Joseph Sywenkyj

Artist Biography: 

Joseph Sywenkyj (b. 1978) specializes in documentary photography and photojournalism. In 2003, a year after graduating with honors from the School of Visual Arts, he moved to Ukraine on a Fulbright Fellowship. Since then, he has been based between Ukraine and the USA covering stories throughout Central and Eastern Europe, Central Asia, as well as in Africa and the Middle East. His photographs have appeared in various publications such as The New York Times, Conde Nast Portfolio, GQ, Time, Newsweek, The New Yorker, ESPN the Magazine and many others.

In 2002 Joseph attended the World Press Photo Joop Swart Masterclass. PDN named him one of the 30 Emerging Photographers to watch in 2003. He was twice a finalist for the W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography in 2009 and 2011 and was also a finalist for a 2010 Hasselblad Masters Award. His photographs have exhibited at the George Eastman House, University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Germany, Musée de l‘Elysée in Switzerland, Les Rencontres d‘Arles in France, United Nations Visitors Lobby in NYC and at FOAM in The Netherlands. Additionally, Kodak Professional has sponsored the creation of his work.


Verses is the story of the Parkhomenko family in Odesa, Ukraine. Sasha, Ira, and their daughter Masha are the lead characters in my ongoing documentation. Sasha and Ira were both diagnosed HIV-positive in the late 1990s. Several days after I met them in 2001, Ira gave birth to her sixth child Masha. A year later they were informed of Masha’s HIV-positive status. Ira has had 3 more children since Masha’s birth. Currently 11 children (including 3 grandchildren) live with them in their small home. The children range in age from 3 to 20 years old.

The overall objective of the project is to highlight family planning issues and the importance of free or inexpensive antiretroviral therapy for HIV-positive people and pregnant women who cannot afford it. This will always remain a central goal. However, the power of this project is that it does not attempt to make sweeping judgments about society and its problems. The power of Verses is that it is a story about family, intimacy, relationships, values, and love and all the anxieties and difficulties that accompany it.