This summer I had the privilege of visiting Mennonite churches in France and Switzerland on a two-week photo exhibition tour. This included a lunchtime presentation at the World Council of Churches headquarters in Geneva, with a follow-up exhibition planned there for later this year. Each space presented its own unique display challenges, with the added phenomenon of creating new and different relationships between the images. Click here for a complete gallery of exhibit images.
Language was another challenge. Ingrid did most of the speaking, since she’s fluent in French and that was the primary language in the communities we visited. The one section I did present in English (accompanied with line-by-line translation by Ingrid) was an introduction to my work as a photojournalist. I share it here as something of an artist’s statement:
Personally, part of my calling to journalism is based on the biblical principle expressed in Proverbs 31:8-9 where it says, “Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” As in many other passages in scripture, these verses speak of God’s special concern for the marginalized. With the proliferation of information technology and social media, more and more of the marginalized are able to speak out for themselves, which is a good thing. However, I still feel a particular calling to translate these stories, literally and figuratively, so that my own people, especially my own church, can understand their connection to what is happening in the Holy Land.
In this way, I try to follow Jesus’s model as he proclaimed “good news for the poor” while reserving his harshest words for the religious and political leaders of his own community. It is that ministry of “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable” that I hope to imitate through my own vocation as a photojournalist.
This calling led me to the Alternative Information Center (AIC), whose mission statement describes it an “internationally oriented, progressive, joint Palestinian-Israeli activist organization, engaged in dissemination of information, political advocacy, grassroots activism and critical analysis…”
I also chose the AIC because I wanted to work with a joint Palestinian-Israeli initiative, believing the most effective way to do advocacy is to listen to voices from both communities. This is often called “balance”, but balance as it’s popularly understood can be problematic. Too often in traditional media, listening to “both sides” means listening only to the official spokespersons of those in power, or worse, quoting the most extreme voices from each side in order to provide a more sensational story. For example, in covering the conflict in Gaza last November, a typical news report might quote only leaders from the Israeli military or Hamas. Often missing were the voices of average people on the ground—those who suffer the most in war.
I seek a different kind of balance than an oversimplified version that assumes that there are only two extremes with opposite views. This prevailing narrative may have some truth in it, but it is never the full story. Of course, in any conflict there are many sides, and within the Israeli or Palestinian communities there are many diverse perspectives, many of which go unreported. Our Palestinian and Israeli partners have asked MCC to share these untold stories. By doing so, we seek in some small way to help restore balance to lopsided prevailing narratives. In this sense, seeking balance does not mean a symmetrical presentation, because the conflict is far from symmetrical. Nor are we taking one side against another, as both sides have committed violence and injustice, though in differing magnitude and proportion. Instead, we add our stories of Palestinians and Israelis working for peace onto the scales of justice, hoping to tip them ever so slightly towards a better result.