to “warm up” for some time. Sometimes a cultural difference was an issue, but sometimes it actually helped to be from another culture and gain access to the people.

Urszula Hoffmann. Sasha Maslov

What do you hope readers of your book take away?

It’s really up to the viewer I hope that readership will find time not just to look at the photographs but read the text. For me, working on the project and revisiting the stories and the images many times was an emotional journey—it helped me grow and understand few things better. I hope it will be the same experience for the readers.


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