19 May -1 June 2017, Creative Arts Napier
Napier’s CAN offers exhibition access to a wide remit of exhibitors, and the Imagine the Journey Red Cross exhibition was no exception to the increasing convergence of different social industries. Contemporary life is intensely marketed these days; we live in a constant visually saturated society. Like many, NGOs are motivated to get out there and position their work evidence to empathise their purpose. Thus, around 30 photographs were displayed in the CAN’s small exhibiting room.
The exhibition theme was ‘Woman and War’, and all images set Woman within the various stages and circumstances of living in conflict zones to which Red Cross provides emergency humanitarian assistance and re-building aid. Included with each image was a brief synopsis of her own story.
Photos were displayed in a typical educational format: the image and information laminate as one on A3 scale. This was not the best manner in which to display photos as art…. But then, Red Cross is in the service of people, not art. Additionally, a comprehensive display table gave extra information, such as personal stories of women living through conflict zones, and Red Cross projects and organisational information around the world.
What’s important was the content of the images themselves, and the qualities that come with them. In each image, the value of life is richly conveyed with women set in their own circumstances, be that arisen from the harrowing ordeal and consequences of brutal amputation or the torn walls of a once home, to woman in prison learning sewing skills for when/if they leave. The photography’s story is as clean and clear.
Perhaps a telling emotion to such images is the wider visual context. These women live in places with difficult governance, conflict and poverty, and where the worth of a woman living in extremes of religion and intolerances is visible. Images that tell of reunion across vast distances initiated by the neutrality of the red cross, alongside deeply private captures by the camera of the utter realisation of personal loss and despair.
We have seen images like these on TV, the web. What’s different about this selection? Probably not much, but then, every life matters. These images are not just a record, and the images Red Cross selected are quite often hopeful. Perhaps, in our comparatively comfortable abode, it’s about the private moment of choosing to look, care, perhaps do something. Plenty of options to help Red Cross were accessible – in this small room in a good-looking building, warm inside, solid, and certainly no question of safety… all is not so sound for many women around the world.