Black Sea Portraits


Perhaps the single most significant aspect of our 18 month journey has been the many people we have been honored to know along the way. For our final three months – which we spent roughly circumnavigating the Black Sea – I wanted to document some of these “everyday” people with whom our lives have intersected. So, in each country bordering the Black Sea that we visited, I asked people we met if I could photograph them, and asked them each one question: what do you like or appreciate about your culture/country?

Black_Sea_mapApart from bordering the Black Sea, the countries we visited do not have a homogenous cultural or regional identity. They speak different languages, have different alphabets, have different religious majorities, and varied – though rich – histories. More than that, the people I photographed often did not share the majority perspectives of their fellow citizens. The purpose of this project was not to sum up or boil down an entire region but rather to celebrate the beauty of the individual lives that have informed and enriched ours.

Below is the final compilation of this series. My only regret is that I didn’t begin the project earlier in our journey to cover the breadth and depth of the types of people we have met throughout the whole 18 months. Nonetheless it is my honor to give you a glimpse of the people our path has crossed, if only for a few days or a few hours. Without exception, each of these people showed us friendship, kindness, and amazing hospitality. I am richer for having spent time in their company.

Translator, Bird Lover and Conservationist
Sofia, Bulgaria

Sancho, Sofia Bulgaria

I am not very patriotic, so I am not a good person to ask about what is important to me about being Bulgarian. Bulgarians are very hospitable. Also, I like that when I walk to the store, I stop to greet ten people along the way and when I arrive, the store owner has known me since I was a child and we have a good conversation. We can be very stuck in our ways but I like that I am known and I belong in my community.

Play Therapist & Teacher
Galati, Romania


I love being Romanian. We have a rich tradition – over 2,000 years, and a beautiful country. I also feel very empathetic toward my fellow Romanians; they have been occupied by so many different armies and they build their houses only to have them burned down over and over again. After a while that wears people down and they stop rebuilding. The rest of Europe thinks Romanians are lazy and we steal and cheat, but I want to tell people “Come on! Look what we have come from!” It is not an excuse, but it helps you understand more.

I grew up during communism and it took me years to get rid of the indoctrination that I’ve been subjected to early in life. To be Romanian is a significant part of who I am. I consider myself a patriot but not a nationalist. As a result of interacting with different people from different cultures I came to more deeply appreciate the positive aspects of my culture and to be more critical about the things that need to be changed. Most of the people and things I love are in Romania.

Social Worker & Program Director
Galati, Romania


There is a hardworking mindset in our culture. People do not take a lot of the things that happen or that they have in their life for granted. They see these things as coming from hard work. There is also a (Christian) Orthodox identity present in our culture. A reverence toward a Creator God is often expressed in public when people do the sign of the cross passing an Orthodox church. We have beautiful monasteries where a mysterious presence of God is awe-inspiring. Our beautiful mountains also invite you to experience this awe.

Studied Theology, presently working with children & adolescents
Chisinau, Moldova


The most important thing to me about Moldova is my relatives. People and family are what make you feel close to your nation. Also, hospitality is important, we are very hospitable. I like my country and my culture.

Studied Epidemiology
Chisinau, Moldova


It is important to me that Moldovans are hospitable. They are very open – open to help and to accept people and they are simple people.

Studied Journalism and Cultural Studies, currently HR in a Bank
Kyiv, Ukraine


I love the people of Ukraine. Maybe you don’t feel like they are friendly at first but if you get to know them, people are very friendly. They care about people and take care of people; Ukrainians are very helpful. The current volunteer movement (since Maidan and now the war) is very strong – people just take care of each other. Ukrainians are very accepting – there are Poles, Russians, Jews, Armenians, etc – and Ukrainians treat people like their brothers and respect other cultures. In our country there was no need for a feminist movement because throughout history women were always equal to men. True, there were gender roles, but in traditional Ukrainian culture/families, women were always respected. We have had a lot of female rulers in our history as well. I also appreciate our family values and traditions.

