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Sarasota gallery spotlights Ukraine portraits from local photographer

Now at the Lexow Gallery, Allan Mestel’s “Portrait Ukraine” project aims to create a connection between viewer and subject.

Slava, a Ukrainian student, stands in the rubble of his school that was destroyed in the Battle of Kharkiv.
Slava, a Ukrainian student, stands in the rubble of his school that was destroyed in the Battle of Kharkiv.
Photo by Allan Mestel
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Local photographer Allan Mestel’s latest project is now on display at The Lexow Gallery in Sarasota.

The project, “Portrait Ukraine: Capturing Faces of Resistance Amid the Chaos of War,” will be on display until April 19 and spotlights over 30 photos from Mestel’s trips to Ukraine. 

“The 'Portrait Ukraine' exhibition serves as a stark reminder of the dire conditions and ongoing challenges the Ukrainian people face, serving as a call to the world for more support,” a press release stated. 

The portraits are meant to create a connection between the viewer and subject, and prompt the viewer to reflect on themes like the reality of war and shared humanity, according to the release. 

“I define it almost as trying to create an encounter experience for the viewer, where you’re looking eye to eye with an individual and hopefully connecting emotionally with them,” Mestel told the Observer in September 2023.

Allan Mestel
Courtesy image

Mestel’s portraits come from his most recent trip to Ukraine in September 2023, which he embarked upon alongside his colleague, photographer David Graham. 

The two were in Ukraine from the end of August to early September visiting cities and small towns.

In September 2023, both recounted how this last trip differed from all the others. With the front line more solidified, Mestel and Graham said it was interesting to see how Ukrainians tried to continue their lives amid war. 

Mestel’s work is ongoing, and he is planning his fourth trip to Ukraine. He hopes to get there in the first half of 2024, according to the release.

Originally from Canada, Mestel has a distinguished career in photojournalism and filmmaking. He moved to Florida in 2014 and opened a commercial photography studio. Mestel also co-owns Beach Fitness in Whitney Plaza on Longboat Key with his wife, Robyne.

His work for human rights and social justice movements has been featured in places like CNN, NBC and PBS. 

Spotlight Ukraine is a volunteer initiative helping to promote Mestel’s gallery. The organization aims to support Ukraine and the Ukrainian people and supports Mestel’s work in documenting the stories of Ukrainians impacted by the war. 



Carter Weinhofer

Carter Weinhofer is the Longboat Key news reporter for the Observer. Originally from a small town in Pennsylvania, he moved to St. Petersburg to attend Eckerd College until graduating in 2023. During his entire undergraduate career, he worked at the student newspaper, The Current, holding positions from science reporter to editor-in-chief.

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