L'oeil public


Another View by Sophie Bernard

Maïdan to Donbass tells of the events that shook the Ukraine from the end of 2013(…).Guillaume Herbaut made a dozen or so trips for various French newspapers, ranging from Paris Match to Figaro Magazine, as well as Le Monde, Télérama, and Libération. His first trip, however, was not instigated by a job, but rather by an inner necessity to go to Kiev and follow the protests in Maïdan, the main square in the Urkrainian capital: “I feel connected to the Ukraine. Most of the places that I photographed this year, I somehow knew them from past circumstances.” It began with the Ukrainian President, Viktor Ianoukovytch, rejecting an Association Agreement with the European Union on November 29, 2013. In December, the pacifist movement was limited to Maïdan Square and included political and social claims. In February, the Parliament removed the Ukranian President from office, and the conflict expanded eastward, to Donbass, a region that proclaimed independence last May.

If Guillaume Herbaut left for the Ukraine so quickly, it was also because he follows his instinct. He’s known this country since 2001, when he first went to make a personal series “Tchernobylsty”, about Tchernobyl fifteen years after the nuclear catastrophe. Since, he returns regularly, at least once a year, called by the events that have marked the country, like the Orange Revolution in 2004, or stimulated by personal projects like “The Zone”, which saw the light of day in 2011 in the form of a book, web-documentary, and blog.

Maïdan to Donbass is not only a geographic trip departing from the Ukrainian capital and arriving in the East of the Ukraine. It is also a voyage in time that describes a pacifist movement that evolved into an armed conflict. For Guillaume Herbaut, it is as much a photographic investigation as a personal one.

On one hand, his profound understanding of the land, of Ukrainians themselves, and of their history make him a heightened critical witness and observer.  On the other hand, this experience represents a turning point for him, the same way Tchernobylsty established a rupture in his photographic style with the transition from black and white into color, the changing of cameras, and a desire to reveal the invisible. Markedly different, today his work is more interested in the present, as opposed to the memory. He follows this “present” constantly, which is rare in his training. Throughout the last six months, he not only went to the Ukraine to cover the facts, but to tell a story – that of the country, conscious of the consequences that this crisis could have on Europe. The particular relationship he has with the Ukraine strongly influences his apprehension in the field and directly affects his way of photographing.

Thus, since the beginning, he has looked beyond the simple facts and expanded the edges of his field of vision, to what he calls the “outer field”. This specific approach has defined his work for over a decade. Scenes that can appear anecdotal, with anodyne details, take on symbolic meaning. For the selection presented here, he overcame the constraints connected to photojournalism by putting aside the overly descriptive and chatty images, in favor of his personal point of view. Image after image, the story is sketched: he asserts his intentions. The grouping and sequencing make sense. Chronological, the book rhythmically unfolds like a tale.

For Guillaume, it’s about affecting the on-looker, passing on a feeling. With great finesse, he avoids the spectacular effects and the “déjà vu”, and instead invokes limited means, such as eliminating the photos of cadavers. His shots are often large, but this is not at the cost of information because when he takes a step back, it’s to better acquire a certain distance from the facts. In the end, his images are rich in details capable of depicting an ambiance, an atmosphere, which inscribes his work with continuity.

Guillaume Herbaut knows how to capture and maintain our attention, in order to oblige us to look, to become aware, and finally to know. This is how his understands his role as a photojournalist and documentary photographer: show the clues from events to render a story.




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