Postcards to the ‘other side’

Given the chance, what would you write on a postcard to the ‘other side’?

As Monica prodded me with the question she had been asking passers-by I knew I wasn’t merely dealing with a photographer. She envisioned their answers imprinted on postcards created from her own photographs shot in both northern and southern Cyprus.

Calling herself a ‘peace photographer’, it’s obvious that the motives behind Monica Alcazar Duarte’s work has a depth which questions the notions we adopt of the world we live in, but also subtly attempts to reframe trains of thought which come about once a conflict has subsided.

To her, photography is a medium that alternates at every corner, as soon as a moment has changed; just as we talk about how we reached a conclusion, or how he make a judgment only to realise that nothing is set in stone, images and ideals are merely knowledge which we have acquired.

To this end, Monica is prompt in revealing that although she is adamant to speak with her audience and make it be known that what she puts forward is her own point of view, it is also imperative for her following to come up with their own stories and conclusions.
“I’m interested in the idea of almost trying to break stereotypes and entering areas (places in the world) that are very charged in our minds, because we’ve seen them in the media so many times that we think we know them,” Monica tells me.

“She describes her work as ‘slow’ photography as opposed to mass media photography, which resorts to covering events as they happen as opposed to capturing an event’s aftermath.

“I understand the reason behind it (mass media photography) but I’m more interested in slower, more subtle work; something that you look at and you think that you know what you’re talking about and suddenly realise you don’t… This is my own way of trying to find an honest approach to getting to know things while always knowing that even if you get to know a little bit more about something, you still know nothing…”

This mind-set has found Monica in various conflict zones seeking to find her own take. Whilst never dismissing the work of war photographers (which initially were her inspiration) their take enabled her to differentiate herself from them, both for their stimulation and approach to subject matters.

“I deeply respect people who go to conflict zones, they put themselves at risk and I would never do it; but I don’t believe much in the system that diffuses that information, I believe that it’s limited and that it needs to go further, it needs to expand into what happens after,” Monica tells me.

Initially from Mexico and now a permanent resident in London, her outlook as a foreigner has also imbued an alternative streak into the visual world we are acquainted with.“We look at the foreign body all the time.

When in Europe, we see photos of dead children in Palestine (for example), we look at the ‘other’ body, but we never see our own dead… and so in my mind it’s trying to find a different way of talking about it (conflicts) and the process of peace making… to try and carry on putting these matters on the table but from a different aspect.. There is not always a victim, there are always survivors… it’s always trying to find counterpoints about the violence and frustration on location,” adds Monica.

Possible Landscapes
Very conscious about the fact that she knows almost next to nothing about the island, its people and politics, Monica arrived on the island with a vague idea about how she wanted to purvey her point of view on the division of the island and its current standing.

“I knew that I didn’t want people – some photographers like the idea of making portraits and I knew I didn’t want that. I knew that I was more interested in the landscape,” she recalls.

In the back of her mind, Monica was also aware of war photographers who had ended up doing landscape photography in order to heal themselves after what they been confronted with. “I found the concept of what one finds in the land of a country which surrounds conflict really interesting,” explains Monica.

Referring to this, during her first visit to Cyprus, she says, “I was very worried and very conscious about the fact that I’m a foreigner here, and as it’s my first time here, it’s quite possible, and if not, it’s completely certain that I know almost next to nothing about the place and its people and the politics…”

Monica left the island late last week with a response in her hand; a response to what she understood as she alternated her ventures into the north and south of the island.

Having heard common stories about people not wanting to return to the ‘other side’ and not dismissing the valuable stories to be heard, Monica soon decided to move away from individual stories.

She now seeks for another counterpoint between the two sides.
Through her initial interest in the landscape, Monica was lead to ask: “How can one make an impossible landscape a possible one and how could you marry the sky of the north and the land of the south and vice versa?”

The result is to be a limited-edition publication of horizontal landscape postcards which combine the two, along with a text written by people locally when asked: “If you could send a postcard to the ‘other side’, what would you write?”

Including a human element to the visuals confirms a dialogue that subtly juxtaposes a landscape which includes interaction.

“It’s not about the conflict, it’s about something else, it’s about moving forward, looking at what the future is and how we can see something that in our mind has perhaps become impossible and realise that actually it’s the commonalities; the sky on one side or the other is so simple but I find that there is some kind of poetry yet at the same time it’s something very understandable… there is a point of connection, you can connect both sides with the sky and there is no political argument about it,” said Monica.

“This is done in a concept of peace, I am interested in what happens in a conflict area afterwards and what it means to the society on location, all the hard work that it takes, the years that it takes and the process it takes and I’m interested in somehow facilitating this process… The fact that I’m an outsider makes it easier to kind of have access to certain things that are unique locally, the charged personal stories that make it very difficult.

“My only agenda is to do something that possibly could lead someone to think in a different way about the process of peace-making and it’s very naïve, I know, all of the idea is very naïve but then if you don’t do it because it’s naïve then you do nothing,” she adds.
Here, Monica recalls a phrase from Martin Luther King Junior which instigates her to push forward with changing mind-sets, in her own, personal yet quite catchy visuals.

“Those who love peace must be as organised as those who love war,” she smiles. “This is so true… In my mind I love this idea of reminding people that we need to keep on being organised if we want to maintain peace. We need to keep in control because otherwise it’s so easy for the world to collapse.”

Monica Alcazar-Duarte is planning on returning to the island in October to present her project locally. More information about her work in general can be found on www.monicaalcazarduarte.com

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