I Can Only Tell You What My Eyes See

Conflict photographer Giles Duley reflects on his recent exhibition, ‘I Can Only Tell You What My Eyes See’, a meditation on the refugee crisis in Europe and the Middle East 

In October 2015, the photographer Giles Duley was commissioned by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to document the developing crisis in Europe and the Middle East. A gruelling, seven-month long project, Duley would visit 14 countries – from the chaos of the refugee camps of Iraq and Jordan, to the terror of crossing the Mediterranean and the reality of life for refugees in Europe – forming a remarkable record of one of the biggest humanitarian crises of our time.

Held at the Old Truman Brewery in east London from 4th to 15th October 2017, ‘I Can Only Tell You What My Eyes See’ brought together over 100 images from the project for an innovative multimedia exhibition. In a collaboration with the Legacy of War Collective, a loose body of artists who have been affected by conflict, over ten days Duley’s work was joined by artists, musicians and writers, and was host to a supper gathering each evening.

For Duley – who lost both legs and his left arm when he stepped on an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan in 2011 – the exhibition was an attempt to move away from the traditional constraints of a photographic show, and to celebrate life, culture and the human spirit in the midst of war and abject suffering. Here, in a film directed by Phoebe Arnstein, Duley and the exhibition’s participants reflect on ten days of food, music, talks and collaborative art.

Photography Giles Duley

Soundscape Rob Del Naja

Artist Semaan Khawam

Musicians Alaa Arsheed, Lisa Hannigan

Volunteer Susana Repaneli

Paintings Young Syrian Children

Director Phoebe Arnstein

Executive Producer Dan Keefe

Producer Michelle Hagen

Camera Operators Robbie Chapman, Tom Sweetland

Editor Theo Gibara

Sound Recordists Duran Darkins, Edwin Weiss, Robert Newman

Colourist Oisín O’Driscoll

Sound Engineer Jeff Smith

Titles Chris Egglestone

Creative Direction Black Sheep Studios

Massimo Vitali: Disturbed Coastal Systems

The Italian photographer discusses scouting locations, the politics behind his work and the changing status of Europe’s beaches

Massimo Vitali is known for his large-format photographs of crowded beach scenes. A former photojournalist and cinematographer, Vitali has committed the second half of his adult life to travelling across the globe. “At the beginning of the season I look up places to shoot,” he says. “Sometimes people I know will talk to me about new locations, sometimes I will want to go back to places I’ve been before.” It’s this tradition of visiting and re-visiting beaches that has reinforced his idea of them as places of perpetual change. “If you really wanted, you could go to the same beach for twenty years and every year it would be different,” he explains. 

“When I first started taking pictures, beaches had no connotations. They were places where people could not think about anything, and be totally at ease.” Today, the same beaches are still holiday destinations, he says, but they are also the troubling backdrops of the European migrant crisis. For Vitali, an artist who has spent the last two decades documenting holidaymakers along the coastlines of the continent, as well as further afield, the beach has become a looking glass into the heart of the lives of Europeans. Of the current political climate, Vitali notes: “There is a vague sense of doom.”

New work in the Italian photographer’s current exhibition at the Benrubi Gallery in New York, Disturbed Coastal Systems, was primarily shot on the beaches of Portugal, where over a million Syrian, Afghan and Iraqi refugees first set foot on the shores of Europe. Vitali continues to look at the tension between the human habitat and the natural world with his latest photographs. Throughout the images, man-made saltwater pools and concrete piers break up natural scenery and hint at ways coastlines are occupied.

While at first glance Vitali’s photographs can seem almost saccharine, on closer inspection there is an unexpected depth beneath the bubblegum colour palette – something that feels both timeless and fleeting. “I try with my pictures to be in the middle, in the middle of something that is not long lasting, like walking on a thin line between what is already there and what is changing all of the time.”

Disturbed Coastal Systems is on show at the Benrubi Gallery in New York until 17 June