Robert Burns loves both the camera and Ukraine.
© Julia Romanovska
He laughs when people ask about his name. “It is my real name. Why would it not be?” says the gray-haired Robert Burns. The namesake of a great Scottish bard who lived 200 years ago, theis modern-day Burns has been a photographer and a fine art printer for more than 55 years.
“That guy lived more than 200 years ago and I am only 100 years old,” jokes Burns, who is actually in his 70s.
He comes to Ukraine on a charity mission, as well as to shoot around.
“Every time I come here I learn more about Ukraine and I can say this is a great country,” Burns says. His fourth visit was in November.
“I am in a lovely part of my life when I do what I want to do,” he says quietly, wrapping up his tobacco into a cigarette. He says he has earned a good pension and it is a special joy for him to do things for free – which he feels is an oddity in this part of the world.
“The only thing you can’t understand here in Ukraine is that one can do something just for the love of doing it,” he says.
On his last trip, Burns traveled to the village of Malyn in Zhytomyr Oblast to photograph a children’s hospital with British fundraiser Jim Gillies. The man has been taking care of Ukraine’s hospitals for 15 years, raising nearly $30,000 for themin total. “I decided to go with him and document what he was doing. He is a man with a big heart,” Burns explains.
A United Kingdom citizen, Burns was shocked by what he saw in Ukraine’s hospitals, particularly by poverty and corruption. “You have to be dying in Ukraine before they give you medicine from the state,” he says.
He has a total of 300 rolls of film from Ukraine from the past four years, all waiting to be edited. Burns only went digital this year, and alongside a new digital camera, he still carries his trusted Leica – a small single lens reflex camera that uses a semi-automatic moving mirror that permits the photographer to see what will be captured on film.
Pavlo Pashchenko, a Ukrainian photo journalist of more than 30 years, says that Burns is not just a high-class professional, but a “philosophical” photographer. He shoots everywhere and all the time. He would “have to become blind” to take a break.
The only thing you can’t understand here in Ukraine is that one can do something just for the love of doing it.
- Robert Burns, photographer and a fine art printer