Visualizing Peace: Photography, Conflict Transformation and Peacebuilding

Edinburgh, UK | June 14-16, 2017

Providing interdisciplinary and international perspectives on the question of photography and conflict transformation, this initiative addresses salient and influential cultural trends.

As a result of a growing interest in photography by academics across a range of disciplines, much has been written on the photography of conflict and the impact of such media imagery on collective attitudes. The role of photographic representation in building peace, however, has received relatively little scrutiny.

How things look and how they are perceived are not superficial issues. They are vital ones, relevant not only to fomenting and depicting conflict, but also to creating, sustaining and (where required) rebuilding civil society. Photographic images are part of the infrastructure of civil society. The digitization of these images has further extended their reach, ubiquity and in many cases significance. They are a vital means of communication (which, crucially, can fail as well as succeed) connecting communities to one another within and across national boundaries.

Photography is thus an essential part of the process of building bridges in post-conflict societies.  Photography permeates all aspects of peace-building work, from the process of reintegrating combatants and the efforts to rebuild city space, social networks and legal systems, to the initiatives aimed at fostering dialogue and attaining sustainable justice.

This expert’s meeting and the resultant volume of essays will provide a range of complex answers to one simple, but important question: What is the relationship between photography and peace-building? 

Providing interdisciplinary and international perspectives on the question of photography and conflict transformation, this initiative addresses salient and influential cultural trends. In particular, experts will address vital questions of identity construction, collective memory and imagined futures in the creating and sustaining of civil societies.


Stuart Allan - Cardiff University
Witnessing atrocity: The ethical imperatives of conflict, humanitarian and peace photographies

The performative act of bearing witness has been theorised from a myriad of vantage points within photography research, particularly where the visual representation of war, conflict and crisis events has been centred for critique. This paper, in seeking to envisage an alternative analytical framework, develops a conceptualisation of peace photography that calls into question familiar themes rehearsed across these diverse research literatures. It begins with a consideration of how the September 11 terror attacks were documented by photographers – professionals and non-professionals alike – in order to discern several points of epistemic tension in journalistic claims made regarding the social responsibilities of truthful witnessing. Next, in the interest of historical context, the paper looks to identify certain formative antecedents of peace photography, namely by tracing the emergence and evolution of photography’s varied, uneven commitments to a humanitarian ethos of engaged, purposeful and concerned witnessing at the outset of the twentieth century. Here the ‘pictorial humanitarianism’ mobilised by the Congo Reform Association in 1904 to focus public attention on the plight of brutalised workers forced to supply rubber for a regime allied with Belgian King Leopold receives detailed discussion. It will be shown that an examination of the gradually consolidating tenets of ‘humanitarian photography’ helps to illuminate important issues for efforts to secure a conceptual – and strategic – protocol for peace photography. In order to further elaborate these issues, the work of Ariella Azoulay (2008, 2013, 2016) is called upon, specifically her approach to rethinking the concept and practice of citizenship by bringing together discourses of civil contracts with those of photography. ‘Photographs,’ she contends, ‘bear traces of a plurality of political relations that might be actualized by the act of watching, transforming and disseminating what is seen into claims that demand action’ (2008: 25-26). Spectatorship, it follows, is effectively anchored in civic duty, a theme this paper explores in its concluding section. In striving to advance an alternative analytical framework, it will be argued, researchers must facilitate debate regarding how best to create the conditions for first destabilising and then recasting the scopic regimes of conflict photography in the name of peace.

Tom Allbeson - Swansea University
Publishing for Peace: Campaigning & the Photobook in the era of Vietnam, c.1965-75


