Gilles Peress, a Magnum photographer, is the recipient of numerous awards, including fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Since 1970, Peress has covered a vast human rights terrain—from Northern Ireland to Bosnia to Rwanda to Latin America. Peress and the Human Rights Center’s Eric Stover co-authored The Graves: Srebrenica and Vukovar and have collaborated over two decades.
Photography is under a curse: you are damned if you do and you are also damned if you don’t. I keep asking myself the fundamental question as to whether or not photography, very much in the same way the 18th century novels were, can be a vehicle for empathy, identification with the other and as such a vehicle for change and progress in Human Rights. Badly used photography can clearly represent a vehicle for propaganda or emotional exploitation of the worst kind and runs the risk of having the counterproductive effect of desensitizing the citizens. Not used at all, which is when the pictures are not being shot, when one succumbs to the postmodernist argument mentioned above, you enter into the black hole of not seeing and therefore a void of consciousness. Which do you choose?