Global Lens Reflections on life, the universe, and everything

Unarmed resilience

Bobana, a 26-year old woman in Gradiska, Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina. She lost her hands to an explosion of ordnance during the conflict that engulfed her country. Dedicated to photography, she hasn't let her disability stop her, and she participates actively in a local cooperative of artists who are also survivors of war-related violence.

The few times I’ve found myself trapped in close quarters with marketing professionals, I’ve nonetheless learned a thing or two. Take logos, the visual graphic that “symbolizes” a particular brand. The Nike swoosh, for example. What exactly does it stand for? What does it mean? Marketing gurus would prefer that you answer that question yourself. In other words, a “successful” modern logo isn’t one that corresponds easily and directly to something concrete, but rather provokes its own unique emotional response in each person who views it. And that response is then associated with the logo sponsor, but the connection is more deeply rooted psychologically than a simple acronym or company name.

Photographic images can serve a similar function. Take this photo of Bobana, a 26-year old woman I met years ago in Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina. She lost her hands to an explosion of ordnance during the war. Today she’s a photographer. (This is her second appearance here; for an image of her with her camera, check out the May 24, 2011, Picture of the Week.) She hasn't let her disability stop her, and she participates actively in a local cooperative of artists who are also survivors of war-related violence.

I photographed Bobana at her home, including images of her photographing some of her friends. I also photographed her lighting and smoking a cigarette, no minor accomplishment with no hands. I had seen these prosthetic arms in her home, but when I asked her about them she said she didn’t like them and hardly ever used them. So when before leaving I asked if I could capture some portrait images of her in the doorway of her home, I had her bring them along, and shot a few images with her holding them. Why? In retrospect I could invent some deep philosophical motivation, but to be honest, I don’t know. I was just trying to imagine (interesting how that’s the same root as image, eh?) different perspectives on her life and personality. Is it accurately exposed and in focus? Ok, let’s move along.

Over time, however, there’s something about this picture which provokes an emotional response. I can’t explain why of the more than 10,000 images in my online photo archive, it’s the one that’s been viewed the most times, easily beating out a mutilated LRA victim. A couple of months ago, Yvette Moore, the editor of response, the magazine of United Methodist Women, chose is as the cover photo for an issue on “extraordinary women.” It fits well. Bobana’s a victim, but even more so she is a survivor, and her gentle toughness and quiet resilience challenge each of us. Which is, of course, exactly what I was thinking of when I pressed the shutter button.

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