October 11, 2008

Voice to Vision-stand in

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Since I missed writing about the Voice to Vision exhibit at the Nash Gallery I will write about The Silence, a book project and exhibition I worked on with the Magnum photographer Gilles Peress. In 1994-96 I had the opportunity to work as the Special Projects manager at the Peress Studio in NYC. Gilles Peress is a photographer who travels to places in conflict; Northern Ireland during Bloody Sunday, Bosnia during the war, the middle East, Iran during the hostage crisis, and Rwanda during the 1990’s genocide. I began working with Gilles when at the early stages of his documentary in Congo and Rwanda, during the Hutu and Tutsi conflict. Gilles would travel to Africa and photograph the results of the war: stacks of machetes used to mutilate and kill, bloated dead bodies drifting down river that were used as drinking water, stains of dead bodies on the soil, and bodies of women strapped down dead and raped (not in that order). These images were brutal, this genocide was brutal, and the world needed to know what was going on in this remote part of the world. We worked with Alison Deforges of Human rights Watch-Africa, and Scalo (German publishers) to print a book, a record of the atrocities. The images were printed full-frame, black and white, with the gutter slicing each two-page spread.
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Alison provided the historical chronology of Rwanda to accompany Gilles’ images. The book was given to the members of the United Nations to educate them of the depth of the genocide so that they could make political decisions to send troops, funds, and health care. In order to reach a broader audience, we also arranged an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art where mural sized images of the aftermath were on display for the art-going public to see. Working on this project enriched my life and gave me nightmares. I now appreciate images that show the public places in conflict. I understand what the photographer or videographer or writer is exposed to: life threatening dangers, not only bullets and machetes but also parasite contaminated water and food. When Gilles would return from photographing in Rwanda, it would take weeks to settle back into life of the non-war day-to-day existence dealing with child care, grocery shopping, and just being present.

War is a serious business and it is deeply disturbing to see war return to the places thought to be resolved, or at least on the verge of resolution. As news reports come in on resuming conflict in Rwanda I feel that more work must be done to solve problems in their entirety. Westerns do not have the stomach or attention span to see a problem through to its completion. We want quick neat wars that can be accomplished in one-term presidency. We lack the ability to know that some problems extend longer than 4 years. That’s the trouble with war, whether started by the US or mid-sized African countries; they last for generations (or their own time frame) and are not limited to US presidential terms or any other human measurement of time.