An Orthodox Jewish man sits on a swing in the Ukrainian city of Uman during the celebration of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.Statue Vladyslav Musiienko / Reuters

    Recently I sat on a swing again. The seat was too small, the ropes cut into my thighs, but the rocking itself was like riding a bicycle. My legs hadn’t forgotten how to move back and forth at the right time to gain momentum and get higher and higher, to the point where you think, oops. The adrenaline rushed through my body as usual, but all I thought about was what could go wrong. The untouchable feeling, the cheerful open-mindedness of the past – gone.

    This personal note means that I already have a problem. See the image above: a photo of an Orthodox Jewish man during the celebration of the Jewish New Year in Uman, a city in central Ukraine and, I read, one of the most important Jewish pilgrimage sites outside Israel. It’s more than enough exceptional information to get started for this section. There are so many journalistic questions you can ask about this image.

    Who is this man and where is he from? With war ravaged Ukraine, will Uman be visited by pilgrims from abroad during Rosh Hashanah this year? How do they get there? And who took the picture?

    Yet those questions were initially absent; it was the mood of the photo that touched me. A man on a brightly colored children’s swing, his attitude, the general sadness, even though the sun is shining. This is typically an image you could post on social media with #mood whether it’s because you don’t feel like Monday, your relationship is over, or because you’ve just taken in the latest world news. The swing as a symbol for the poignant realization that as an adult you have very few childish escape routes. So then I thought of the swing in Ommen, and of the question that ran through my head while swinging: what if I fall?

    The photo from Oeman evokes a feeling rather than curiosity. Am I failing him with that? Or the man on it, or the man who made it?

    To start with the latter: photographer Vladyslav Musiienko (he himself writes his first name with a W) knows almost nothing about the image he captured. ‘Nice to read that you like the photo’, he writes via Instagram, ‘but I can’t tell you much more about it. I don’t know this man either. I was just looking for a quiet place to view and send my photos (and that’s not easy these days). I can only assume that the man, like me, needed a quiet moment. When he saw me and my camera, he walked away from the swing. That is it.’

    A wonderfully beautiful answer. It’s as if the photographer is confirming that his photo is a state of mind. As if he too regarded the scene of the man on the swing as a universal phenomenon rather than the specific situation in a specific place (which it was, of course).

    It is sometimes said that photography teaches you to look at things from different points of view. It is, and often it is the stories behind the photos that can surprise you and turn your eyes. But sometimes it is precisely the recognizability of a photo that touches you – or okay: that which you think you recognize, as a photographer, as a viewer. That suddenly a melancholic line runs from a swing in Oeman to a swing in Ommen. And that’s it.

    ttn-22