The Dangers of A Single Story

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The Dangers of A Single Story

Our lives, our cultures, are composed of many overlapping stories. Novelist Chimamanda Adichie tells the story of how she found her authentic cultural voice — and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding.

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Staged Photographs, Visual Peace, & Conflict Photography

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Staged Photographs, Visual Peace, & Conflict Photography

Ruben Salvadori is an Italian photographer who was covering the Palestinian Riots in East Jerusalem. He soon realized he was not very interested in documenting the Palestinian rioters or the Israeli soldiers. It was the photographers that began to interest him, so he began to observe the photographers' role in these situations.

I am thankful to Ruben for this piece. It gives us incredible insight into the production of conflict images and how they could be presented in a way that encourages stereotypes. We all know as photographers that our presence effects and changes the seen. We have no control over that but we do have control of how we present those images to the public. We must be very conscientious of the effect of our images.

We shouldn't take this as an opportunity to demean these photographers or the role of conflict photography.Without these men and women that risk their lives we would not have the awareness that we have today. But I hope this project will cause us to become very conscientious of how we are portraying a scene and how we could cause the situation to escalate by our presence. We choose what to include and what to exclude from the frame.

“It is a sacred trust to represent someone.”  Ingrid DeSanctis

View the Visual Peacemaker Ethical Code here that addresses these issues.

This project exposes how conflict photography can aid in strengthening existing stereotypes but it doesn't actually show us an alternative perspective of Palestinians and Israelis.

I believe our role as visual peacemakers is to find ways to tell the other side of the story even when the large media sources are not going to commission them. Where are the reports of Palestinians and Israelis that are striving for peace? Where are the stories of Israelis that are trying to stop the expansion of settlements into Palestine? Where are the stories of Palestinians that are condemning violent protests and organizing non violent protests?

This requires us to sacrifice, to invest our own time and money or find alternative funding for the stories that need to be told.

If you have a story that needs to be told don't wait around for someone to pay you for it. Go create, sacrifice, and invest yourself for the betterment of our world. Henri Cartier-Bresson in 1962 wrote a memo attempting to remind photographers of their place in this world. Take these words to heart.

"When events of significance are taking place, when it doesn't involve a great deal of money and when one is nearby, one must stay photographically in contact with the realities taking place in front of our lenses and not hesitate to sacrifice material comfort and security. This return to our sources would keep our heads and our lenses above the artificial life, which so often surrounds us. I am shocked to see to what extent so many of us are conditioned - almost exclusively by the desires of the clients…"

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A Somali Hero

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A Somali Hero

On September 21, 2013, Kenya experienced one of the worst terrorist attacks in the history of the country. Armed men stormed into Westgate, one of Nairobi's nicer shopping malls, killing over 60 people and injuring many more. While many facts about the attack are still unclear, one fact seems beyond doubt: The Somalia-based Islamist terrorist group Al-Shabaab has claimed to be responsible.

The news of this horrific event made the headlines all over the world. And of course, Al-Shabaab was mentioned and explained, over and over again. Once again, Muslims were associated with terrorism. Once again, Somalis were associated with radical Islam and brutal violence.

But something was different this time: From among the various eyewitness reports, the story of a young man emerged, an "ordinary citizen", who had been one of the first responders after the attack started, and who had rescued dozens of people trapped inside the mall. This man, the "hero" of Westgate, is Abdul Haji. He is a Muslim. And he is Somali. 

Ethnic Somalis are among the 10 largest people groups in Kenya, with a population of over 2 million. While many live a traditional lifestyle in the rural areas of northeastern Kenya, there are also many modern, upper-class, and influential Somalis in Kenya. One of them is Mohamed Yusuf Haji, a politician and former Minister of Defense of Kenya. Abdul Haji is his son.

When the terrorist attack started on September 21, Abdul's brother was inside the Westgate mall. Abdul, who is a licensed gun owner, rushed over immediately to rescue his brother. When he arrived at Westgate, he teamed up with some other civilians and some plainclothes police officers to provide cover for Red Cross workers helping injured people. For several hours, Abdul and the others worked their way through the mall, trying to get people out of the building. Among others, they rescued an American mother with her three children, as well as an Indian woman. That scene was captured by an AP photographer and became one of the iconic images of the attack.

So besides the all-too-familiar image of Somali Al-Shabaab terrorists murdering innocent people, there is now another image: That of a young, modern Somali Muslim, fighting heavily armed terrorists with a pistol, rescuing American Christians and Indian Hindus.

It is one of the images the world desperately needs to see. Just like the one of a blood donation center set up at one of the mosques in Eastleigh, Nairobi's Somali neighborhood with many Somalis donating blood for the victims of the Westgate terror attack. Or the image of Somali volunteers coming to the mall together with other Kenyans and foreigners to provide food for victims and police officers. Or the one of the inter-faith prayer meeting held in Nairobi on October 1, 2013, where Muslim, Christian and Hindu leaders came together to condemn the terrorist attack and to pray for peace in Kenya. 

Together, these images might prevent the devastating attack at Westgate from causing further division and hatred. They might instead turn the tragedy into a source of unity for the people of Kenya.

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