With work showing the psychological impact of conflict in the Ukraine, David Denil is now publishing a book with Dewi Lewis
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 remaining gripped by the past – an impression he felt potently while travelling through Ukraine. “If intervening in any way means something isn’t documentary, that means August Sander wasn’t a documentary photographer,” he says. “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 affected by the recent revolution, but also 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 he 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 now crowdfunding a book of the project, which will be published by Dewi Lewis – the Kickstarter ends on 22 February, and those who support it will be sent a free print.
daviddenil.com To find out more about David Denil’s Kickstarter, visit https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/daviddenil/book-pre-order-let-us-not-fall-asleep-while-walkin-0?ref=project_link This article is taken from BJP’s 2018 Ones to Watch issue