The Vietnam War is often characterised as a turning point in the history of conflict photography – one in which the dominant practice of photojournalists shifted from creating imagery in the service of a state’s public information objectives, to producing critically-engaged photographs questioning the grounds for and conduct of military intervention. Most scholarly engagement with Vietnam-era photojournalism focuses on the subject matter and visual rhetoric of this imagery. I want to look here instead at the intellectual and publishing histories of this apparent watershed moment.
In the early 1970s a number of photobooks were published including critical imagery of the conflict in Vietnam. These include David Douglas Duncan’s War without Heroes (1970) and Don McCullin’s The Destruction Business (1971). Most notable perhaps was Philip Jones Griffiths’ Vietnam Inc. (1971). This paper examines these publications as a marked deviation from the established platform for war photography, the photo-magazine. It asks whether such publications (what in 1971 publisher Richard Grossman termed the ‘position or issue book’) signify a sense of crisis in the field of photojournalism and, if so, how the photo-book was conceptualised as a potential solution to that crisis.
If this output represents a crisis, what precipitated it? Was it more than just the growth of television audiences and the diversion of advertising revenue? Was it connected to the changing nature of conflict in the Cold War climate? And what was the perceived potential of the photobook to speak to contemporary concerns about warfare in this era? What audience or public was being targeted by these publications? Moreover, do these publications reflect a reconceptualization of the photographer’s role, as is often posited? Rather than being understood as war photography, should they be considered part of what Fehrenbach and Rodogno term the ‘visual histories of humanitarianism’? 
The working hypothesis underpinning this research is that a quarter-century after achieving its high-water mark (the Second World War), war photojournalism was envisaged as facing a diverse set of challenges. These were not simply economic and practical, but also ethical and political. This sense of threat prompted an engagement by photographers, editors and publishers alike with the discourse of conflict transformation – a concerted effort to engineer cultural conditions for peace-building. Lederach and Appleby define strategic peacebuilding as, ‘an approach to reducing violence, resolving conflict and building peace that is marked by a heightened awareness of and skilful adaptation to the complex and shifting material, geo-political, economic, and cultural realities of our increasingly globalized and interdependent world.’  Arguably, the shift in photojournalism of the Vietnam era was not simply a shift in perspective on modern warfare; it was also a shift in publishing norms and political commitments that saw the practice of photojournalism engage to an unprecedented extent in an effort to create a visual culture conducive to peace-building. 
This paper will be informed by research in the Osman Collection of Twentieth-Century Photojournalism (Cardiff University) and the Philip Jones Griffiths Archive (National Library of Wales), as well as consideration of material from historic forums for the discussion of photojournalism (e.g. Wilson Hicks International Conferences on Photo-Communication Arts, held at the University of Miami from the mid-fifties to the early 1970s). Through this material and an exploration of intellectual and publishing histories, it should be possible to evaluate perceptions of the history, status and future of photojournalism in the era of Vietnam.


Mathilde Bertrand - Université Bordeaux Montaigne
Imaging peace, exposing the nuclear defence strategy: uses of photography in the construction of a discourse of peace at the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp (1981-2000).

The women who got involved in the non-violent resistance against nuclear weapons at the RAF Airbase in Greenham Common (UK), for weeks, months or even years between August 1981 and 2000, did not do so in reaction to a direct experience of armed conflict, nor as a result of a lived reality of strife, death and destruction. Their commitment for peace stemmed from a consciousness that, in the context of the Cold War, the options taken in the name of the defence of Western interests by the British and American governments condemned the whole British society and indeed the entire world to the possible use of the atomic bomb.  The women at Greenham Common engaged in a protracted struggle against what they considered as the formidable threat on peace embodied by the proliferation of nuclear weapons, in the context of mounting tensions between the Western and the Soviet Blocks. They sought to vividly expose the destructive nature of nuclear weaponry, in direct confrontation with the abstract way in which these weapons were euphemistically referred to in public opinion (as “deterrents” for example). Their resistance sought to figure an alternative vision, against war, and in favour of de-escalation.
Against the opacity of the industrial-military complex, the challenge at Greenham Common was to make tangible a threat which was kept quiet as a public issue and coated in a discourse of defence of the national interest. This paper seeks to determine the role played by photography in the women’s campaign at Greenham Common in exposing the fallacies of the nuclear defence strategy. It examines the ways in which the visual field was invested by these activists, as an integral part of their repertoire of action. In what measure did photography contribute to create the conditions for the development of a discourse on peace, and to sustain the peace movement.
Visual communication was paramount to sustain the campaign. Far from the centres of decision-making, and seeing their struggle often overlooked by the mainstream press, women at Greenham found that they needed their actions to be visually recorded and were dependent on the presence of photographers. This begs the question of control over the uses of the images by the activists. The relationship between activism and its necessary imaging needs to be addressed, all the more as some actions undertaken at Greenham Common can be considered as photogenic or even performed for the camera. The paper will use a corpus of images produced both by professional photographers and by the women themselves in the camps. 
The question of the circulation of photographic images will also be examined. The way some particular images circulated is indicative of the strength of activist networks. How can we account for the iconicity of certain images, their particular strength as visual tropes in generating support? The versatile appropriations of certain images may be a sign to the development of a collective discourse.
The iconography developed by the movement drew on an existing lexicon of symbolic representations of peace, notably those produced by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. But Greenham Common’s distinctive feminist character raises the question of whether this had an effect on the visual language it formulated.
On another level, the materiality of the photographic image will be explored. In direct actions such as “Embrace the Base”, thousands of women surrounded the base and pinned personal photographs on the fence alongside other intimate objects. This invites us to ponder on the highly expressive functions of photographic images, used in this instance as a way of symbolically humanizing a place associated with the destruction of life, as a way of visualising peace.

