Why does Pieter Hugo’s “Portraits of Reconciliation” make us “speechless”? Leave us with “no words”? Why might we find it “stunning”? “Powerful”? “Inspiring”?
I find it disturbing, and I think this is the best thing you can say about it: if these photographs provoke and unsettle you, then Pieter Hugo is doing something interesting with his camera, and he is not simply telling the wish-fulfillment story that victims of great violence can just get over it and move on. The New York Times, by contrast, seems to want to tell the latter story, a story of resilience and human strength, and especially the story of women forgiving the men who assaulted them:
“Portraits of Reconciliation,”–the photo-essay commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide–published recently in the New York Times, is a deeply disturbing piece of journalism. Profoundly banal, the subtitle states, “20 years after the genocide in Rwanda, reconciliation still happens one encounter at a time.” Repetitive and reductive, the narrative reduces violence to a set of meaningless outbursts, while it simultaneously fashions forgiveness in the Christian vision of redemption. A self-assured narrative of reconciliation, forgiveness and transformation, the photo-essay depicts a world organized around binary preoccupation: Hutu and Tutsi, Good and Evil, Victim and Perpetrator, and Redemption and Liberation.
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