Photography for Peace: Masterclass & Competition

The Global Justice Academy (GJA) and Political Settlements Research Programme (PSRP) recently hosted a free Peace Photography Masterclass at the University of Edinburgh. The workshop discussed the visual representation of peace and conflict transformation, led by world-leading photographers Martina Bacogalupo, Colin Cavers and Paul Lowe. The photographers discussed their own work, as well as images produced by Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) and Nanjing Institute of Industry and Technology students for the Global Justice Academy’s photography competition, to invite participants to view peace with a new, critical and artistic eye.

Introduced by Professor Jolyon Mitchell (Director of the Centre for Theology and Public Issues) and chaired by the Global Justice Academy’s Astrid Jamar, the workshop began with lectures from three professional photographers, who explained the vision behind their work as well as the challenges involved in visually capturing peace and post-conflict societies.

The first speaker, Paul Lowe (London College of Communication, University of the Arts London), discussed the use of photography in social and ethical discourses using examples from his exhibition project ‘Picturing Moral Courage: The Rescuers’. By capturing the portraits and stories of individuals who risked their own lives to save the lives of others in instances of mass violence and genocide, Lowe invites audiences to hear the testimonies of those pictured with empathy and recognition: to bring to light the personal and human sides of global issues and to make accessible the narrative of the ordinary hero. Lowe’s portraits capture powerful, emotionally charged moments of reunion and testimony. His exhibition aims to provide relatable moral role-models for recovering post-conflict communities to spark positive, active participation in peacebuilding efforts. To this end, the photographs have been made available online and as a travelling outdoor exhibition in order to bring Lowe’s work and its messages to new, usually untargeted audiences. The exhibition has become a focal point for youth workshops across the globe, bringing together different ethnic groups to consider issues of violence, human rights and peace. Responding to audience questions, Lowe expanded on the difficulties of capturing portraits in fraught communities where individuals are afraid of being outspoken, yet ultimately stressed that working together on common creative projects allowed participants to enter into new discursive and collaborative territories.

The second speaker, Martina Bacigalupo (Agence VU), discussed her time living and working in Central East Africa as an independent photojournalist and stressed the importance of lived experience when visualising peace and post-conflict societies. Bacigalupo described her own experience of falling into the journalistic trap of producing westernised images of Africa that follow preconceived, mainstream modes of discourse. Deliberately attempting to counter this, Bacigalupo crafted a new body of work that aims to encapsulate the intimacy and vibrancy of everyday life in Africa: the ordinary, complicated humanity of local communities and not the sensationalised images of war and violence that permeate mass-media depictions. Bacigalupo described a desire to use photography to challenge patronising European views and to create new visual narratives of Africa based on collaboration and equality. Her latest photobook ‘Gulu Real Art Studio’ reprints scraps from an African portrait studio in which the faces have been cut out for ID photos – only the clothing and posture of the sitters remain. By examining that which is usually left out of the frame, Bacigalupo captures rich details about contemporary life in Eastern Africa, revealing insights into the tensions and nuances of post-conflict communities.

Finally, Colin Cavers (Edinburgh College of Art, Edinburgh Napier University) introduced his work for the Global Justice Academy’s annual photography competition. Cavers looked at classic examples from protest photography to illustrate the pitfalls and binary stereotypes that typically inhabit peace photography – those of male/female, floral/industrial divisions – and advocated a move towards more interpretative – rather than literal – modes of image production for the GJA commission. Using a selection of work from the past photography competitions (and previews of the recently announced 2017 winners), Cavers demonstrated how students from the Edinburgh College of Art and the Nanjing Institute of Industry and Technology came together to reinterpret traditional thematic associations of peace and create new subversive images that provoke thought and discussion.

A full selection of entrants’ submissions to current and previous GJA photography competitions can be found here.

After the opening talks, participants engaged in an ‘interactive lunch break’; each used a photograph they felt illustrated peace to briefly introduce themselves and spark discussion on the topic. Groups discussed the idea that peace may be something more than the mere absence of violence, contemplated the intense longing for, and absence of, peace often found in post-conflict images; and debated the importance of disagreements and conflict even within peaceful communities. In a final round-table discussion, participants shared their reflections on the photographers’ work and the themes that had been raised during the afternoon, looking to the future of photography as a means of challenging assumptions about peace and conflict and as an important tool for provoking and facilitating discussion.

Blog post by Heather Milligan, Communications Intern for the Global Justice Academy. This event was supported by a generous grant from the Social Trends Institute, the GJA, the Binks Trust, and the Centre for Theology and Public Issues (CTPI).

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