The project Between War and Peace that made up a book Somewhere Between War and Peace in 2014, published by Kehrer Verlag, is a result of over two decades of work. It is a collection of memories from hundreds of trips often to cover war conflicts. The exhibition at The Lumiere Center features series shot in conflict zones such as Chechnya, Afghanistan and Iraq; peaceful moments in Russia and abroad; as well as complex stories about Beslan and Chernobyl balancing on the verge of war and peace. These images never die out, as James says: “Even though these instants may be frozen visually many remain for me emotionally unresolved, still demanding my attention years after I first witnessed them”. James Hill’s essays first with Russian translation alongside the photographs tell the stories and emotions behind the images, encouraging to ponder over the balance between professional detachment and private involvement into the event that any photojournalist is to face.
James Hill's photographs go beyond mere news reports. His Pulitzer Prize winning feature from Afghanistan (2001), and NPPA Award winning Iraq series (2003) reveal a tremendous feeling of space and landscape. Journalistic awareness of the world blends with the artistic task of creating an exquisite composition, filling the frame densely with the noble colour (of the garment of Taliban prisoners and Afghan women) and with the vibrant space of local landscapes. This adds to the general picturesque and poetic nature of Hill’s work referring rather to the painting tradition. The notion impresses as creating a great contrast to actual barbarity of the event that Hill covers in Afghanistan during 3 months after 9/11 and in Iraq in 2003, following American army.
Another approach is seen in the most famed in Russia and the most dear to James Hill series Beslan (2004), awarded the 1st Prize at World Press Photo, Visa d’Or at Perpignan’s Visa Pour L’Image, and awards from The Overseas Press Club of America. Using the minimum of artistic means combined with the peculiar British reserve Hill photographs at school#1 in Beslan two weeks after the tragedy. Within the frame of the black-and-white square image is complete silence, so that one can hear draft rustling through the carpet of copybooks’ leaves on the floor. Terrifying reality: shot through walls, children’s drawings and inscriptions, shows through artistic austerity, attention to detail and sensitivity revealing profound photographic flair.
“It takes a far finer balance than I ever imagined to live with the past... These images, circulating like old slides on a Kodak carousel, have become ingrained in my consciousness; the more powerful the image, the deeper its hold. I am caught between the duty to remember and the desire to erase”. (J. Hill)