How photography is bringing justice to war-torn Colombia


Researchers asked people in two villages to photograph examples of justice and coexistence. The results were illuminating.

It’s not easy for most people to think about what peace and justice mean to them, or how to express it. But that’s what we ask people in war-torn communities to do, all around the world.

One place we did this is in Colombia, a country now testing out peace after more than 50 years of war between left-wing guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries, and government forces.

We asked people in two villages, San José de Urama and Las Cruces in the country’s northwest, to think about what they looked for as signs of justice and coexistence in their communities, what we call “everyday peace indicators.”

Through workshops using a research method called “photovoice,” a group of the villagers chose some of these everyday indicators of justice and coexistence to photograph. They then created and displayed personal and group photo stories as part of an open-air community exhibition.

We found that these communities wanted to use photography not only to document the aftermath of war and violence, but also to actively support peace.


In San José de Urama, people looking for signs of justice in their community wanted to see armed groups and the government telling the truth about the war, and former guerrillas building families. They wanted to see the truth bringing peace of mind, rest, and reparations for the victims, and an end to the violence.

Ex-guerrillas build families: ‘All there is to say is that they’re there, living among us; they rebuilt their families and they’re helping to transform the community.’ [Photo: Yesica Alejandra Zapata David/CC BY-ND]

For Francy Yulieth Manco Ferraro, an 18-year-old photographer from San José de Urama, a key element of coexistence in her community is the opportunity to be out of her house at any time. About this photo, she wrote, “In a world full of doubt and uncertainty, we can be calm in the knowledge that, when we go out to the streets or to our land, we will not hear the terrifying sound of guns; we will be able to go out freely, to work our land, to harvest our harvest, without fear.”

People can be in the street at any hour. [Photo: Francy Yulieth Manco Ferraro/CC BY-ND]

Some photographers, such as Leidi Johana Agudelo Higuita, used their work to pay homage to older members of the community who had survived through the years of the conflict, and kept their communities alive.

The truth brings peace of mind, rest, and reparations for the victims: ‘I had to live a war that wasn’t mine . . . . But the truth will set us free, or at least I believe so. I will never forget how I was a prisoner in my own land. I will never forget who I am now, a survivor and a dignified campesino.’ [Photo: Leidi Johana Agudelo Higuita/CC BY-ND]

In Las Cruces, three generations of the same family, a grandmother, mother, and daughter, participated in the photography workshops together. The mother, Yenifer Yuliana Higuita Bedoya, emphasized the importance of family togetherness.

Families have more time to spend with each other: ‘These kinds of moments are the ideal way of forming the kind of lasting bonds that help you overcome adversity, and it is how you learn the principles and values needed to be a proper part of society. [Photo: Yenifer Yuliana Higuita Bedoya/CC BY-ND]

Another photographer, 15-year-old Yuliana Andrea David Hidalgo, drew attention to the importance of children being able to play free from fear. She explains her photograph: “Before, when you heard gunshots, everyone would run to hide under the bed or in some safe place in the house, and now kids hide under the bed or in safe places because they’re playing hide-and-seek.”

You don’t need to hide under the bed to protect yourself from bullets. [Photo: Yuliana Andrea David Hidalgo/CC BY-ND]

Paula Andrea Pino Sarrazola, a photographer from San José de Urama, highlighted the importance of collective work in their mountain farming culture. “‘You need one hand to wash the other, and both to wash the face’ is a saying that grandparents say,” she explained. “That’s what a minga is. When people don’t have the money to pay day laborers, they ask others to help them, and then the favor is repaid. In this way, a lot of farms and businesses have been saved from bankruptcy. A minga—or collective work group—saves lives and land, and protects democracy, justice, and peace.”

Members of the community help one another get important work done, such as tending livestock. [Photo: Paula Andrea Pino Sarrazola/CC BY-ND]

Other indicators about coexistence included people treating street animals well, and the government maintaining the roads.

This article first appeared in

Seeking to build and grow your brand using the force of consumer insight, strategic foresight, creative disruption and technology prowess? Talk to us at +971 50 6254340 or mail: or visit

About Author

Comments are closed.