In 2013, protests against Ukrainian’s then-president Viktor Yanukovych – who was prioritising his economic ties with Russia over his relationship with the EU – soon escalated into the infamous Euromaidan revolution of 2014. Civil unrest and conflict was rife in the capital of Kiev and a general feeling of discontent throughout the rest of the country, that had been brewing since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, was starting to bubble over.
Following the events of the protests and eventual revolution, which resulted in 137 deaths, Belgian photographer David Denil travelled to the region to begin his series, Let Us Not Fall Asleep While Walking. The project, which consists of 137 photos to match the death toll of the Euromaidan riots, is an attempt to capture the repercussions of this period for Ukrainian citizens. Inspired by a line from Taras Shevchenko’s poem Days are passing, nights are passing in which he says “Let me not fall asleep while walking”, David altered the extract to read “us” instead of “me” in order to embody the people of Ukraine as a whole.
Spending 50 days exploring the city of Kiev, David wanted to document the everyday people he met and the mindsets they were in, as an extension of the socialist realism movement of the Soviet Union era. “When encountering the people in Kiev, we first had a conversation on their experiences and their thoughts regarding the situation in Ukraine,” the photographer tells It’s Nice That. “Afterwards, we translated this into images that metaphorically built upon these conversations.” Focusing primarily on the psychological state of his subjects, David encouraged them to help him build the photos, allowing them to construct their own visual narrative: “I wanted to present an alternative view where the people could guide me, as the media, to their own ideologies and experiences.”
From a technical standpoint, David says he tried to emulate the visual style of painting in his photographic stance, strongly focusing on certain emotions that would reach the viewer and not just be “strictly embedded within the frame”. Influenced also by the methods of cinema, there is a clear deviation in David’s images from the traditionally impromptu and candid style of documentary photography. Much of it is quite obviously staged and dramatised in an effort to communicate more than just a single moment in time. The composition and framing is often painterly and striking when coupled with his chosen colour film and flash techniques.
The reception to this series has been overwhelmingly positive says David, who exhibited the photos at Kiev’s Voloshyn Gallery last year. “At first I was very hesitant after finishing the work,” he explains. “But people were enthusiastic about it and many of them confirmed that my view was clearly an extension of their own.” One visitor told David that he had managed to reach and capture a deep understanding of the Ukrainian people’s concerns.
The series is currently in the process of being turned into a photo-book by Dewi Lewis Publishing, who call it “a substantial and intense book of over 400 pages, incorporating archive materials, testimonies and images to reflect the experience and impact of the ongoing conflict.” The series has additionally since earned David several awards including LensCulture’s Emerging Talent Award and a place on British Journal of Photography’s Ones to Watch list. The book is due for release in April 2019.
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