Peace Project

The Peace Project stems from an article study bearing the same name that compares people and cultures from Chicago, Illinois and from the other side of the planet in Jakarta, Indonesia in the hope to understand and discover our similarities and our universal hope for peace.  It looks for us to pause for a moment and notice that now is the time to remind ourselves of how human we are – to proactively try to explain man to man.  We can recognize that life is not so black and white but more portraits of gray.   Maybe someday we will figure out that we are all human and understand how much we actually have in common.  That there is a oneness to mankind and we all, I hope, have peace somewhere in us.  These portraits are of people from Chicago and Jakarta and include people from Nashville, Liberia, Peru and Japan.  Much peace, love and happiness from them to you.


The Peace Project is available for purchase in the shop:  a $50 donation will be made to the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, Inc. for each sale made.


Please read the full article below.


A pdf of the original article can be found here:  Peace Project.

Peace Project

By Michael Veltman


“…..that the art of photography is a dynamic process of giving form to ideas and of explaining man to man.”  Edward Steichen (1)

Edward Steichen used those words as part of an introduction to a photography exhibit entitled the Family of Man.   Steichen sent out a global request for images that acted “….as a mirror of the universal elements and emotions in the everydayness of life – as a mirror of the essential oneness of mankind throughout the world.” (2)  Over the course of three years they received over 2,000,000 images and went about the task of reducing them to a final 503 photographs from 68 countries.  At that time, World War II had recently ended and mankind was exhausted of war, of death, of killing and of hatred.  The exhibition sought to show each of us how similar we are.  How much we have in common.  How much we are alike.  503 photographs to explain man to man and to remind us that we are all human.   

The project took a look at the emotional life of man – from birth to death with love and loss, tragedy and triumph and everything in between.  With each emotion and each moment – photographs from around the world showed that people from every corner and far reach of the planet has similar experiences and realities.  The more particular the life event – the stronger the point was made.  Ring Around the Rosie, for example, seemed like such a brief and obscure moment of an American childhood.  Then you see a circle of children hand in hand from the USA and the USSR, from Switzerland, Romania, Peru, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Israel, China and Japan and the differences that we perceive begin to dissolve away.

The exhibit reminds of the potential of a portrait.  The power to be emotive and evocative and to connect ourselves emotionally as a viewer to the subject.  Pausing for a moment on each of twenty portraits of people from fifteen different countries of people that were laughing – I found myself laughing by the end.   By the time a review of a series was finished of people overcome with pain and heartbreak – I found my chest constricting in a precursor to tears.  We all bleed, we all laugh and love and hurt and pass.  We are all human.

I am incredibly fortunate to be working on a project in Jakarta, Indonesia.  Jakarta is literally the opposite end of the earth.  When it is 11:00 in the evening here and our day is retired; it is 11:00 in the morning in Jakarta and they are planning for lunch.  Many people there are astonishingly poor.  They have little and live in conditions that are so lacking that I am unable to quite wrap my mind around the reality of existing in the way they do.  Yet the people there are so incredibly wonderful.  They are so happy, so polite and so full of love.  It feels so good to be with them and to interact with them. 

We have similarities and differences between our cultures, but the element that I find most curious is the desire to move toward American culture.  Shopping malls are huge and American models are plastered on the walls.  American news stations broadcast on television.  Most of the movies in theaters are from the States as well as much of the music and books. 

Quite frankly, the movement makes me cringe a little.  I love being an American and living in the United States.  It took me traveling to the opposite end of the earth and experiencing the people there to really understand how unhappy we are.  There is always something to complain about, something to condemn and something to lash out at.  A man here claims to be a man of peace and then vomits bile and hatred on social media.  A person of faith promotes tolerance and understanding and then condemns other faiths and orientations.  A politician pontificates noble and profound policies and then legislates to special interests and hidden agendas.  Media, both professional as well as our own social media, is constantly showing examples of people being oppressed or discriminated against because of the very thing that makes them an individual – whether their religion, gender, orientation, politics or the color of their skin.  And the opposing side has their say and often times they use their voice to justify the oppression or the acts of discrimination being committed.

Perhaps most disturbing, however, is how truly divisive we are.  If you do not believe in my religion, then you are wrong.  If you don’t agree with my point of view, then you don’t understand my point of view.  If you don’t agree with what I hold to be true – then you are ignorant and should be properly educated.  It’s not enough to be right – the opposition must be wrong.  We have abandoned dialogue.  Communication is strained and in some ways nonexistent or exists in a ten-word meme.  The world is seen through a black and white lens instead of shades of grey.  Compromise and communication produce solutions.  Divisiveness leads to an increase in conflict and hatred.  More intolerance.  More, more, more.  The frequency increases as the volume is turned up.  It escalates and escalates until……….when exactly? 

The path we are on is potentially more likely to lead to World War III than it is to peace, isn’t it?  The second World War led to absolute devastations of people and countries and occurred seventy years ago.  The Family of Man reminded us of our collective humanity to help us heal and move on from that devastation.  Technology has now improved to the point that a major conflict today would not just be devastating to a group of people or a country, but it would be devastating to the planet.  There likely wouldn’t be a people or a world anymore in a meaningful way of life as we know it.  There might not be enough left to remind ourselves of how human we are; how alike we are. 

I found myself in Jakarta riding in a tuk-tuk careening like energy fluidly through the urban streets.  We cleared a building and a group of boys emerged.  I made eye contact with one of them and as I raised my camera he sat up a bit and happily wished me peace.  That portrait, Peace Young Man, was taken in June and has stayed with me all summer.  Are we alike?  How much do we have in common with that young man?  Do we really want peace?  Or do we want to be right? 

In Chicago, I have begun walking the streets on my lunch hour in search of portraits of people flashing the peace sign.  To elicit that hand gestured response and request a portrait, I’ve experimented with different signs, techniques and approaches.  I find a different corner of the city each day and try to connect with each passing person.  On a typical day hundreds of people pass me by and only am able to get one person.  Honestly, I feel like an idiot.  People give me the weirdest looks.  As I wait for someone engaging, I often have an image pop into my head of myself in the distant future being one of those weirdos pacing the streets with a homemade sign and muttering about peace.  Then I think:  today is that day and the moment is now and I get a good laugh about it. 

I’m back in Jakarta for a second trip as I write the first draft of this article.  I sit in a conference room on a break between meetings on the 18th floor of an office building and overlook the city of 30 million people below.  Two days ago I walked and rode around Jakarta in search of peace and captured almost seventy people.  In one day.  In the same number of hours in Chicago – I only get about five portraits. 

Are we moving in different directions from other people and cultures?  Have we moved this far apart that we are not really alike anymore?  I hope not.  I hope that those five people are a start in the right direction.  I’m going to continue to walk the streets because wishing people peace feels better than posting discontent.  Maybe in some small way it will lead to more of us saying enough already and more of us wishing each other peace in a meaningful way. 

Instead of waiting for the escalation to continue to grow into the next major conflict and creating a need to remind ourselves of how human we are, maybe we can pause for a moment and notice that now is actually that time.  We can proactively try to explain man to man.  We can recognize that life is not so black and white but more portraits of gray.   Maybe someday we will figure out that we are all human and understand how much we actually have in common.  That there is a oneness to mankind and we all, I hope, have peace somewhere in us.  The following portraits are of people from Chicago and Jakarta.  As well as people from Nashville and Liberia and Peru and Japan. 

Much peace, love and happiness from them to you.


(1) (2):  Family of Man by Edward Steichen for The Museum of Modern Art, 60th Anniversary Edition, 2015