Photographer’s last images show Ukrainian despair

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Italian photographer Andy Rocchelli was killed by a mortar attack in May

His last photos, of the Ukrainian conflict, show his maturity and talent, colleagues say

CNN  — 

A cluster of innocent eyes gaze up at a light shining above them. Packed inside a bunker along with jars of pickled beets and other provisions, they look like cherubs searching the sky for answers to their plight.

These children hiding in Slovyansk, Ukraine, are looking at the camera of Andrea Rocchelli, a young Italian who died while photographing their stories.

“Andy was a very sincere person,” said Luca Santese, who co-founded Cesura, a collaborative photo agency. “He wasn’t just about conquering the subjects. He was very sincere and dedicated to the stories he was doing.”

Andy Rocchelli

Described by his Cesura colleagues as young, idealistic and very passionate, Rocchelli lived and breathed photography and storytelling. His last photographs, some still stored in his camera, project the maturity of a young man who, by then, had roamed confidently in dangerous war scenarios.

“Let’s say he was a real fighter,” said Arianna Arcara, another Cesura founding partner.

Arcara said Rocchelli’s bunker photos reflect the person he was and showed off his talent.

“When we saw those photos of the children in the bunker,” she said, “we knew we were dealing with some very potent images. … He had reached maturity, he was on the cusp of something.”

Rocchelli was barely 30 years old when mortar shells obliterated his convoy in May near Slovyansk. Authorities are still investigating the circumstances surrounding his death.

His untimely death came as his work took on a more compositional aspect – one of an artist, Santese said.

“He had found a language, an aesthetic that was very efficient not only to document but to project emotions,” he said.

Many of Rocchelli’s photos had the imprint of a documentarian, testaments on the injustice, criminality and despair in the Ukrainian conflict. Other shots, especially of children as they inhabit the war landscape, are enveloped with softness and protection.

Photographing these children in dark bunkers and hiding spaces, Rocchelli creates a womb-like image that highlights the purity of childhood versus the ugliness of war. Rocchelli was also by now a young father with an unordinary and somewhat risky profession.

When news of his death arrived in Italy, some described him as a herald for a new era in journalism: the self-assigned, freelance journalists now roaming the world in dangerous zones, driven by idealism.

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    To people who knew him well, there was more to Rocchelli than meets the eye.

    “He valued independence in journalism, and that is what we at Cesura want to maintain,” Arcara said. “You can be a photographer to win prizes or sell pictures and move on. … But when you focus on what you really want to do, what you believe in, you can grow.”

    Andy Rocchelli was an Italian photojournalist who co-founded the Cesura collective. He was killed while covering the conflict in Ukraine on May 24.