David Galalis picked up his first non-disposable camera three years ago. Although it is not his full-time work, he has gradually been realizing photography's potential to help him explore and communicate his experience of the world around him. When the IGVP launched, it caught his attention as embodying an approach to photography that he was already starting to follow. Today we welcome his articulate voice to the IGVP blog.
The capacity of all people to appreciate something as beautiful can be a space for dialogue, because everyone desires an experience of beauty for themselves and their loved ones. I recall Mario's recent post about elevator encounters: even when you have virtually nothing in common with someone, a shared experience of beauty can be the starting point for a conversation. This understanding is what motivates visual peacemakers: if beauty is a space for dialogue between diverse people, and photography has the capacity to communicate beauty, then photography is a tool by which we can construct this space.
At the same time, it is also important to understand that documentary photography does not create beauty from nothing; rather, it reflects the beauty already present in reality. Henri Cartier-Bresson once remarked, “photography is nothing, it's life that interests me.” This “interest in life,” and being ready to record it, are the preconditions for communicating beauty as a visual peacemaker. The particular beauty I am thinking about is not the beauty of nature or architecture, as important as those things are. I am thinking of a beauty much more universal across people and cultures — the beauty of human encounters, especially encounters between diverse people.
Let me illustrate all this with an example. One Saturday last August I was running errands in my neighborhood in New York City. This was around the time the controversy over the proposal to build a Muslim community center near Ground Zero in Manhattan was starting to foment. At a certain point I came upon a church where a few teenagers, wearing t-shirts indicating that they belonged to this church, had set up folding tables on the sidewalk. On the tables were school supplies and a sign saying, “free school supplies — please help yourself.” Then I saw an Arab woman wearing a hijab walk up to the table with her three small children. They all began a friendly conversation with the teenagers and started looking at some of the school supplies.
This beautiful encounter between diverse people, I realized, was a truer response to the current cultural controversy than any rhetoric or ideological position. Here was peace and friendship already happening between people of different cultures, and most likely different religions. I did not have my camera with me, and so this goes down as one of the best photographs I never made. And not having been able to photograph this moment, I do not know how this image might have in fact created dialogue, although I am sure it would have, if it had reached the right audience. But ever since then I have realized the importance of being open in front of reality, ready to record the beauty that is already given to me.
I am curious to hear about moments of unexpected beauty between people of different cultures or religions that you yourselves have been able to record and communicate. What was the impact of those images upon your audience? On yourself?
Disclaimer: While IGVP strives for unity and clarity of vision, each blog author is responsible for his or her own words, links, and references. They do not necessarily represent the many voices and opinions of individuals within the visual peacemakers movement, the Guild, or the IGVP Founders.