When you are very young you are convinced that you have enormous problems, that it is exactly what makes you so unique. Needless to say, you believe that no one can understand you. Then, when you get older, you watch your family photos, photos of your friends, of yourself from that same time and then you think that your life was actually nice, and good, and without that many problems. All your friends have photos like that. You have never even had to ask them.
So, being naively convinced that really everyone has family photos, I asked young people with whom I worked on the photographic workshops to bring along their family photos, so that we could start to get to know each other better. That very simple request brought me to one of the strangest discoveries in my life – not everyone has childhood or family photos! In the very region we all once called our country, there where we grew up, there is a whole generation of young people to whom possession of such photographs is not something that is by itself understood.
Family pictures are important. In many aspects they symbolize normal living. On such photos you are surrounded by people who love you, your home is in its place, the family is together celebrating important events. When you meet someone who does not have such photos, you realize at once that normal life is endangered there and that much more then you can gather watching the news every day.
For twelve weeks in Kosovo I was sitting in the same room with young people from whom that normal living was taken away. The better part of their lives was seriously damaged. To some of them normal life began seven years ago, while to others it stopped at the same moment. All of them describe the same space as their own country and believe to have the right on it. Nevertheless, they happen to be members of the nationalities that for some time have believed that that country cannot be shared. They have been taught to think – “it’s either us or them”. They have been taught not to like each other. On our first workshop, last September, most of them got to know better members of other nationalities for the first time. Then they started to meet weekly and make photographs together.
At the time when the future of Kosovo was being decided upon, when the Serbian – Albanian animosities were on an extremely high level, twenty young Albanians, Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks and Roma were sitting together from week to week in the same room and trying to get to know each other at least a little bit better through the photographs they were producing. Through that work they started to learn more about lives of the others but also about their own lives. Young Albanians reminded themselves of how it looks like not to be free while the others reminded themselves of how it is to be free.
After the time they had spent together, they did not completely change their attitudes towards the other nation neither did they become the best of friends, but they started to understand each other a little bit better. At least they made that first necessary step. They decided to spend some time together, to communicate. Through the weeks they started to realize that happiness or grief are not privileges of one specific nation. Some of them were photographing their happier life and the area that they finally see as their own country. The others were photographing that same country they see as their own, their city, their homes so that they can remember them better when they soon have to leave them. All of them were photographing their families and friends, things they want to remember as happy memories, scenes that will prove them one day that their life used to have normal moments.
That wish for a normal life is something that makes them more similar then they think they could be. Both sides see normal life the same. For them it is a life that is free, without fear, without big needs, in their own homes, with their families. Both sides know that everyone should have that kind of life, regardless of their nationality. Also, they are aware that right now no one is asking them what kind of life they do have or wish to have.
If somebody asked them, these photographs would be their answers.