A journalist and Dartmouth professor travels after dark from Los Angeles to Dublin to Russia to Nairobi, photographing and profiling a range of night owls—bakers, last-call drinkers, the homeless, and others lurking on the margins of everyday life.
The writing in Jeff Sharlet’s gorgeous new book...takes place between lonely traumas ...
Sharlet takes us to pockets of the world most of us will never see or bother to notice, and he has an unusual ability to find grace in everyone’s story, training his eye on those whom the rest of us avoid, either out of fear or a lack of curiosity ... Sharlet also photographs the most ordinary objects and moments: the light at sundown, a scale, a window lit with the glow of a television. It’s as if there had been a net strung beneath the edits of his previous books and articles, catching all the incredible moments too enigmatic to fit a traditional story ..When we suffer, we often no longer feel connected to the things we know; in many ways This Brilliant Darkness is a document of the searching that follows grief. ... The book ingeniously reminds us that all of our lives — our struggles, desires, grief — happen concurrently with everyone else’s, and this awareness helps dissolve the boundaries between us.
This Brilliant Darkness is a project of empathy. We are meant to look at a masseuse who dispenses happy endings in Ireland or a gay hustler in Russia or a shirtless addict on the streets of L.A. and feel we understand them. We are to see them as human. If it all sounds a bit like 'Humans of New York' ... it should. It’s virtually the same endeavor: to show us that other people exist ... But is transforming a person into an anecdote truly a way of seeing them? ... Do these pictures honor or misrepresent? Do they titillate, as pornography, or valorize, as propaganda? Do they accomplish something as art, or, leaving that aside, as journalism? Every reader will have their own answers. This Brilliant Darkness reminded me more than anything of the episode of The Simpsons in which Bart hosts a news broadcast for children, delivering human interest segments that turn out to be a huge hit. As his co-anchor, Lisa, says: 'Boy, that phony schmaltz of yours sure is powerful stuff.'
Through these stories, Sharlet not only looks at their pain, but explores his own, and confronts these stories not by glamorizing the suffering, but humanizing it by breaking through the isolation and getting to know the subjects of his images, erasing the line between journalist and subject ... Sharlet provides a poignant and wholly intimate portrait of the lives of those who are often overlooked in our society, breathing a sense of humanity into a part of our world that is so often inhumane. A highly recommended book that is at times difficult to take in and difficult to put down.