One Second of Light by Giles Duley review – moments of hard truth

is a humanist photographer of the old school. He believes that his photographs can change the lives of the people in them and maybe even the people who look at them. “Whilst some document the differences between us,” he writes, “I am fascinated by what makes us the same. Humanity is universal and wherever I travel, I see the same hopes and dreams, the same intimacies and values.”

While many contemporary photographers question the once sacred notion of the photographer as witness, and indeed any idea of photographic truth, Duley has kept faith with that belief at a considerable cost. The images gathered were taken between 2005 and 2015 in Angola, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Jordan and Ukraine, that is before and after he was almost killed by an IED (improvised explosive device) in Afghanistan in 2011 and lost both his legs and his left arm. I considered not even mentioning Duley’s injuries in this review, not least because because the images deserve to stand on their own without being viewed though the prism of his traumatically life-changing experience. The reason I changed my mind is because there is, I think, a change in his way of looking in the later photographs. His eye sharpens and his gaze becomes both more direct and more attuned to the everyday as well as the dramatic. He becomes more of an observer, less of a watcher.

An image from Duley’s book showing a suspected Taliban outpost being shelled: ‘A connection is made, but not overstated.’ Photograph: Giles Duley

For me, some of the most powerful images included here are the colour portraits of civilian casualties of the war in Afghanistan. They were made in a hospital and limb-fitting centre run by the humanitarian NGO less than a year after his own trauma. While the photograph of doctors tending to an unconscious patient’s wounds after an actual amputation is visceral in its unsparing directness, the faces of the men in recovery are like landscapes of lived experience, some thoughtful, some haunted, some defiantly serene. One young man, Mohamed Ali, staring intently downwards, has just received the news that his leg must be amputated. Another, Mohammed Karim, wreathed in a white sheet and staring into the lens, has suffered horrific abdominal injuries. He is the brother of Said, who lost both legs in the same landmine explosion. Their thoughts are on their uncertain future, the fate of the extended family they both supported. As with all of Duley’s portraits, either observed or arranged, you are drawn into the still drama of the faces, the eyes that stare back at you or away from you. You can feel the weight of what has happened and what might yet happen.

Duley's acute eye for the quietly revealing moment informs One Second of Light from start to finish

Elsewhere, Duley includes a series of explosions in the desert, made when a suspected Taliban stronghold was shelled. A connection is made, but not overstated. In Jordan in 2013, he sat in a tent, sipping tea with volunteers and doctors on a bitterly cold night, as they waited for a stream of refugees to arrive on foot from . “The first to appear was a young girl, maybe five, dressed in a cream coat. She walked with a determined purpose far beyond her years… Out of that darkness, more figures arrived till there were hundreds… A nation was on the move.” There is a strange intimacy to these nocturnal black and white images of a bedraggled vanguard: that essential humanity that comes from deep looking.

Likewise in the observational series about a gang of street kids from Odessa that ends the book. In one, a child sweeps the floor of the derelict house they inhabit. Perhaps surprisingly, this is the image from the book that haunts Duley the most. “I was told these kids were worthless, criminals, who’d chosen this life – but when I saw them sweep their crumbling home, all I saw was children who wanted a home.” It is that kind of identification with his subjects, as well as his acute eye for the quietly revealing moment, that informs from start to finish.

Source : theguardian[dot]com
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