Photojournalist Seamus Conlan discusses diversity and its beauty in this exclusive essay for Vanichi.

Photojournalist Seamus Conlan discusses diversity and its beauty in this exclusive essay for Vanichi. During the Rwandan genocide, Conlan photographed 21,000 Rwandan children in order to reunite them with their families and start to heal the wounds of the devastating tribal conflict. American Photo magazine named him 16th of the “100 most important people in photography” and Life Magazine honored him for having taken one of the ‘100 images that changed the world’ for his work. Now, you can read his words below about what motivated him to launch #WeAreOneVoice in the United States and how he hopes the campaign will help unite and heal the country.

SEAMUS CONLAN

As a photojournalist, you have the blessing and the curse to witness the best and worst in human beings in times of great crisis, and you try to document it in the most humane way possible to educate the world. That is what you hope, that we will learn from our mistakes, allow new cultures into our hearts, and remember we are part of the human race. During my twenty years plus of covering conflicts and wars, I have seen countries spin out of control in days and weeks that wreck nations and peoples lives with no return, all due to the fact that what they don’t understand and what they fear is creating hatred and making peace unattainable for the majority of people.

WE ARE ONE VOICE was born from watching this last year of violence in America, opinions and hatred directed at our diverse cultures, religions, gender sexuality, etc.  I began to feel that America is in crisis. These stories of struggle, pain, and oppression dominate our headlines, but the real people affected in their daily lives are hardly ever seen or heard. We have been celebrating negativity for too long. In order to counteract this, I felt that I could use the power of imagery to celebrate our diversity and create positive reinforcement that we are all equal as humans in this country and on this planet, no matter our race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity and expression, socio-economic status, nationality, citizenship, religion, sexual orientation, ability, or age. All of this diversity is what makes America great. It is why people come here looking to chase their dreams without oppression if they work hard and are good people in the community. But this dream and the celebration of what the rainbow of Americans are and people living in America bring to the country is fading. We are a nation of culture, art, strength, innovation, and adventure. We take risks that no other nation does, but it seems that this is not enough to heal a nation. Unity and tolerance in America is in short supply.

seamus conlan quote vanichi

I am saddened by the way that this election has given some people the right to spread hate. In cold blood, they stand out in a crowd and shout people down because they don’t agree or they are just afraid of something or someone they don’t understand. Teaching people how to hate one another and thinking that it has no consequences is gravely affecting the lives of people in America. In Rosa Parks elementary school it was reported you can now hear kids chanting on the playground “Taco Bell kid you are going to be deported.” This is a school named after a woman that risked her life to protect civil rights and make sure they were protected for everyone that came after her. A child is a sponge, and when they see adults openly behaving in a negative way, of course, the child thinks this is okay. ‘My dad said it’ or ‘I saw it on TV.’ The day before they were playing on the playground together and the next day, because of the negative message being played out on a daily basis, we are continuing to breed hate for future generations. We are not taking the responsibility of being role models seriously in America anymore and we will be sure to see the effects in the coming years. It’s saddening to see how far we have come and at this pivotal moment in time how many steps we are taking backward everyday.

It’s no game playing with the hearts and minds of a country, but when you wake up one day and you start to believe your own lies, that is the day when we all say we should have done more.

You know you start a project for all the right reasons but it is only until you are doing it that you truly see the truth behind what you have created. Diversity is something we need to embrace as a nation, as a people, it is actually the only thing that connects us all. What would the World be like without it? Everyone we interviewed said the same thing, ‘It would be colorless; boring; we would never learn anything new; it would be like a crayon box with only one color.’ When most people hear the word Diversity they think of race and religion but there is so much more diversity to celebrate.

On our first shoot in Venice, CA we had amputees, disabled children, deaf families, LBGT community, homeless youth, rich, poor, mixed race, multiple religions but you wouldn’t know it by just looking at them. That is exactly the barrier I wanted to break. I wanted to take them out of the box we put each other in, take away the labels, and show the beautiful faces of the people, the people that make up America for all to admire, accept, and celebrate. When people came to look at the photographs they had no other information on the person. They only saw their beauty and accepted them for who they were, who they were looking at: a man, a woman, a child, someone smiling, laughing, serious, whoever they wanted to be in that very moment.

Each person stood in line waiting to be photographed knowing exactly why they were there, to stand up for diversity, to be heard and be seen which is all we really want in this life: to come together and say WE ARE ONE VOICE.

Photojournalist Seamus Conlan discusses diversity

Wednesday August 10th saw photographer Séamus Conlan using the power of images to unite people in Los Angeles with the WE ARE ONE VOICE campaign the start of a 25 city photographic tour across America.

*Find out how WE ARE ONE VOICE celebrates America’s Diversity here.