Visual Peacemaking

I travel frequently cross-culturally for work and interest. I aspire to be a peacemaker, following the the instructions of Jesus Christ in the Sermon on the Mount as found in the New Testament. Images have a powerful role in telling stories and framing human perceptions and experiences, especially of peoples and places unfamiliar to us. I have found photography an incredible aid in building bridges between cultures and people who normally do not engage each other, helping me tell stories back and forth across a divide that normally is posted with a huge “NO TRESPASSING” sign. In a world where divisions seem to be growing and prejudices hardening, I’m finding the work of visual peacemaking critical.

“Art is a discovery of harmony, a vision of disparities reconciled, of shape beneath confusion. Art does not deny that evil is real, but it places evil in a context that implies an affirmation; the structure of the picture, which is a metaphor for the structure of Creation, suggests that evil is not final.”—Robert Adams

This section on my blog will be devoted to something I’m increasingly passionate about–Visual Peacemaking. I’ve joined a group of international photographers devoted to breaking down stereotypes by displaying the beauty of cultures from around the world. Too often we form our ideas of the other person or culture from negative images and stories seen in the news. We often slip into a general image of an entire swath of people or culture based on that single image.  In the vein of the parables and teaching of Jesus, who told the story of the “Good Samaritan,” this section seeks to put a face on cultures that are often viewed negatively from the perspective of my western, wasp orientation.      

The Good Palestinian

10 Practical Ways to do Visual Peacemaking (borrowed and adapted from Int’l Guild of Visual Peacemakers):

1. Reduce Social Distance & Present Hope Amidst Conflict

Find an area of conflict, mistrust, or misconception between peoples. Highlight shared humanity and examine deeper understandings. Explore sources of tension while focusing on instances of, and hope for, reconciliation.

Examples:East-West relations, Israel-Palestine, Turks in Germany, Mexican immigrants in the American southwest, Kurds in Turkey.

Questions to Ask:

  • What lines of common humanity could be shown, so that “othering” (social distance) is eased?
  • What stories can be found that challenge the stereotypes?
  • What seeds of hope exist in this situation?
  • Where can you shine a positive light? Ask, what do we all have in common? (Eating, laughing, suffering, working, family, questions of existance, etc.)

2. Challenge Fear-Mongering

Demonizing narratives can lead to conflict based on ethnic, cultural, or religious identity. Present alternative perspectives to media or popular thought that are inspiring fear-based reactions.

Examples:The Muslim Community Center near Ground Zero. Polarizing and vitriolic political discourses. Subtle or outright justifications of prejudice and discrimination.

Questions to Ask:

  • How can you find alternative stories to what the news or society is focusing on?
  • Could you find acts of peacemaking and love amidst chaos and anger?

 3. Add Dimension to the One-dimensional

Provide additional interpretations about a misconceived or negatively stereotyped group. Utilize real life stories and personalities to add layers of depth and complexity.

Examples: Arabs in Hollywood or Buddhist Monks or the “poor” in Africa. 

Questions to Ask:

  • Is there a place or people who have been caricatured, portrayed as one-dimensional?

 4. Elevate Human Dignity &  Connectedness

Respectfully document the inherent dignity in others, especially those who have been labeled “undignified”. Use visual media to strengthen human connection regardless of circumstances, social strata, or geographic locations.

Examples:Refugees, the “hood” or “ghetto”, impoverished, prisoners, or handicapped.

Questions to Ask:

  • How can you display people, or aspects of their life, in a way that reveals beauty and dignity?
  • What type of interview could you conduct with them to highlight their humanity and worth?
  • What about real or perceived enemies? Why not displayanother side to them?

 5. Document Peacemakers & Peacemaking

From a photojournalistic perspective document active peacemakers or peacemaking events.

Examples:Immigrant integration, world travelers, exchange students, dialogues and discourses, peacemaking organizations or local peacemaking personalities.  

Questions to Ask:

  • Where are these events?
  • What people are involved in peacemaking efforts?
  • How has one broadened their worldview about the “other”?
  • How have misconceptions been effectively broken down and trust restored in this situation or at this event?
  • Where is social distance being reduced, how, and who is involved?

 6. Unite Humanity Through Universal Themes

From a storyteller’s perspective explore universal themes found in persons or places that will speak to audiences worldwide. Show how these bring us closer as human beings.

Examples:Themes like redemption, loss of innocence, life and death, love, hard work, reconciliation, celebration, friendship, etc.

Questions to ask:

  • What are the implications of our shared experiences?
  • How can you connect small instances of life experience into a grand narrative of common humanity.

 7. Narrate your own Peacemaking

Make yourself a character of a peace building narrative. Document your own positive experience amongst a people different from yourself.

Examples:Christians and Muslims, Shia and Sunni, Black and White, Kurd and Turk, Jew and Arab, the list goes on.

8. Expose Over-looked Beauty. 

Beauty can bring about dialogue, appreciation, mystery, and wonder. Take viewers on a visual journey that invokes enlightenment and reflection.  

Examples:Images of another location, person, home, celebration, or place near to you that might provoke new questions, wonder and appreciation for the “other”.

 9. Give Voice to the Voiceless:

Honor others and promote cultural understanding by broadening exposure to people’s personal stories.

Examples: As humans, we tell stories everyday. Listen. Also, ask questions about someone’s life, thoughts, hobby, career, dreams, or memorable experiences.

10. Visual Peace Exhibitions

Exhibitions make space for connective experiences between the viewer and the image. Create an exhibition that allows viewers to slow down and deeply reflect on visual peace themes.