One year ago, we started our seasonal greetings by stating that “2020 has certainly been an exceptional year”. Now, a year later, we could very well start this email by saying the same thing. At the end of the previous year, we thought, with vaccination campaigns starting, the new year can only be better. Shortly after, we found ourselves in even stronger lockdown situations than before. After being a bit more relaxed over summer, we are now facing even more shocking news about intensive care units that are reaching the limits of their capacities. Therefore, we hope that you and your families and friends got through this intense period without having to cope with serious physical and mental harm.
The capability of visual images to create compassion with distant others, especially suffering others, has always been regarded as one of the strengths of visual representation, especially photography and video documenting, nowadays almost instantaneously, the plight of others. Social documentary and concerned photography, for example, always expected that a politically powerful community, however defined, would respond to its awareness-raising visualizations and politically intervene in, and ameliorate, the conditions photographers could only depict.
Imaging Peace is a 3-year Leverhulme research project that is looking at how participatory, citizen and community photographic initiatives act as (implicit or explicit) forms of peace photography or strategic visual peacebuilding. The project is exploring how community engaged and participatory photographic practices are being harnessed to foster resilience and dialogue, to embed peace and to support the healing and re-building of people and communities in countries and places with recent histories of violence and conflict.
The decision of the Norwegian Nobel Committee to honor journalistic work by awarding the Nobel Peace Prize 2021 to the Filipina journalist Maria Ressa and her Russian counterpart Dmitry Andreyevich Muratov shows the importance for peaceful social interaction that the Committee assigns to free reporting:
On October 2nd, the German Peace Prize for Photography was awarded to the Nigerian photographer Emeke Obanor’s photo series ‘Heroes’. In his project, Obanor photographically engages with the stories of young women and girls who have been abducted by the Boko Haram sect.
In a moment dominated by critical investigations of the history, continuation, and resurgence of colonial thought patterns and practices – embedded in continuing interest in questions of identity, history, and memory – scholars and artists alike have rediscovered the archive as one of the places where the above issues come together and condition one another. Archives help us, among other things, to define who we are individually and collectively, who we want to be, how we became what (we think) we are, and how we want to be seen by others. However, archives are also structures of exclusion, invisibility, and marginalization and, as such, structures of power and violence that must be approached critically.
Frank talks to Alice König and Nicholas Wiater, the principal investigators of the Visualizing War project at the University of St Andrews, about the constructive function of social conflict; the visibility of peace in a world seemingly dominated by violence; the social impact of peace photography; the everydayness of peace photography and the – relative – peacefulness of everyday life; different ways to visualize peace; and the relationship between war photography and peace photography, among other things, in a podcast recorded May 25, 2021.
How can arts in general and photography in particular contribute to peace? Scholars commonly approach this question through two different lines of thinking: While, for instance, our research rather focusses on the contribution of the artistic outcome, others engage more with the production of art and the artistic process itself. This is also the focus of Imaging Peace, a research project led by Dr. Tiffany Fairey at King’s College London.
“’Images of peace’ … They are indeed hard to find. Or better: they are easy to find, but hard to sell,” the filmmaker and photographer Wim Wenders observed in January 2006 in a long conversation with the writer and philosopher Mary Zournazi, documented in Inventing Peace (p. 38).
When images of peace can easily be found, what do they look like? And what do Wenders and Zournazi mean by peace?
Archives are “structures of meaning in process” (Roberts 2014: 114), always in the process of becoming, linked as much to the past (which they claim to represent) as to the future (which they inevitably shape). We can learn much about societies by looking at what is included in archives but also by searching for what is excluded from them, without assuming that everything that is included in archives is equally relevant for the ways societies see themselves and want to be seen by others. Archives structure politics and societies, and they do so with regard to the past, the present and the future.