Global: Spreading Peace Through Images

Recently, a group of young entrepreneurs and photographers came upon the idea of spreading humanity, good will and positivity through images. On August 16, their project, dubbed International Guild of Visual Peacemakers, came alive on-line. In short, IGVP is an organization seemingly devoted to, as they put it on their newly launched website, “breaking down stereotypes by displaying the beauty and dignity of various cultures around the world” through images. IGVP members are invited to post images, photo galleries and photo stories that tell tales of life throughout the very different, yet very similar cultures of the world.

Their August 2010 press release states:

As television screens, YouTube, and news sources are flooded with images of violence and hatred throughout the world, one group of acclaimed humanitarian and cultural photographers is instead choosing to use their craft to bring peace through an organization called the International Guild of Visual Peacemakers (IGVP) […]

IGVP co-founder and president, Mario Mattei, an independent photographer currently living in Turkey, kindly agreed to a short interview, in which he conveys the essence of IGVP in more detail:

D.R. for Global Voices: Breaking down prejudices by sharing images that show that people are people anywhere in the world, in any situation is a simple, yet fantastic concept. Where did the idea come from and how did it develop?

Mario Mattei: First, thank you, Danica, for this opportunity to interview and for the fantastic platform you're using to publish it.

The International Guild of Visual Peacemakers (IGVP) began like this: My good friend and IGVP co-founder, Jim Mullins, realized several years after 9/11 that he had almost joined the U.S. military simply because of images he saw in the media. He acknowledged reading few words. The photographs were “proof.” The seed for the visual peacemaking idea will forever be attributed to his humbling realization that this was not good! The proof was that two buildings were hit by planes. The rest is complicated and convoluted, requiring research and thoughtfulness before responding.

Amongst several of us in Arizona, Jim communicated this story and the need for what we began calling visual peacemaking. An email discussion began with Jim, myself, Matt Brandon, Nicole Gibson, David duChemin, co-founders Logan McAdams and John Machado, and a few others. We brainstormed the essence of visual peacemaking, how we'd communicate it and spread it, and what a cross-promotional website might look like. We followed the mission statement: “…devoted to peacemaking and breaking down stereotypes by displaying the beauty and dignity of various cultures around the word.

We defined and planned a lot together, recruited the rest of the Guild, and developed the idea, business, movement, and website intensely from July 2009 to August 2010. Jim moved on to launch Peace Catalyst International. We would not have developed as we have without the Guild as models and full supporters who leveraged their own networks.

GV: The impact of images has become clear throughout history, from Magnum‘s Che and Hemingway photographs, to images of war from Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, China and even as far back as the Vietnam war and WWII. Why is it that people most often notice and remember negative images? How can we help positive images make greater impact?

M.M.: We notice negative images perhaps because they shock us. With visual media, advertising, and our own responsibilities all competing for our attention, we notice things out of the ordinary. Certainly war images or images of hatred and “difference” have this effect. Some positive, cultural images can shock us into admiring them too, however.

Beyond the shock-factor, I think we remember images based on how deeply we are affected by the story they tell, positively or negatively. Sometimes it's more than shock. We are truly hurt, bothered, or inspired by them. When I see a portrait of Nelson Mandela, I feel hope and resolve. I know the story behind it.

However, positive images often capture the ordinary and so are less noticeable. Put into the context of story, images of the ordinary can communicate in ways that become more meaningful, and thereby memorable. Many great images tell a full enough story in themselves, but many don't. Often it's a series of images we need. Or sometimes text or audio to accompany them.

Billions of images of the ordinary are pregnant with the power to impact, but the stories aren't told, or they aren't shown in a context or environment where viewers are told to view them more mindfully. In IGVP, each visual communicator is working to tell a story of hope, of common humanity, of new perspectives that break down harmful stereotypes. Sometimes it takes just one image.

The Guild and IGVP Founders intend to gather the many smaller stories and bring them into one larger meta-narrative. All the visual content of IGVP is leveraged, therefore, to draw in viewers to experience a “lessening of social distance.” Whether the distance experienced is cultural, national, religious, or societal, reducing it helps prevent fears that lead to oppression, misunderstanding, or violence. The purpose isn't to simply reduce issues, but to expand appreciation for humanity, for each individual person we encounter and their intrinsic worth.

GV: How can people help develop IGVP? Can anyone become a member?

M.M.: Technically anyone can become a member of the Visual Peacemakers Community (VPC) for free. But we want people who are serious about visual peacemaking, who read the About section and Ethical code, and who understand what we want to accomplish together. We want those who will stay involved in creating images and stories, and who stay active in the blog conversations and in social media. IGVP is open to all faiths and backgrounds, and to both vocational and emerging photographers. The Guild itself has a tiny entrance since the role each plays is different, strategic, and there’s some existing collaboration present.

I'd encourage [anyone reading this] to go sign the Charter for Visual Peace and use the form to invite others through email. Then post it on Facebook and Twitter! Follow @igvp and become a fan of IGVP. I’m also on Twitter @visualpeace. Spread the love!

We designed the website as a platform for each photographer to maintain their own Peacemaker Profile, to empower each one to be the humanitarian. Our upgraded memberships require more in terms of operational expenses, so we charge some small fees. We need to grow the movement. I see almost no limits to how far this can go.

Our world is ready for this right now. We're all getting “closer” through media, the Internet, and even geographically. It's time we use talented, grassroots media to celebrate our common dignity and aspirations, to add a balanced view to the horrible things we hear about. There's more good than bad out there. If you’re a photographer, check out our first blog post and the welcome newcomer page.

While images, both good and bad, shocking and endearing, will continue to leave lasting impressions on people and history, Mario and the Guild make another important point: pictures may speak a thousand words, yet sometimes it is crucial to paint a picture with words, to bring an image to life by telling the story behind it. Next time you go about the task of fulfilling your basic human interaction and communication needs, remember that the words and images we so easily spread on-line today, send a message. Keep the message positive and spread the peace through cultural diversity.

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