Marina & Vitale
Vitale: Miner | Marina: housewife
From Molodogvardiysk, Luhansk Region, Ukraine, Currently living in Kharkiv, Ukraine


Vitale: I have never thought I would talk about what I like about being Ukrianian.
Marina: Well, one thing, we are happy we come from that region of the country [Luhansk] because now we can use our registration and go back there and serve people who stayed there. We also like being Ukrainian because of hospitality, because we can welcome you even when we are not at home. [They had just invited us to dinner, even though they are staying in a church as war ravages their hometown].

Alena & Vadim
Project Manager and Motion Graphic Designer
Moscow, Russia


Alena: I like that our genuine culture is very different from all the others and maybe sounds strange but it’s this fact that makes me quite curious to discover not only my culture but even more other cultures and reveal peculiarities of alternative people’s way of life and world perception. In being Russian I really appreciate to feel myself a part of our great history and cultural heritage. I like the thought that I can freely speak one of the most difficult and interesting languages in the world and play with it.

Vadim: To be honest I can’t answer this question. The only thing that comes to my mind is that I like our Russian nature. In some sense our culture was to inspired or fostered by nature. So maybe I can say that I love the roots of our culture. Lately, I have discovered that our nation had very much in common with India and its Sanskrit culture. In being Russian I like to think that I have something in common with that culture.


Ludmila & Anatoly
Ludmila: Programmer and Irish Dancer | Anatoly: Programer/Designer
St Petersburg, Russia


Ludmila: First of all, we love our friends. We are surrounded by people we like, most people around us are great, interesting, smart – so many good people. Also, my family – they are not simply my family, they are also my friends. They are good people and open, so even though we have a huge family, it is very close. There were over 50 people at my grandfather’s birthday party yesterday but we all know and love each other, we communicate and hang out with each other outside of family gatherings, we are all very connected.

Anatoly: It is not easy to build friendships, but I have friends that I have met just 1 or 2 times at a party and I can call them as if I knew them from kindergarten. It is such a great feeling to have such connections – is not uncommon either. I am afraid that if we lived somewhere else it wouldn’t be the same. People tend to trust and love each other. It is like our default is to trust and assume that others are good unless they prove otherwise. Out of this trust comes hospitality, and our tendency to help each other selflessly. For instance, Katya who stayed here last night. She works for the same company in another city and we have only met her once or twice but she can arrive in St. Petersburg at 3 a.m. and come stay in our home and we think nothing of it – this is how it should be for us.

Emel & Çengiz
Emel: English Teacher | Çengiz: Customs Officer & Inspector
Trabzon, Turkey


There are three things we like about our culture:
Hospitality: We like having guests and grew up in families that like guests. It is traditional to have a special, formal sitting room for guests, but we don’t like that, we like to gather together with our guests, to share our lives and homes, not just in a separate room to receive them. Tea is a big part of the culture. When a guest arrives the first thing you do is go to the kitchen and put a kettle on for tea.

Turkish culture: Our culture is very old and traditional. We care about people, we take care of each other. We like to share plans and problems with each other. It is like therapy – everyone is Freud – we talk and share with our friends and family and everyone listens and helps each other and cares.

Stories: We like to tell stories. My [Emel’s] mom and grandma were very talented story tellers. People like to gather to hear their stories. We make up stories – some are true, some imaginary, some are funny.

Güneş & Aras
Güneş: Translator & International Correspondent for the State Opera | Aras: Opera Singer
Samsun, Turkey


There are things we don’t like about Turkish culture and politics and we are thinking about moving to Canada or Australia. But we love Turkish food. Turkish food is mostly Ottoman cuisine, but also has a mixture of Mediterranean, Central Asian, and Middle Eastern foods. We like Turkish kebabs, olive oil from the Aegean, the seafood in our region [Black Sea], and a Turkish starter called meze.



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