How photography does war-torn Colombia justice

It is not easy for most people to think about what peace and justice mean to them, or how to express it. But this is what we ask of people in war-torn communities around the world.

One place we did is in Colombia, a country that is now testing peace after more than 50 years of war between leftist guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries, and government forces.

We asked residents of two villages, San José de Urama and Las Cruces in the northwest of the country, to think about what they were looking for as signs of justice and coexistence in their communities, what we call “indicators of everyday peace ”.

Through workshops using a research method called ‘photovoice’, a group of villagers chose some of these daily indicators of justice and coexistence to photograph. They then created and displayed personal and group photo stories as part of an outdoor community exhibit.

We found that these communities wanted to use photography not only to document the consequences of war and violence, but also to actively support peace.

Photo stories about justice and coexistence

In San José de Urama, people looking for signs of justice in their community wanted to see armed groups and the government tell the truth about the war, and former guerrillas start families. They wanted to see the truth bring peace of mind, rest and reparation to the victims, and end the violence.

The ex-guerrillas start families: “All there is to say is that they are here, that they live among us; they have rebuilt their families and they are helping to transform the community. [Photo: Yesica Alejandra Zapata David/CC BY-ND]

For Francy Yulieth Manco Ferraro, an 18-year-old photographer from San José de Urama, a key element of coexistence in her community is the ability to leave home at any time. Of this photo, she wrote: “In a world full of doubts and uncertainties, we can be calm knowing that when we go out on the streets or on our lands, we will not hear the terrifying sound of fire arms ; we will be able to go out freely, to work our land, to harvest our harvest, without fear.

People can be on the streets at any time of the day. [Photo: Francy Yulieth Manco Ferraro/CC BY-ND]

Some photographers, like Leidi Johana Agudelo Higuita, used their work to pay tribute to older members of the community who had survived the years of conflict and kept their community alive.

The truth brings serenity, rest and reparations to the victims: “I had to live a war which was not mine. . . . But the truth will set us free, or at least I believe it. I will never forget how I was a prisoner in my own country. I will never forget who I am now, a survivor and a worthy campesino. ‘ [Photo: Leidi Johana Agudelo Higuita/CC BY-ND]

In Las Cruces, three generations of the same family, a grandmother, a mother and a daughter, participated together in the photography workshops. Mother Yenifer Yuliana Higuita Bedoya stressed the importance of family unity.

Families have more time to spend together: “These kinds of times are the perfect way to form the kind of lasting bonds that help you overcome adversity, and this is how you learn the principles and values ​​necessary to be part of society. . [Photo: Yenifer Yuliana Higuita Bedoya/CC BY-ND]

Another photographer, Yuliana Andrea David Hidalgo, 15, drew attention to the importance for children of being able to play without fear. She explains her photograph: “Before, when you heard gunshots, everyone would run and hide under the bed or in a safe place in the house, and now the children hide under the bed or in safe places because ‘they are playing hide and seek. to look for.”

You don’t need to hide under the bed to protect yourself from bullets. [Photo: Yuliana Andrea David Hidalgo/CC BY-ND]

Paula Andrea Pino Sarrazola, photographer from San José de Urama, underlined the importance of collective work in their mountain agricultural culture. “’You need one hand to wash the other and both to wash your face’ is a saying grandparents say,” she explained. “This is what a minga is. When people don’t have the money to pay the day laborers, they ask others to help them, and then the favor is returned. In this way, many farms and businesses were saved from bankruptcy. A minga—or collective task force — saves lives and lands, and protects democracy, justice and peace.

Community members help each other with important tasks, such as tending to livestock. [Photo: Paula Andrea Pino Sarrazola/CC BY-ND]

Other indicators of coexistence included the people who treated street animals well and the government who maintains the roads.

The State maintains the access roads to Urama. [Photo: Tatiana Durango Rincón/CC BY-ND]

For one of their collective photo reports, Urama’s group captured the dilapidated state of their cemetery. In the caption, they wrote: “The deterioration of the cemetery testifies to the ignorance of the dead. Weeds devour the tombs as our minds eat away at our memories. Wouldn’t it be the right thing for us to unite to nurture it, and honor the memory of the dead by keeping this place of transit to the magnificent afterlife?

The community, with the support of the church and the Juntas de Acción Comunal (community action councils), maintains the cemetery. [Photo: Urama Photography Collective/CC BY-ND]

After documenting the dilapidated state of the cemetery, these photographers decided to act. More than 80 people worked for two days to remove weeds and to repair and repaint buildings, memorials and gravestones.

Volunteer members of the community work to repair and maintain the local cemetery. [Photo: Urama Photography Collective/CC BY-NC]

We have found that photography can help people and communities heal by looking back on what was lost as a result of conflict and using their images to provide a space for discussion on how to build a different future.

Photography enables community members to honor what is important to them, to be proud of their culture, to call for justice, and to highlight what is needed to build lasting peace.

We have also found that the combination of photography with our daily approach to peace indicators amplifies local voices, illuminating what policymakers and international donors often ignore about what matters in the daily lives of community members. they support.

The authors would like to thank the members of the EPI Photovoice team, Edwin Cubillos and Manuela Munoz, the Urama Photography Collective and the Cruces Photography Collective, and EPI research assistant Miranda Pursley.

Pamina Firchow is Associate Professor of Coexistence and Conflict at Brandeis University; Tiffany Fairey is a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellow at King’s College London; and Yvette Selim is a Senior Research Associate at the Institute for Public Policy and Governance at the University of Technology, Sydney.

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