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Ones to Watch: David Denil

From Let Us Not Fall Asleep While Walking © David Denil

With work showing the psychological impact of conflict in the Ukraine, David Denil is one of five Ones to Watch BJP is exhibiting at Peckham 24

Travelling to Kiev in the wake of protest, revolution and civil war, Belgian photographer David Denil set about documenting the aftermath of conflict in the minds of ordinary people still coming to terms with the country’s sharp divisions.

The resulting series, Let Us Not Fall Asleep While Walking, departs from journalistic record, instead attempting to depict “the psychological state of this Ukraine looking at its future while haunted by its past and memory,” he says. “The images are metaphorical representations from the everyday life encountered where time seems frozen but dreams of hope still linger.”

His images possess a cinematic quality, manifesting in bright floodlighting and symbolic posing. For Denil, this use of lighting is crucial, and something he is constantly focused on. “A film teacher once told me that there is no silence without sound,” he recalls.

“And for light, it’s the same thing. There is no shadow without light, and your shadow is a part of you. It’s an imprint within the environment you create.”

Straying from traditional documentary methods, Denil relies on visual storytelling to communicate the sentiment of contemplating the future while gripped by the past – an impression he felt potently while travelling throughout Ukraine.

He addresses his method by explaining, “If intervening in any way means something isn’t documentary, that means August Sander wasn’t a documentary photographer. That means Alec Soth is not a documentary photographer. That means everyone who has worked in portraiture is not a documentary photographer. And that simply isn’t true.”

The resulting images show people a ected by the recent revolution, and how their daily lives carry on, despite the ongoing unrest, which has resulted in more than 10,000 deaths since the Euromaidan protests began in Kiev in November 2013. They show people in their homes and on the street, always performing tasks that Denil describes as possessing “double meaning”, inviting viewers to contemplate the metaphors that the photographer deems necessary for presenting their truth.

“When you take photos of things you don’t connect with, there is no respect, and my ethical position is to at least have respect,” he explains. “If I take an image, I already know what I want to emphasise and how I want people to react to it.”

Denil, who was for a time mentored by fellow countryman Carl de Keyzer, was the recipient of two significant awards while making the work – from Center in Santa Fe, and the Alexia Foundation, both in the US. He is currently completing a book of the series in collaboration with Swiss artist Melina Wilson and Myroslava Hartmond, owner of Triptych gallery in Kiev, set to be published this year. This article is taken from BJP’s 2018 Ones to Watch issue David Denil is one of five Ones to Watch whose work BJP will be exhibiting this year at Peckham 24, which takes place over the Photo London weekend from 18-20 May