For me, the strength of photography lies in its ability to evoke humanity. If war is an attempt to negate humanity, then photography can be perceived as the opposite of war. –James Nachtwey, from the documentary War Photographer.
As I lean into the new year, I can’t come up with one word, one projection, one hope or one fear for 2013. All I can think about is a concept: how do we live out and share stories from the margins of society?
This is difficult, hard for me to sum up in so few words. I struggle with feeling segregated from the rest of my country and the communities I grew up in; I struggle with delusions of grandeur, with over-sharing details that don’t solely belong to me. But as much as I would love to navel gaze and talk about Art and Justice and Missions, I feel as though 2013 is going to be the year of brass tacks–of getting down to business, about setting real boundaries and striving for excellence.
I have my own thoughts to sort out, of course. The normal artist-in-crisis stuff (what makes me so special? do i really need to write? would anybody care? can i write it in a way that is good?). The normal missionary stuff (will people support us if we write about the hard stuff? will they support us if we don’t?). There is the 21st century stuff (should everyone know what i am doing every second of every day? what is essential, and what is exploitative? how much of this is based in narcissism?). And then there is the spiritual stuff (how do I express the realities of my neighbors while still giving them dignity? how can I share in such a way that points to redemption without covering up the sin? how do we move beyond one-note stories and conversion experiences into the deep waters of relationship–especially on the internet?). And I keep wondering: how much do I share? Do I have a responsibility, or not? Because even in these first few months of living in an urban low-income environment have shown me that brokenness wages on with military precision, and the casualty rate is high.
I would hanker a guess that there are others of you out there with similar questions. And so, in this space, for the next several months, I would like to explore some possible answers to these questions. I asked a bunch of my fantastical friends who are living out the upside-down kingdom to share their thoughts on what they have learned about sharing stories from the trenches. I have friends all over the world who take pictures, write letters and essays and blog posts, who advocate for the poor and the downtrodden using their creative gifts, who have a passion to see the rest of the world open wide their doors just a little bit more. I want to learn from some of my favorite artists and authors, to glean from both positive and negative experiences. I want to sharpen, to always filter my writing through the lens of “is this beneficial to the subject, to the real person I am trying to love?” I want to learn about being the peripheral character in all the stories, I want to learn about authorial intent and nuance and my own relational poverty.
This is important to me, because the vast majority of the world is suffering. This is important to me, because I just recently displaced myself into a part of the country where the stories aren’t being told (or they aren’t being listened too or they aren’t being told well). No matter where you are–inner city America, rural Uganda, the walled cities of suburbia–we should all be engaged in the brokenness of our communities. And we should all be working through how we use our gifts and creativity to shine light in dark situations, in ways that dignify and uplift and empower others.
2013 has already started off with a bang over here. I am constantly finding myself in a position of thinking “what in the WHAT is going on here?” and then itching to process it out loud with everyone I know. But there is something telling me to hang back, to learn from others who have gone this way before. And so, for the first several months of this year, this is what will be going down here. Every Thursday for the next few months a talented crew will be offering up their hard-earned lessons in war photography, of capturing and sharing experiences at the margins.
I can’t wait. I’ve got a lot to learn, and the battle out there is raging.
This Thursday I will kick off the conversation with some thoughts on Dorothea Lange and her iconic photograph Migrant Mother. After that I promise to be quiet for a while and let others speak.
This series was inspired by some scattered thoughts I had on this idea back in this blog post (plus the comments). If you have some thoughts on the subject (be they big or small), let me know. I am always looking to add voices to the conversation.