Not that getting to sleep in a daara is like being in any dormitory you’ve known. Cruz shows a jumble of boys sleeping on the concrete floor of a school in Saint Louis, Senegal, that houses 30 boys, yet has no clean water and electricity that works only infrequently.
Cruz’s photos call to mind the topics and techniques of Eugene Richards, whose concern for human rights abuses drives his work. Like Richards, Cruz photographs in black and white, printing images that are sometimes grainy or blurred because the message is the content, not the style.
Throughout the book, gatefold spreads emphasize important scenes by creating a narrative of a nearby medical clinic that sees about 20 children a day who complain of health problems, such as untreated scabies and physical abuse. Cruz met a 12-year-old boy named Amadou who had been getting treatment at the clinic for two years and photographed him as a nurse treated his wounds from being whipped.
Some of Cruz’s most compelling images are his portraits of the young talibés. In dim lighting that leaves some of their features blurred, the photographs reveal hopelessness within the murky shadows.
There’s a set of photographs of a boy who’s maybe 10, chained at the ankle to the ground like a dog. Even the religious instruction is harsh, as when Cruz witnessed a teacher whip an even younger boy when he made a mistake when reciting the Quran.