Heide Fehrenbach - Northern Illinois University
Photography, Civilians, and the Polemics of Peace: A Historical Perspective

As a scholar who has been working on establishing “humanitarian photography” as an object of historical study, I plan to use this workshop as an opportunity to think through some of the differences between the use of photography as a means to advocate for humanitarian intervention or aid and use of photography for purposes of conflict resolution and international peacebuilding after periods of hot war. In particular, I will focus on the visual and narrative trope of “the civilian” in the first half of the 20th century, before the more contemporary concern to foster “transitional justice”emerged as an “optic” that empowered groups to invoke human rights claims against domestic oppressors, shape successor governments, and prosecute the crimes of their predecessors. When did “the civilian” begin to figure in the photographic imaging of the problems of ending war and ensuring peace? How was the civilian variously depicted, narrated and deployed? What was its role and function? How did it evolve over time? To what extent did visual deployment of the figure of the civilian (including civilian suffering and imagery of the body) come to structure the polemics of peace in the era of colonial and world war?

Astrid Jamar - University of Edinburgh
Laura S. Martin - University of Edinburgh
Capturing the Multiplicities of Peace: Photography, Representation and Everyday Strategies of Transition

This article examines the role and representation of photography in transitional justice and peacebuilding programmes.  While there is extensive literature on photography during periods of conflict and discussions about the representations of violence, there is much less research exploring how post-conflict societies and global institutions, such as the United Nations, also reproduce homogenous notions of peace.  However, peacebuilding is a non-linear process (Chandler 2013) that occurs in multiple temporalities within the everyday.  These ordinary spaces go undocumented, perhaps due to the fact that these events are not spectacular and, thus, more difficult to capture.  In addition, individual internal struggles cannot always be documented.  Therefore, this paper moves beyond exploring the normative mechanisms and policy that shape aid-funded peacebuilding programmes.  It will analyse and re-trace the production of imagery by aid-funded institutions and contrast those images with other visual documentations of peace. This paper will argue that photography is a useful lens to illustrate how peacebuilding is taking place through diverse and unstructured processes.   

Wendy Kozol - Oberlin College
What’s the Harm in Looking? Re-assessing the Humanitarian Gaze in Peace-Building Photography

Can peace-building photography avoid perpetuating harm when the camera’s gaze is turned to survivors of wartime sexual assault? And if not, is it still possible to visualize subjects’ experiences in ways that maneuver past objectification? How, in other words, to represent the temporal expansiveness and the lived complexity of the slow violence of sexual trauma (Nixon 2011)? And what can this tell us about peace building efforts?  I pose these questions in recognition of the ongoing political imperative, however problematic, of representing the long-term impacts of sexual violence on post-conflict societies.
This paper explores the implications of focusing on trauma in peace-building photography through an analysis of Elizabeth Herman’s “A Woman’s War,” an oral history and documentary photography project with 115 women from five countries. Aiming to make legible the often-invisible traumatic scars that persist long after conflict has ended, Herman’s project represents women’s subjectivity through a humanitarian logic of gendered suffering, gender normativity and women’s empowerment. I deploy the concept of “harm” to reference the often-unanticipated impacts that affix to the principle of humanitarianism that might otherwise appear to be socially, politically, or individually beneficial. Rather than simply presume that peace-building photography is forever flawed by the harmful logics of humanitarianism, however, Herman’s project demonstrates that a focus on temporality can destabilize that logic enough to represent the expansiveness of slow violence.
What, though, are the consequences of this impulse to document trauma as central to peace building? What normative values does attention to trauma invoke? What, in turn, are the implications for representing the relationship between peace building and justice for survivors?

