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Graham
Hunt

CCGAP Human Rights Photo Journalist

 

 

 

 

CCGAP is currently sponsoring Graham Hunt, a former accompanier with Vermont/New Hampshire GAP. Graham is a photojournalist and the following is his explanation and proposal for his work.

 

9 March 2011
Ciudad de Guatemala

The content of this letter:
1. Introduction
2. Photography work with NISGUA
3. A request for feedback
4. The specifics of the project
5. The work of the Iniciativa para la Memoria Histórica
6. Working in partnership with the IMH
7. Conclusion


To NISGUA's sponsoring communities,

Introduction
Thank you all for continuing to make NISGUA's work on the ground possible, and thanks in particular to the New Hampshire-Vermont and Copper Country GAP communities for supporting me in my work in Guatemala up to this point. My name is Graham Hunt and, as some of you will know, I recently spent a year as an accompanier in the Ixil region, in partnership with NH-VT GAP, and have since been afforded a unique opportunity to pursue documentary photography projects in Guatemala for six months with the sponsorship of CCGAP. I write to you all now to explain this work and to request your input as I move into a new phase of its realization.

Photography work with NISGUA
As you all know, one of the most critical challenges to accompaniment work is the commitment to effectively raise national and international awareness of human rights issues in Guatemala. We are called upon to bear witness to the struggles of those whom we accompany, and we are entrusted with their stories with the promise that we will not remain silent. Faced with the everyday tasks attendant to accompanying, however, accompaniers frequently find it very difficult to produce quality education and advocacy pieces while at work on the ground, and my current position was conceived with a vision that, in dedicating myself full time to documentary photography projects, I would contribute in a novel way to reinforcing the education and advocacy component that is key to NISGUA's strategy of international accompaniment. In a series of conversations with NISGUA staff, it was decided that I would work in my new capacity to produce photographic essays documenting the efforts of certain groups and communities we accompany, to be published on the NISGUA Blog and to be used in other education, advocacy, and recruitment materials. Conjointly, we decided on themes warranting regular and up-to-date documentation, among them the community referenda that continue to be carried out across the country and, as of more recently, the resistance to an initiative, introduced by powerful interests, to devise a regulation for community consultations without the consent or participation of the communities to be affected by the proposed legislation. Additionally, we discussed the possible utility of assuming a closer treatment of a given issue or region, with the intent of producing a photographic essay exemplifying in a more detailed and complete way an issue to which those we accompany would grant priority. At all points it has been of special concern to us that the final product be placed back in the hands of the documented organizations and communities in a usable and useful form. At the same time, it was our hope and vision that the finished work be of special use to you, the sponsoring communities, in your work on the local level around the United States.

A request for feedback
In addition to placing back into the hands of the communities with which I am working the documentation of the themes broadly outlined above and explained in more detail below, naturally, I will be placing the images created at the disposition of NISGUA and, by association, the sponsoring communities. Following my term here, I fully plan to make good on my commitment to do a speaking tour with CCGAP, as I would were I occupying a standard accompanier position, and the photographs produced over these six months will be central to the presentations I will give. Additionally, however, if it were possible that the images would be of use to other sponsoring communities, I would commit myself to making that utility effective. Here, then, enters my request for input: I would like to know the format in which the images I capture over these months will be most useful to you. A straightforward proposition would be that I create and make available to the SCs a powerpoint presentation properly contextualizing the images; a more complicated notion that comes to my mind, recognizing the many economic and logistical considerations involved, would involve producing a mobile exhibition, whether in a digital (and possibly multimedia) or printed format—for me the greater appeal, largely for reasons of visual impact, lies in the latter. These are, as I say, the initial notions that have come to my mind as I've considered how to best make use of the yields of my documentary work over the coming months, but I would like to hear from you all what will best complement your efforts to educate, advocate, and drum up support for NISGUA's programs. While a speaking tour with CCGAP will allow me to communicate with the public in one region of the U.S., I believe that my photos, whether in a presentation or an exhibition or a format I have not yet imagined, can be used to transmit the message sent by those I've accompanied without need for my physical presence to reproduce it.

The specifics of the project
This said, I would like to paint for you all a clearer picture of the work in which I am currently engaged. With the general parameters of the project in mind, I approached the Iniciativa para la Memoria Histórica (IMH), a historical memory collective based in the north of the El Quiché department with whose members I had the distinct honor of working during my year as an accompanier. Members of the collective likewise toured the Midwest and East Coast during NISGUA's 2009 speaking tour. Seeking their insight as to possible directions in which to conduce the in-depth component of the project, I explained to members of the IMH the broad mandate of my photojournalistic enterprise. I received in return a request: that I walk with the collective in its accompaniment of communities in the municipalities of Nebaj and Sacapulas, documenting the organizational efforts of the people in defense of the region's natural resources, with the end goal of supplying the communities with a visual record of their work. I accepted the proposal on provisional terms and, after the IMH had consulted representatives of the communities to be documented and received from them a positive response, I accepted outright.

