Fourth post in our conference blog series: Amelia Sutcliffe, divinity student at Edinburgh university, worked at a photography exhibition last summer; she shares her reflections on how some unexpected photographs can be powerful witnesses for peace.
This August I worked as an intern for the Centre for Theology and Public Issues (CTPI), in Edinburgh, on their summer project ‘In Sight Of Peace’. I was initially unsure about taking up the opportunity but, having found out more, I decided to take the plunge in the name of fun and experience.
My role was to help with the day-to-day running of their exhibition, “In Sight of Peace”, its associated events at the Just Festival and social media. “In Sight Of Peace”, by Magnum Photographer Ian Berry, shows South Africa from 1960 to 2005 and its move from segregation to equality and reconciliation. Although I assumed from its title that it would be emotive and interesting, I could not have estimated the impact it would have on me or its many visitors.
And what photos they were, from one of the only pictures taken at the Sharpeville massacre of 1960, (which was used in the trial against the police), to those of school children in newly integrated primary schools. As I oversaw the exhibition I got to know each image and although each held a shocking and heart-breaking story, the power of Berry’s photography allowed visitors to see and understand without a word of explanation. I believe this was the reason CTPI wanted to show it, not just for the public to see Berry’s skill (though this would be reason enough), but for them to think, question and wonder the place of photography in sharing a story without using words. And not just any story, but a story of Peace building: while some of the images depicted appalling violence, many showed great joy and, critically, change. Ultimately this was what ‘In Sight Of Peace’ was about: portraying change and, as part of CTPI’s wider discussion, questioning whether the media can represent and play a part in building-peace when usually it chooses to portray or incite violence. Largely without knowledge of this wider question, visitors’ comments showed that it can, describing both “how far we’ve come” and “how much more we must do for true peace”.
Seeing peace is difficult, as mostly it happens under the surface. Although some may question how an exhibition which includes images of violence and injustice could possibly show peace, I would argue that it does, albeit perhaps unconventionally. It shows peace in the reactions and emotions it draws out of people when they desire that peace. It shows peace by bearing witness to horrific events, teaching that it’s wrong and that there must be something else. And most of all, the set of photos shows peace as a journey of development, change and hope; that peace is not stagnant but something fluid to work towards, hence “In Sight Of Peace” not “a concrete peace point”.
This project, the visitors’ comments and the further discussions of CTPI had a great impact on me – as did reflecting on it now – because they made me think (which in a long student summer can be a challenge!) and they made me see; think and see peace and peace-builders in more things/people. While Ian Berry may not call himself a peace builder – he believed he was just doing a job bearing witness to an event for others to see – his witness created peace-builders, rendering him one too and showing that we too can be peace-builders even if our talents do not fit the usual idea of the “actions” of peace-building.
As you can see, I loved my internship (although it was not without its stresses), so I thoroughly recommend taking up any random interesting opportunities!
If you would like any more information on the project or to see some of the pictures visit: