IGVP Peacemaker Interview
August 18th, 2010

IGVP

Earlier this week the website for the International Guild of Visual Peacemakers launched. It’s an initiative that I enthusiastically support. I am proud to be a member of The Guild, where I find myself in the presence of seven fellow photographers who I greatly admire. Some are already friends, and I hope to cross paths with the others sooner rather than later. However, IGVP isn’t about the eight photographers in The Guild; it’s about the much larger Visual Peacemakers Community and what all of us together can accomplish.

There is a lot of information on the IGVP site, and as I was clicking around the site I came across a “Peacemaker Interview” that IGVP founder and president Mario Mattei requested that I complete many months ago. (And to the great credit of his patience, I’m sure he had to remind me several times.) I think this interview conveys fairly well how my vision of the world and the goals of IGVP unite. Perhaps it will encourage any of you who haven’t already explored IGVP to head over there and do so.

Here is that Peacemaker Interview…

What does visual peacemaking mean to you?
I believe that images are a powerful and primary form of communication. They are universal and transcend spoken and written languages. They can change perceptions, change attitudes and, yes, every so often change the world. I am far more interested in helping those less fortunate than me speak to the world through images that I (and many others) create than in just creating pretty pictures (although there is definitely value in that as well; the world needs beauty). If images can be used in an attempt to foster peace, and I think that they can, then that is exactly what I wish to do.

What motivates you to be a peacemaker?
This is a hard question to answer as why I do what I do is not the result of forethought and planning. It just feels right to me. If there is good and bad, then I wish to side with good. If there is right and wrong, then I wish to side with right. If there is powerful and powerless, then I wish to side with the powerless. We often think of peace as the absence of war, but I believe (and hope) that it is actually much more than that. It’s not a lack of violence but a bond of understanding. We need to nourish cultural appreciation. I strive to do that through the medium of photography.

Have you ever felt stereotyped?
Perhaps we are all stereotyped. I’m not concerned with how others perceive me. It’s my responsibility to be who I need to be. Others are free to make of that what they will. I’m more concerned with preventing myself from falling into the easy trap of stereotyping others. We are all individuals. We are all unique. We all have value.

How does your camera get you to reflect on your world and your life?
The camera is a powerful tool. It not only permits us to capture images but also to bridge cultures. When I indicate with my camera to somebody that I wish to photograph them, they understand. Whether they accept or reject my unspoken request is immaterial to the communication that just raising a camera in a certain way can convey. When they do accept and I begin to photograph, it is as if the camera can interpret language. Words don’t need to be spoken for communication, understanding and appreciation to result.

What do you like to photograph best?
People. Then people. And then more people. I’m fascinated by all that unites us as well as by all that divides us. We tend to try to categorize the world, but mankind is beyond categorization. I never cease to be amazed and impressed by the people I encounter. Those encounters and the resulting moments are among the most valuable things in the world to me. And they’re the reason that I willingly subject myself to the savageries of modern air travel to learn more about others while at the same time learning more about myself.

What technical aspect of photography do you find most challenging?
I don’t often find myself bashing my head against the wall in frustration at not being able to understand technology and the technical aspects of photography. I’m a child of technology and the technical aspects of photography seem clear and obvious to me. It’s the vision stuff that can be the challenge. Sometimes I find myself in the groove, which is much like a runner’s high, and everything seems to just click. At other times it’s as if I were blind in a dark room full of sharp obstacles. It’s frustrating when it isn’t clicking, but that’s the price we pay for when it is. Sometimes we just have to learn to accept the struggle. It’s as much a part of our photographic life as are the successes; so we might as well just slow down and find a means of embracing the struggles.

Is there a particular group you feel is misunderstood or stereotyped that you’d like to document common humanity amongst?
I would hate to highlight a single group as worthy of documentation. The unfortunate reality is that most groups are, at least in part, misunderstood and often stereotyped. Part of my responsibility as a socially-conscious photographer is to try to tear down the barriers that prevent us from better understanding and appreciating each other. Those barriers often seem to exist everywhere I look. There is, unfortunately, certainly no shortage of barriers nor misunderstood groups.

Do you have an idea worth sharing?
My idea is that we are all united in this journey of life together. We will never all know and understand each other, but we can strive to respect and appreciate each other. I’d like to live in a world in which people are appreciated for who they are rather than ridiculed for who they are not. That is my goal for myself, and that is a goal that I wish to spread as gospel to others. We are all important. We all matter.

Be sure to check out the other members of The Guild (and read their Peacemaker Interviews) by clicking here.

6 Responses to “IGVP Peacemaker Interview”

  1. Thoughtful and insightful answers to some difficult questions. I share your ideals and hope many others do as well.

    I was able to stop by the new IGVP site and was impressed with its level of production and quality. It was clear that much time, effort and considerations were completed before the website launch this week. Kudos to everyone involved!

    Good luck with this new project and safe travels – jke

  2. Mario Mattei says:

    J Edwards, Thanks for the kind words about our site. We’re glad that our hard work and considerations are showing through. Hopefully we’ll see you at visualpeacemakers.org if you’re not already there!

    Any Visual Peacemakers reading this. Create your peacemaker interview as well. In your profile choose “edit my profile” then select the tab on the left that reads “Peacemaker Profile Interview.”

    Through these interviews we can all get to know each other better. I’ll be searching these for blog ideas as well.

    Thanks for the post Jeffrey. As always you have demonstrated the thoughtfulness behind your work and efforts. What a fantastic decision to invite you into the Guild!

    Take care,
    Mario

  3. Ron Rothbart says:

    I read in the interview above: “I believe that images are a powerful and primary form of communication. They are universal and transcend spoken and written languages. They can change perceptions, change attitudes and, yes, every so often change the world.”

    It occurs to me that IGVP and other humanitarian and peace-loving photographers in New York City might be interested in using their skills to enhance understanding of the proposed but controversial Islamic community center in Manhattan. I know that’s a tall order. There is so much misunderstanding now. Can photographers help?

  4. Jeffrey Chapman says:

    Hi Ron, I would say that not only can photographers help but that they must help.

    I lived for decades before I ever set foot in a mosque. And I don’t remember when I first met a Muslim (nor an Arab for those who confuse the two), but I do know that it was not at a young age. I suspect that many of those who are anti-mosques (as well as anti-Arabs) don’t really know nor understand what they are against. How many have ever been in a mosque, spoken with an Imam, etc.?

    We fear what we don’t know. People need exposure to that which they think they fear. Photographers can definitely help with this. We can, for example, tell stories that break the false link of mosques equals Arabs equals terrorists. I encourage those in NYC, you, all of us who can and are interested to explore ways of doing this. It’s exactly what Mario and his team had in mind for IGVP.

    Mario, it is definitely my honor to participate in the Guild.

    Jeffrey, I also hope that many others will share their personal versions of similar ideals.

  5. Hey Jeffrey, I’ve been so out of touch with the world that I didn’t know you had a blog. Some good reading here.

    “We will never all know and understand each other, but we can strive to respect and appreciate each other. I’d like to live in a world in which people are appreciated for who they are rather than ridiculed for who they are not.”

    Really well put, totally agreed.

    Cheers,

    Mitchell

  6. Jeffrey Chapman says:

    Thanks Mitchell!

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