The work of the Iniciativa para la Memoria Histórica
The Iniciativa para la Memoria Histórica has done landmark work since the civil war exposing the deep and concrete links between the Guatemalan genocide and the megadevelopment initiatives being imposed today upon many of the very same communities that bore the worst of the violence under the Lucas García and Ríos Montt regimes. It is integrated by men and women with trajectories of struggle and resistance reaching back into the hardest years of the civil war, and several of its participants are also members of the Association for Justice and Reconciliation. In recent years, the collective has become one of the primary motors of community organization in the north of the El Quiché department, working tirelessly to provide communities with the tools they need to come to informed collective decisions as to how to best position themselves in the face of the influx of national and transnational corporations proposing large-scale mining and hydroelectric operations. The IMH provided key support to the communities of the municipality of Cunén as they organized a community referendum, celebrated on October 2009 following a long process of decision-making, and it played an instrumental role in the mobilization of dozens of communities from five municipalities of the north of the El Quiché department on May 5, 2010, in order to denounce the imposition of some 15 mining licenses and an equal number of hydroelectric projects over their communities (For a more detailed look at this movement, please see the brief photoreport I produced for the progressive online magazine Rootspeak at http://rootspeak.org/2010/07/las-comunidades-toman-la-palabra/#more-602). This articulation, more than a one-time coordination among community leaders, has coalesced in the formalization, in each of the involved communities, of structures dedicated to the defense of natural resources. These structures, with the support of the IMH, continue in regular communication, and it is their work, at the community level, which the collective proposes I document. Time will tell, but there is a growing sense among the actors involved that the process of community organization in Sacapulas is reaching a critical mass that may soon result in the convocation of a community referendum regarding the numerous mining licenses that have been granted in the municipality.

Working in partnership with the IMH
Working with the IMH to document this historic process represents a unique opportunity to visually tie together two interrelated axes of NISGUA's concern: the search for justice for past crimes and the quest for justice in the face of today's profit-before-people macroeconomic initiatives. Clearly, there are countless case studies across the country that could bring these issues to new light with equal facility, but the advantages to my working in association with the IMH in the north of the El Quiché department, as opposed to embarking on a project in a different region, are several. Most fundamentally, I have very a close relationship to the collective, forged over my year as an accompanier, and am likewise linked to many of the communities articulated in the coordination stemming from the May 5 movement. Collaborating with the collective represents an opportunity to work in a truly collective fashion, regularly evaluating and reevaluating my work to ensure that it is in line with the needs of the communities. Also, importantly, working with the IMH necessarily involves engaging in a continual collective analysis of the risks involved in working in each and every one of the communities, this analysis being characteristic to the way the group functions. My entry into this sphere of work comes at a highly delicate juncture; inevitable electoral tensions, unprecedented and consequential movements in the genocide cases, pressures to bring local political leaders to justice for present-day crimes, large-scale vandalism of hydroelectric projects presumably perpetrated by organized criminal groups and a rampant criminalization of local leaders and movements are just some of the conditions that combine to make this a particularly complicated time in the north of the El Quiché department, but few if any are better informed as to the workings of all these dynamics than the IMH, and maintaining a tight coordination with the collective is the best measure I can take to ensure that step wisely as we proceed with this project.

All these complexities in mind, what the communities—via the IMH—are asking of me, in technical terms, is straightforward: photographs documenting organizational processes in each of roughly eight sectors or microregions in which the collective will be present over the coming months, with the end that the images be reproduced in a publicly-viewable format, i.e. printed on vinyl banners, and placed in the hands of community leaders as a visual record of their communities' organizational efforts and as a tool in their work of raising consciousness and interest on the local level. Beyond this relatively narrow scope, my work over the coming months represents an opportunity to document the unique way of working of the IMH, itself. Such documentation, necessarily, would serve no public purpose in Guatemala; members of the collective are under a degree of threat similar to that of members of the AJR, and sometimes more, and images capturing their way of working, naturally, will have to be managed with great care. My intention, however, would be that the images be of use to the collective, itself.

Some two years ago, as I prepared to immerse myself in my first attempt at an in-depth documentary project, a look at the processes of resistance at work in urban communities in San Salvador struggling for land rights (see http://truthandrights.org/volume/galleries/the-lense-of-graham-hunt/), I received a piece of advice that was to fundamentally anchor the intentionality with which I go about any documentary work: a mentor advised me that I work with the end that the documentation produced act as a mirror to those documented, an opportunity for them to come to know themselves better, seeing their image captured in an outsider's lens. In documenting the IMH, I would hope, at least, to approach some approximation of providing them this service. And if the photographs did just that, I would be satisfied. I would hope at the same time, though, that the images collected, in conjunction with all the rest of the documentation I achieve over the course of my six-months in this position, could serve a good outside the Guatemalan sphere. Hence my request for input to you, the sponsoring communities, regarding how to best place the photographs in your hands.

Conclusion
Thank you for taking the time to read this letter, thank you in advance for your response, and thank you again for making NISGUA's work possible.

Sincerely,

Graham Hunt


 

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