Portraits of shattered souls

Girls and boys. They go by no name, but their faces are marked by scars from bayonets, whips or knives. Some escaped hatred and indifferent smugglers, others survived shipwrecks and overcame barbed regulations protecting the borders.

(All photos are kindly provided by Pierre Duterte)

In his latest photo book, Le Phototherapeute, French author and medical doctor, Pierre Duterte paints a portrait of young victims of torture through his conversations with one of them, a patient known as “Junior”.

Like Junior, the children have escaped countries riddled with war and conflict. Safe in France, they no longer fear for their lives, but being alone in a strange country, they are met by a new threat: the loss of identity. Confronted with a new language and a new culture, they are lonely souls with no family nor friends to turn to.

As Duterte writes, battling traumatic memories that have since turned into nightmares, they risk becoming the forgotten children in a society that believes it has met its duties by giving them a place to stay and food to eat.

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Duterte has worked with torture victims for more than 20 years and throughout his career, he has treated thousands of clients. In 2007, he released a book about his experiences as a therapist working with torture victims.

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In Le Phototherapeute, Duterte, who is also a photographer, uses photos of nameless children to illustrate the complexities of his patients. As to reiterate that Junior could have been any of the young victims of torture he has met, the book has no photos of Junior.

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Perhaps frustrated with the way that institutions have failed to treat these children, Duterte points to the trauma and horror that young victims of torture struggle with, before and after their escape. With his patients in mind, he describes the unexpected effects of placing the young shattered souls in front of a mirror. Looking at themselves, some of them are unable to recognise their own reflection.

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Le Phototherapeute gives the reader an insight into the troubled life of young torture survivors and what it takes to restore both their physical and mental health. It is a compelling read that also serves as a reminder to us that these children have a very lengthy rehabilitation process ahead of them and that they need all the support they can get. If we have any hopes of them recognising themselves in the mirror we need to start by helping them rebuild their identity and escape their nightmares.

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To find out more about Le Phototherapeute, click here.

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