Artist Statement - Linda Panetta / Optical Realities

Artist Statement

Unlike after any other visit overseas, I vividly recall the days following my trip back from Afghanistan.

Everywhere I went, the people I passed on the streets of Philadelphia, in their cars, on the trains, I saw the faces of the Afghan people: children, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters.

When looking through the lens of a camera, you're ever so present to the details of ones face: the, smiles and frowns; the wisdom and age that accompany the sun-baked wrinkles, and the depth of sorrow, joy, uncertainty, curiosity and oneness in the eyes.

People have often asked me if I feel a bit detached from the moment when shooting behind my lens. On the contrary, I feel I am able to connect at a very deep level with the people I am photographing. In fact, I try to shoot every shot with the intention that this one image will in fact speak a thousand words, that it will have the potential to move others to act.

Perhaps this action is as simple as becoming more compassionate towards the needs and desires of others, to be more open to different cultures and lifestyles. Maybe the act will be more radical, like joining a march for peace, participating in an act of civil resistance, phoning or visiting a member of Congress about a related issues; or as humanitarian as viewing others without prejudice, or preconceptions -- to love all others as we would love a member of our family.

Perhaps this is a lot to expect of a photo, but I feel just such an obligation to the person looking into the lens of my camera -- into the depths of my soul. Whether it's the mother's look of desperation as she holds her dying child in her arms, or the silent yet pervading cries that come from a child dying of cancer; perhaps it's the wife mourning the loss of her husband killed by US bombs; the Afghan farmer who stepped on a land mine and has lifted his pant leg to show me his prosthetic -- and his self-determination; or the child shoe shiner on the streets of Basra, who has become the sole provider for his family. They have, for a split second, allowed me to capture a glimpse of their life -- their beauty, suffering, joy, sorrow and hope -- and to share it with others.

In some cultures, individuals believe that a photo has the potential of snatching away or holding captive their soul. The people I have met have thoroughly captivated my heart and soul.

As I revisit their images, I am often haunted by the sense that my own efforts to work on their behalf have been inadequate and that they now exist only in my photos. But as I have also learned from them, hope always prevails. For in their smiles and solemnity; tears and laughter, I see the uniqueness and similarity of us all.

Although the depth of their suffering is immense, so too is their hope that tomorrow will be a better day than yesterday, that the family members they have just buried will be the last victims of terrorism, greed and hate, and that their loved ones still living will no longer have to go to bed hungry, fearful, or forced to endure the same immeasurable pain.

My photos are not my own; they are a representation of the oneness of us all.

I am grateful for the opportunities I have had to be an active participant in the lives of those who cry out for justice and struggle for peace and the restoration of hope; and I am grateful to be able to share this work with others. 

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