PhotoWings Speaks With Sarah Blesener on Toy Soldiers

Sarah Blesener’s Toy Soldiers from PhotoWings on Vimeo.

PhotoWings, a nonprofit organization dedicated to utilizing the power of photography to further deep thinking, communication, and action, was our esteemed partner in our recent seminar Latin America: Stories That Drive Change. In addition to providing financial support for the seminar, they also made sure that the event and members of the Alexia community who attended were documented. The first videos they released from the event are from their extensive interview with Sarah Blesener, The Alexia 2017 professional winner.

In the video above, Blesener speaks with PhotoWings about how Toy Soldiers came to be and what she hopes the work conveys. She discusses how her curiosity in about political involvement of youth in Russia led her to photograph a cadet course in a public school in a Moscow suburb in April of 2016. Seeing the very intense training the kids received, in things like bio hazard suits and on AK-47’s, although they were still children and lighthearted, she knew she had to look more into it.

“The poetics of the story and the things I’m really trying to say aren’t just about the training and the guns. It’s about, on a global scale, this idea of nationalism. It’s about fear. It’s about the way that we educate kids and the way that we pass down beliefs,” explains Blesener in the video.

She spent the whole past year photographing patriotic education in Russia, resulting in the first stage of her project Toy Soldiers, which received The Alexia 2017 grant as well as the inaugural $30,000 Catchlight Fellowship this past month. The next step in the project is to document this same kind of instruction in patriotism and how that can feed into nationalism in the U.S.

We are so proud to be able to support this important story, and tremendously grateful to PhotoWings for capturing Blesener’s thoughtful, nuanced reflections on her work.

PhotoWings has broken down their interview with Blesener on a number of different subjects, including her work photographing youth, the importance of context and how she photographs family. You can explore the rest of the videos at We will also be highlighting these other videos, as well as the PhotoWings interviews with the rest of the Alexia family, in the coming weeks here on our blog.

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