The exhibition opens in an airy, calm, and luminous atmosphere. William Daniels and the exhibition’s co-curator, Marie Lesbats, have chosen to welcome visitors with photographs bathed in light and featuring soft subjects: A man in Bangui, Central Africa, on his way to church, water up to his ankles as he crosses a river. A forest in Siberia. Trees in Uganda. Fishermen in Bangladesh. Nature intersects with humanity in a celebration of dignity and beauty of the world.
Very quickly, however, we are plunged into what constitutes the heart of William Daniels’s work: a zone of tension. Religious, ethnic, political tensions that fuel conflicts in these war-torn countries. This is the case, for example, of Central African Republic where families take refuge in makeshift shelters as they flee Christian and Muslim militia. Or Kyrgyzstan which went through a period of revolution in 2010, during which the presidential palace was raided and pillaged. Daniels documents the aftermath of these conflicts in dark and poignant tableaus. He is a master at capturing the moment of movement, the expression of a face, the gesture of a group.
In one 2007 portrait, an elderly Kyrgyz woman is shown praying and weeping. William Daniels informs us that she “broke down” in front of his camera. Originally from Moscow, she had to make a home in a country she knew nothing about in order to take up her job in administration. “It was as if the act of photographing her triggered something… Sadness, a reflection on her life…,” suggests William Daniels. Further on, we encounter a young Libyan fighter immortalized by the photographer. “It was as if, at that very moment, he realized that the conflict was more complicated than he had imagined,” explains Daniels.
The last room is the nucleus of the exhibition. It contains a large fresco stretching over nearly 90 sq meters and bringing together some thirty photographs. A whole world of conflict is deployed on these walls. Young people in Kashmir aim slingshots at soldiers and are often victims of authoritarian repression. A militiaman wounded in Central Africa is lying in a hospital bed, covered in blood. With a grave look, brimming with grief, Moloa Banu, aged 60, a Rohingya refugee in Bangladesh, eyes the horizon. She fled her village, which had been burned down by the Myanmar army, and she has been reduced to begging by the roadside. Her face is heart-rending and follows us as we leave the exhibition.
By Jean-Baptiste Gauvin
William Daniels, Wilting Point
January 25 to April 11, 2019
Pavillon Carré de Baudouin, 121 Rue de Ménilmontant, 75020 Paris