Jonathan Long - Durham University
Peace and its Discontents

In his seminal study of 1995, Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning, the historian Jay Winter ends with a vision of post-World War I Europe united in grief: all the belligerent powers, he argues, retreated into a melancholy search for appropriate forms of commemoration and mourning in the wake of catastrophic destruction and loss of life:

Whatever form it took, the invocation of the dead is an unmistakable sign of the commonality of European cultural life in this period. Here class or rank mattered less than the simple distinction between those who lost someone and those who did not. Among the many legacies of the Great War, this bond of bereavement was one of the most prominent and most enduring.
(Jay Winter, Sites of memory, Sites of Mourning: The Great War in Cultural History, pp. 227-8)

For anyone familiar with the German case, this is an astonishing contention. The Weimar Republic, which emerged from the chaos of the political and military collapse of German in 1918, was riven by precisely those things that, for Winter, were markers of ‘commonality’: the legacy of the War, the invocation of the dead, and appropriate forms of commemoration were vigorously contested. So was the nature of the peace.
In this paper, rather than returning to the well-known visual culture of Weimar pacifism (exemplified by Ernst Friedrich’s bestselling photobook War against War of 1924), I turn to Franz Schauwecker’s 1928 book So ist der Friede (Such is the Peace), a companion peace to his earlier photobook So war der Krieg (Such was the War), and two books by Edmund Schulte, Das Gesicht der Demokratie (The Face of Democracy, 1931) and Die veränderte Welt (The Transformed World, 1933). Like much peace photography, these books represent attempts to re-envision society after a catastrophic conflict; all three seek to ‘foster social relationships, transform conflicts and reconcile communities’. But they do so from a militarist and nationalist perspective that rejects the notion of the civil imagination and conceives of the moral imagination in highly idiosyncratic terms. And this in turn has implications for the categories we use to think through ‘peace photography’.

Paul Lowe - University of the Arts London
Exposing the Darkness: Photography and Genocide Prevention


This chapter will explore how a range of photographers have collaborated with institutions and humanitarian organisations to produce visually led campaigns designed to raise awareness of the dangers of genocide both in areas that remain at risk of such atrocities and also in nations who bear responsibility for the prevention of war crimes on a global level. Projects engage with the issues of the representation of post conflict societies, reconciliation, moral courage, and the legacy of rape as a weapon of war. The chapter will present a series of case studies of work by Proof: Media for Social Justice, The United States Holocaust Museum Washington, United Nations development Fund, Human Rights Watch, and the Post Conflict Research Centre, Sarajevo Bosnia-Herzegovina. These projects include a range of types of interventions in terms of the target audiences, the visual strategies deployed, and the form of presentation from books, web based work and public outdoor exhibitions.


Frank Möller - University of Tampere
Children of Rwanda: From the event-as-aftermath to the aftermath-as-event

