Photos and peace

Today Soren Sommelius and I held two mini-lectures about pictures of violence and peace; it took place in the gallery where Sommelius’ exhibition, “Between War and Peace” is on show. We walked around and paused here and there and told the visitors the various stories behind single images.

We are both very concerned that there are so many pictures in media and entertainment that – consciously or not – convey the message that violence is natural and sometimes necessary – even the only tool to use.

In different ways we work with pro-peace images – but what that is, isn’t easy to define! I have no conrete idea about it. And there is a huge difference between photos of peace and photos for peace…if at all they exist and can be defined.

We all know what a picture of violence and war looks like. But ask people what an image of peace is – and you may hear people respond that to them it is Picasso’s peace dove, perhaps the sign of peace, perhaps a special image of, say, the young many standing, unarmed, in front of the tanks at the Tiannanmen Square in Beijing.

Perhaps the fascinating thing about peace photography is that it is both a non-category among image-makers and -users in a broad sense and (too) enigmatic to define while I would insist that I am sure it exists.

Photos of violence exclude a potential – human or societal. When violence has hit, there is only negative energy or an exhaustion of potentials. A dead body at the age of 36 cannot be made to fulfill its potential for a life up to, say, 80 years. Violence is a reduction or a killing of what is and its potential for realization.

In contrast, peace or non-violence is – at the very least –  a preservation of what is together with an increase in the likelyhood of future realization of potentials, of what could be.

You may also say that violence closes doors. Peaceful means open doors.

So an image of violence is somehow finite. We can of course mourn that fact, we can sympathize and empathize but we cannot see the drama to another, natural, life-maintaining, end. In front of an image we can shrug our shoulders, cry or whatever – but we can feel no convivality, no joy, no creativity, indeed no creation. It is destruction.

Violence is killing of creativity too. It also takes little creativity to employ violence – anyone can start a bar brawl. But it takes a lot of creativity and humanity, a lot of knowledge and training to stop violence, move towards a viable settlement of a dispute and help parties – including oneself – to move toward forgiveness, reconciliation and closure with remembrance.

The major parts of human life is peaceful. Most people go about their lives in peaceful ways. There should be enough motives in that!

It is inconceivable to me why it should be so much more easy to picture violence than to picture peace. If we can’t make images of peace, it is probably because we lack the needed creativity. It does not require much to take a picture of violence – it communicates so easily to the viewer. But making viewers reflect on what peace is or could be, what tolerance, reconciliation and non-violence is and how it could help create a better world that requires tremendous innovation and creativity. And it requires vision and humanity.

Finally, there are those who say that peace is boring while violence is dramatic. I refuse that simplicity. Both can be both. It depends. But what the peace image-maker will surely find out is that there is less money out there for them than for those who produce pictures of violence.

I invite anyone to discuss why there is so much violent imagery, in the press and image bureaus in particular – and what we can do to change that sad fact.

What a wonderful challenge ahead of every image-maker! My work as both peace researcher and (peace) photographer as well as having a small gallery with experimental photo art aims at exploring these issues more in depth over the years. And I hope to link up with many and different people who share that interest!




Would love to read your views, ideas or suggestions here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.