Nice little film by Marc Silver for Amnesty International on migration from Mexico to the USA. Its all about the socks. OK, its about other things too. But the socks are important.
Definitely one of the better audio-visual projects by Amnesty International in some time. Ignore that the actor from ‘The Motorcycle Diaries‘ (Gael Garcia Bernal) is in it and take in the individual stories.
It all started as a photo project (there is a small booklet that accompanies the campaign) and just grew from there. Personally, I would have liked a wider palette of stories, as the films focus so much on the extreme, but the four separate films work well alone and together.
In my experience lawyers are not usually that open to the impact visual media can have on improving human rights. Don’t get me wrong, some of my best friends and colleagues are lawyers and they know all the technical stuff that baffles my brain. However, unless I come to them with some forensic photos they are not so interested. So, you can imagine how excited I was to see this story on two Mexican lawyers who successfully got a murder conviction against an innocent man overturned by filming his re-trial.
A Great Story
Layda Negrete and Roberto Hernández took the case of Antonio Zuñiga, a street vendor who was arrested for murder while out for a walk in December 2005. Antonio had been convicted but the lawyers managed to get a retrial because his original lawyer was a fake! Knowing that the system was a bit rubbish they asked if they could film the trial, which turned out to be no better than the first, upholding the conviction of Antonio!
However, with video footage in hand they approached the appeals court who were so shocked by what they saw they over turned the conviction. But that was not all, Negrete and Hernández went on to make several films and presentations using trial and interview footage combined with research data to demonstrate the failings of the justice system and need for reforms. With this they helped lobby for constitutional changes by showing them to key decision makers and those with influence, eventually achieving success in June 2008.
The documentary, ‘Presumed Guilty‘, about Zuñiga’s trial was funded by the Hewlett Foundation.
“The film provided a very powerful platform for the research data itself,” said C. R. Hibbs, program officer and managing director for Mexico for Hewlett’s Global Development Program. “It provided much wider impact than we would be able to get from funding the research alone.”
More than an illustration
So often in my work with researchers and legal professionals I find that photographs are seen as an added extra. Nice, but not necessary – good for the cover of a report or inside to break up the text. Video can be useful for testimony but is rarely gathered. What strikes me about this story of the two Mexican lawyers is they recognised the fundemental power of communication tools – they asked themselves the question, ‘what is the best way for us to get our message across?‘ They had a load of research data, and most would have been happy with that, displayed in a dry PowerPoint presentation or briefing document. But they focussed on impact, and for that they knew the value of real world examples delivered by those people whose lives were touched. And it worked.
When researchers are snowed under trying to gather information and communicate with contacts around the world they are understandably not so open to trying new things without knowing their utility. Equally, managers trying to run their programmes with limited budget are not going to fork out substantial amounts on untested techniques. In my view what is lacking is not the will or imagination, but the insight, examples and support in order for people to know what is available and how it can work. Only then can they make informed and innovative decisions. This support needs to be institutional, in an NGO, otherwise it will always come down to individual’s knowledge of what is possible. Training for staff on how video, photography and other visual media is and can be used would go a long way to improving the way these tools are used in social activism.
This could include basic training for researchers and campaigners on how to use cameras and camcorders; how to plan the communications for your campaign, including working with professional photographers and film makers; what tools are available and how they can be delivered (especially via the internet); and basics on ethics, visual language, consent and representation (includng the use of participatory methods).
Get all that up and running and I think you may be on to a winner.
The human rights violation of ‘disappearances’ has attracted a great deal of photographic interest and work. To mark the International Day of the Disappeared (30 August) here is a small selection of photographic work on the issue.
Marcelo Brodsky’s ‘Buena Memoria‘ – on returning to Argentina Brodsky organised a 25th anniversary reunion of his class mates at Colegio Nacional de Buenos Aires. Based around a massive blow-up of an original class photo he went about making portraits of the class. With so many disappeared he looked to represent them as a memorial to what had happened.
Paula Allen’s ‘The Women of Calama‘ – a long term project working looking at the search for those ‘disappeared’ during the Pinochet regime.
Brent Foster’s ‘Kashmir’s Half Widows’ – Foster’s work looks at the estimated 2000-6000 women left behind after their husbands were ‘disappeared’ in the disputed territory of Kashmir.
Susan Meiselas ‘Disappeared Women of Juarez‘
‘Documenting Disappearances – Algeria, state terrorism and the photographic image‘ – featuring Omar D’s book (commissioned and edited by Autograph ABP) of photographs, ‘Devoir de memoire / a Biography of Disappearance, Algeria 1992-’. Also featured on Flickr.
International Coalition Against Enforced Disappearances ‘Existence Denied‘ – photo book produced for the 25th anniversary of the International Day of the Disappeared.
ICRC’s ‘Missing Persons in Nepal‘ – photos by K. Kayastha commissioned by the International Committee of the Red Cross documenting the impact of losing a family member to ‘disappearances’.
Filed under: Art, Photography | Tagged: Algeria, Americas, Argentina, Asia, Central America, Chile, disappearances, Kashmir, Mexico, Middle East&North Africa, Nepal, Pakistan, photographers, South America, South Asia | Leave a Comment »