This paper discusses ways in which selected photographers (Alfredo Jaar, Jonathan Torgovnik, Pieter Hugo, Jean-Marc Bouju and participants in a participatory photography project in Rwanda, Through the Eyes of Children) have accompanied children in post-genocide Rwanda and their adaptation to a more peaceful life. The paper looks at this photography by linking with one another, but also going beyond, the analytical lenses of postmemory (Marianne Hirsch) and the event-as-aftermath (John Roberts).
Postmemory theorizes transfers of memories from one generation to the next. The concept, most often applied to memories of the Holocaust, suggests that the “generation after” remembers the experiences of the preceding generation so deeply that these experiences “seem to constitute memories in their own right” (Hirsch). Postmemory suggests that the past continues to shape the present not only of the generation that personally experienced the genocide but also of their children, the “generation after.” Applied to Rwanda and the 1994 genocide, the paper, first, looks for the visualization of postmemory in Jonathan Torgovnik's photography of women raped during the genocide and their children, born of rape. However, the paper also argues that postmemory cannot be limited to the transfers of memories within families and investigates the visualization of such transfers in social and cultural configurations characterized precisely by the lack of memory transfers within families (Alfredo Jaar, Through the Eyes of Children).
Secondly, the paper suggests developing a photography of the aftermath-as-event. The event-as-aftermath (Roberts) signifies the discursive re-negotiation and re-construction of the original event after the event. Photography of the event-as-aftermath is important because it visualizes that, as postmemory indicates, the original event is not over once physical violence stops; it continues as traumatic memories. However, such photography often gets stuck in the aftermath without offering forward-looking perspectives. As in postmemory, the original event keeps dominating the aftermath. The paper suggests moving from the event-as-aftermath to the aftermath-as-event, increasingly decoupling the aftermath from the event (without denying or trivializing it): the aftermath of the “event” – be it war, genocide, famine or other forms of horror – is both an event in its own right and the prelude to another event, peace perhaps, which can be referenced or anticipated visually. Such a move requires forms of visual representation that differ from those visualizing postmemory or the event-as-aftermath. The paper looks for such alternative visualizations in Pieter Hugo’s photography of children in Rwanda and South Africa after 1994.

Pippa Oldfield - Durham University
‘Shooting For Peace: Feminist Pacifism, Photography and Peace Conferences in the First World War’

Building on the substantial literature on photography and war, scholars are beginning to address ‘peace photography’ and its potential to contribute to peacebuilding. Burgeoning work, however, has not addressed gender, despite its centrality to discourses and structures of politics and militarism. Historians of women’s peace activism, meanwhile, have overlooked the politics of the visual, treating photographs as unproblematic illustrations of events, or ignoring them altogether. As a result, women’s photographic tactics for peace are poorly understood, preventing an accurate assessment of the ways in which photography may positively impact on politics and society. My paper addresses this gap, examining the convergence of feminist pacifism and photography in the First World War. The conflict’s pre-eminent images of peace depict the victorious signing of the Paris Peace Treaty at Versailles in 1919. Though iconic, these images remain understudied and their gendered power dynamics unremarked. A close reading, however, reveals the ways in which women’s absence – and, less obviously, presence – is photographically registered in the masculinist environment of the Hall of Mirrors. Lesser known, but equally compelling, is the photographic corpus of the nascent Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom (WILPF), which held peace talks at The Hague in 1915 and Zürich in 1919. By examining the production and dissemination of images both celebratory and defamatory, I assess what is at stake in photographically representing women’s pacifism, and reveal the problems and opportunities for visualising women who ‘do’ peace. I argue that the fledgling WILPF used photography not only to document its activities, but also to refute negative perceptions of women in politics, by offering a persuasive alternative version. Furthermore, by mobilising the evidentiary power of photography, the women went beyond a utopian vision to construct and disseminate a palpable feminist pacifism at work in the real world. WILPF’s photographic tactics claimed women’s credibility as politically astute beings, with the right – and responsibility – to intervene in international affairs.

Sharon Sliwinski - Western University
Disturbing the Peace

In No Name in the Street, James Baldwin described the bright afternoon he realized that he would have to go home to “pay his dues.” It was 1956. He was in Paris, where he had been living since 1948. While covering the first international conference on black writers taking place at the Sorbonne, he an a group of attendees wandered up the Boulevard St.-Germain on the way to lunch: “Facing us, on every newspaper kiosk on that wide, tree-shaded boulevard, were photographs of fifteen-year-old Dorothy Counts being reviled and spat upon by the mob as she was making her way to school in Charlotte, North Carolina. There was an unutterable pride in that girl’s face as she approached the halls of leaning with history, jeering, at her back.” The photographs filled Baldwin with hatred and pity. And they made him ashamed: “Some of us should have been with her!” He describes dawdling around Europe for another year, all the while knowing he could no longer “sit around in Paris discussing the Algerian and the black American problem. Everybody else was paying their dues, and it was time I went home and paid mine.”
Baldwin would go on to become one of the most prolific voices of the civil rights movement—a struggle that would, of course, produce many iconic photographs. For my part, I want to describe how such encounters can make space for a particular kind of political work—what we might call “a breach of the peace.” As Baldwin himself conceded, the public cannot bear much reality. The collective social imaginary prefers fantasy images to truthful recreations of reality. Artistic endeavour, as Baldwin defined it, necessarily involves “disturbing the peace,” by which he meant that artists should seek to pierce the torpor, to rob the public of its comfortable myths in order to help them to re-establish a connection with themselves, and with one another.
In my paper, I aim to sketch the link between the kind of artistic endeavour Baldwin champions and the performative politics of civil disobedience—the way both activities seek to disturb the peace in order to strengthen the public’s ability to face with the world as it is. In this view, a degree of psychological disruption is required for genuine social transformation. Thinking alongside the work of Rebecca Belmore and other indigenous artists, I will also aim to bring some of these questions to bear the contemporary political project of decolonization in the North American context.

