Documentary

Back to the Negatives

© Iva Zimova
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Back to the Negatives


Recently I started going through my old negatives and made some wonderful reconnections with stories I have not seen for twenty-five years. It is like being reacquainted with old friends. The past century I photographed with film cameras usually loaded with black and white film resulting in a large library of negatives containing many stories from places all over the world. Places like the Ukraine, Romania, Central Asia, Caucasus, Kosovo, Czechoslovakia, China, South and Central America, Middle East, New York, Montreal and more.

Looking through these negatives now as a veteran photographer I realize how many great moments I overlooked and never printed. Technology too has changed, instead of a darkroom, a lovely process indeed, it was often a time-consuming commitment and often I had to ration what negatives to print because of those restraints. However, today I can scan the same negatives at a fraction of the time, allowing me to broaden my selection. Reconnecting with work that spans twenty-five years has become a revealing experience, not only for the hidden gems I first overlooked but also for the opportunity to access a body of work that could have easily been forgotten.

Kazakhstan 1995
I spent a month with the Czechs of Borodinovka. I became a new member of the family I stayed with. I did daily chores, I also milked a cow but with a little success.
There were some 800 Czechs living in the village, located 120 km from Aktyubinsk – the major city of northern Kazakhstan in 1995. The history of Borodinovka begins in 1911, when several Czech families moving from Moldavia relocated to the region in response to an offer of the Russian government to farm the rich lands in exchange for a parcel of land.

A boy with his puppies

Children pretending to smoke cigar using the brown tips of cattails


Commemorative feast at the cemetery in the Czech village of Borodinovka.

Ukraine in 90’
I started visiting Ukraine after its independence in 1991. My first trip was contracted by Canadian International Development Agency at the turn of the year 1994 and 1995.
Immediately I felt love with this country and their people.
“Ukraine” means borderlands, and like all borderlands its fate was to fall victim to invasion and oppression from surrounding countries. In their turn, the Lithuanians, Poles, Turks, Tatars and, for a long period, the Russians have each dominated the people of the Ukraine. Through the centuries, the Ukrainians have desired their sovereignty. Shortly after the Soviet coup on the 24th of August 1991, independence was declared after a nation-wide referendum.


Nr. Bakhchysarai, Crimea 1998
A Crimean Tatar girl drying dishes at their cottage where she moved with her mom and her brother. Her mother separated from her husband who drunk a lot and abuse her and children. They lived without the electricity; they went bed during sunset and woke up when sun rises.


Ivano-Frankivsk district, Ukraine 1998.
A portrait of Hutsuly-regional ethnic Ukrainian men somewhere in the eastern Carpathian Mountains.

Ivano-Frankivsk district, Ukraine 1998.
A man drinks a homemade spirit

Romania 1992
I heard about Czech communities in Banat region of Romania from a friend. He told me about communities which have preserved their heritage for more than 180 years by simply passing it from one generation to another. I received a grant from the Arts Awards Service of the Canada Council, packed my cameras and went to see these isolated Czech villages before the globalization will affect them.


A man, a descendant of the Czechs, carries a milk container.


Portrait of two handicap sisters who barely left their bed.


A man drives a motorcycle across the village of Eibenthal, one of the Czech villages.

Czechoslovakia 1992
Exactly 10 years after my escape I was wandering streets of Prague with my Nikon FE, loaded with black and white film.
I emigrated from my native Czechoslovakia in 1981. And I thought that I might never be able to return. It never occurred to me that the Berlin Wall would fall and that communism in Eastern Europe would collapse. Furthermore that dissident writer would be elected president of Czechoslovakia.

Men drink beer in front of a restaurant during their lunch break.


A man looks through a door viewer to see who knocked on the door.


Girls playing a game of Chinese jump rope.

Iva Zimova
the authorIva Zimova
Iva Zimova, Czech and Canadian born in 1956

. I first developed my photographic eye in Montreal, where I studied photography at Dawson College. But Dawson Collage teaches commercial photography, and in any case I found that I was more comfortable wandering the streets with my camera than being locked up in a studio.

 Montreal’s streets were not enough for me, however, so I started to travel to different places. I became resolved to document the lives of people who are persecuted or neglected. In 1998, during the war in Kosovo, I encountered the Czech NGO, People in Need, and since then I have contributed to their efforts with my work. It’s very important for me to be involved in the environment that I am photographing. To be accepted by the people I photograph and to become one of them is a part of what I do. This takes time, but it allows me to be a privileged witness of social occasions and rituals that would otherwise be off-limits: births, baptisms, spiritual ceremonies, weddings and funerals. I always carry my cameras (one digital and one film camera) with me in my backpack. The pack becomes a part of my body and if I don't have it on me, I feel like I'm missing something. To have my cameras with me at all times gives me the opportunity to photograph anything that I find interesting, at anytime. I am represented by Panos Pictures.”

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