Compassion = Understanding?

Magnum photographer Eve Arnold from her book Retrospect: “If the photographer is interested in the people in front of his lens, and if he is compassionate, it’s already a lot. The instrument is not the camera but the photographer.”

For a very long time I have wanted to photograph elements of our existence on earth that are troubling, unsettling, even tragic.  There are many reasons to do this that probably only make sense to myself.  I expect to learn a great deal more about my own motivations as the work progresses. I made a beginning last October with my trip to Eastern Europe. I’m taking another step now even as I develop a deeper project for the work in the Czech Republic.  To say that it’s a departure from the equine photography is an understatement, but there is a uniting theme: I am interested in what is happening in front of my lens.

The suffering happening in Japan is mirrored in so many countries today. While the story is unfolding there and creating fear and apprehension for millions around the world, it offers us the chance to check-in with stories in other places…places that have experienced continual suffering and loss. Haiti is just one place on our planet that fits that description.  With Grace and good fortune I’ll be going there in June to help several families and to photograph the stories I find. I’ll begin my self-assignment now and learn as much as I can about the history of the land, the literature, music, and culture of a people whose history stretches far across a divide hewn by violence and fear.  Often this violence came at the hands of “Men of God”. And yet, blessings and goodness have also been offered from other good men. And there is one of the least understood aspects of the human personality: the capacity for unspeakable evil matched with the ability to offer Grace and compassion in its presence.  I offer the photograph today not in judgement or evangelical spirit. I offer it for us to consider and understand the burden and connotation that human beings attach to a symbol.  As potent a symbol as has ever been created, the Christian Cross has the power to divide, to call out, to separate, to OTHER~ more than any other banner, flag, or nation’s symbol. I understand our need to “tribe” ourselves, perhaps these days, more accurately BRAND ourselves. But must it be blindly? Always? Yes, I’m painting with a broad brush. I know that.

This photograph is as powerful for me as any other I’ve ever made. It makes me think. It stopped me in my tracks when I saw it ~ as it seemed totally out of place in the Small Fortress at Terézin.  And when I made time to work on it I knew I wanted to emphasize the qualities I saw in it.  I won’t describe those as I don’t want to prejudice your seeing of it. I’m interested in what you think.  Your point of view matters to me.

6 Responses to “Compassion = Understanding?”

  1. March 16, 2011 at 9:14 pm

    Keron – the picture says it all. It is in itself an explanation for what you just wrote.
    Miss you – love, Marie

  2. March 17, 2011 at 5:22 am

    Ambiguity. Or duality. The juxtiposition of polar oposites. Actually the cross by itself is such an image, but we have been overexposed and desensitized as a result. Your image refreshes the power derived from it.

  3. 3 honey
    March 28, 2011 at 2:17 pm

    i can’t believe i missed this blog. you must have posted it on facebook.

    i don’t remember hearing myself exhale while reading the text. it is so dense with compassion and query that i don’t even think a comment would suffice.

    this blog requires a real conversation.

    just know that i felt it and know that your heart holds the world and your hope for it. may it stand in front of your lens.

  4. April 10, 2011 at 2:53 pm

    WOW! This is so powerful – so packed with so many layers of deep meaning. The image says 1000 words – everything you wrote..and so much more. That it was made at Terezin – where nothing divided and defined as powerfully as the cross – says volumes.
    So much to say here…
    But – I can say – the image captured my gut root emotional reaction. Well done!

  5. October 23, 2011 at 2:13 am

    Powerful imagery Keron!

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March 2011


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