Jennifer Wallace - University of Cambridge
Tragedy, photography and recognition

In order to think about the complex relationship between photography, violence and peace-building, three central generic , literary or philosophical questions must be confronted:

1.         What is the relationship between the tragic event, the literary notion of tragedy and what might be termed the tragic photograph? 
2.         What is the relationship between tragedy and understanding, the famous “pathei mathos” (“through suffering comes wisdom”) of Aeschylus?
3.         What is the relationship between tragedy and truth?

My paper will consider these three questions, focusing on issues of recognition, on the functional purpose (if any) of tragedy and the tragic photograph, on truth and post-truth and the implications for justice as well as peace. I will draw on examples from Greek tragedy (Oresteia, Hippolytus) and photographs, such as those by Stephen Dupont, from the War on Terror.

Principal Inquiries

The capacity of photographs to intervene and contribute to social relationships which transform conflicts and reconcile communities represents a crucial facet of peace-building work in the image-saturated world of the twentieth and twenty-first century. To explore this capacity we will ask the following vital discussion questions: 

  • What are the markers of ‘peace photography’ and to what extent does it exist as a genre?
  • In what ways can the 'moral imagination' (John-Paul Lederach) or ‘civil imagination’ (Ariella Azoulay) be stimulated to action by photographic reportage?
  • What motivates photographers, curators and editors to convey narratives of peace and not just stories of war?
  • Have changes in the medium of photography (wrought by technology as well as by creative artists) enhanced or diminished its potential for peace-building?
  • How far does the digital afterlife of iconic images reveal or suggest movements in society towards peace and conflict transformation?
  • How is photography used therapeutically by groups recovering from conflict to move towards healing and reconciliation?
  • How have civilians, protestors and terrorists engaged with and created visual material to achieve public visibility for a given people or cause as part of contemporary cycles of conflict and conflict transformation?  And in the light of the uses of such photography how far is it necessary to rethink notions of the public sphere to meet the challenges of contemporary peace-building?
  • Given increasing reference to ‘humanitarian wars’ and the deployment of military personnel to fulfill a ‘responsibility to protect,’ should we review rigid distinctions between conflict and peace, especially as re-presented through photography? To what extent is a fuzzy or flexible understanding of the uses of photography required to acknowledge the complexity of security issues and peace-building work in the twenty-first century? 

Academic Leader

Jolyon Mitchell - University of Edinburgh


Stuart Allan - Cardiff University

Tom Allbeson - Swansea University

Mathilde Bertrand - Université Bordeaux Montaigne

Heide Fehrenbach - Northern Illinois University

Astrid Jamar - University of Edinburgh

Liam Kennedy - University College Dublin

Wendy Kozol - Oberlin College

Jonathan Long - Durham University

Paul Lowe - University of the Arts London

Laura S. Martin - University of Edinburgh

Frank Möller - University of Tampere

Pippa Oldfield - Durham University

Sharon Sliwinski - Western University

Jennifer Wallace - University of Cambridge

Chairs and Respondents

Christine Bell - University of Edinburgh

Alison Elliot - University of Edinburgh

Agata Fijalkowski - Lancaster University

Mihaela Mihai - University of Edinburgh

Katy Parry - University of Leeds

Geoffrey Stevenson - University of Edinburgh

Susan St. Ville - University of Notre Dame

Kate Wright - University of Edinburgh