Storytelling through the lens
Author: Irene Munz
Originally Published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on: 04/14/2005
I have my bachelor degree in documentary photography. Photography as art is my full passion, and I believe that photography is a tool for social change. During my education I had two major documentary projects. The first one I created in one of the biggest Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan in 1997. I went to visit the camp where my mother had close friends, and shared some impressive months with a refugee family. Although I had to hide, I received a daily picture of what life in a refugee camp can be. I felt such a deep connection with these people, and I learned about their suffering of being captured in their limited freedom of the camp. These are people who have lost everything, lost their homes, lost other people, lost family members, lost arms or legs through mines and are until today not accepted by the Pakistani. And still, I was moved by their simple happiness as the essence of life. These were the moments my camera captured spontaneous singing at night accompanied with rhythms on pots and pants the joy of baking bread the daily life of my host family whose young sons were involved in carpet weaving.
Back in the United States, I held back showing my pictures for a long time. In respect to the viewer and more importantly the people in my pictures, I refused to waste my documentation as a fast living exhibition seen today forgotten tomorrow.
Only one and a half year later I showed my work in a collective exhibition in Portland. Contacts were made, and I got involved in my second big documentary. This time, in 2001, I collaborated with a team of researchers and documented survivors of 1947 partition of India in the Punjab region. Their studies were based on collecting oral history from that period. I documented visual stories. This collection became my thesis work for my graduate studies that included an exhibition.
One week before 9/11, a contemporary art gallery in Santa Fe offered me a solo exhibition. I was presenting my first work of the Afghan refugee camp. The event in New York set a controversial feeling on the exhibition, since the Muslim world and Afghanistan were suddenly in everybody s mind and conversation. I ended up guiding a large group of people from picture to picture.
My passion is the love of photography, and if it weren t for my son, I would most likely be a war-photographer. But I realize that I cannot place myself in such danger, with my responsibility. I also couldn t support myself and my son with documentaries alone. My side jobs were always diverse, from working in restaurants, teaching art and art therapy in pre- and primary schools, to hard construction work, providing my life income. A portion of the profits from my exhibition went back to Afghanistan into schools, which had survived the Taliban regime. To me, the exhibition s success was for the people, for those whose stories were told through my pictures. Still, I remained with the feeling that what I can give back to them is never enough.
My search went on I was looking for more useful things to do. I was clear about keeping my professional integrity and never going for commercial compromises in my photographical art.
To me, the quality of photography is to freeze time, a tool for education, in order not to loose history. Photos are physical manifestations of oral history and part of story telling. Pictures are tools with the potential for international exposure; they can be used for constructive growth of international understanding and can become an instrument for conflict resolution. I am developing now at UPEACE concepts on how to use photography as a catalyst of dialogue within the culture of learning. Documentary photography holds to me expressions of identity, consciousness raising, a tool of interpretation that alleviates misunderstandings. Within my passion for photography I found a vehicle to work with conflicts on a creative way on various levels.
Bio: Irene Munz is postgraduate student at the University for Peace, studying Gender and Peace Building. She is from Switzerland