On Christmas Eve I took a trip into Leeds to meet a group of extraordinary young people. The young volunteers of Angel of Youths had put together a lunch for the people of Leeds who don’t necessarily have the family or friends to visit this Christmas. The event, held at The Corn Exchange, made sure that people had the opportunity to get food this Christmas whilst most importantly sharing the common bond of friendship and the simple pleasure of being in a room with people who care.
The project helped those people who were there on the day – providing food and companionship in what can be an ever increasingly isolating and consumer driven time of year. There were food baskets available to take home, presents for children, a hot meal provided for by The Real Junk Food Project, and conversation and friendship.
But, the project also aimed to ‘start a conversation’ and be a ‘call to action’. And so this is where being a photographer can come in. Now we can all debate the pros and cons of modern photojournalism, and whether it actually achieves anything now that the market is so oversaturated with images. However, at a local grassroots level, there is still the potential for people to come together and achieve change in a very tangible and limited way. Therefore, I want to add to the ‘conversation’ started by Angel of Youths.
Why do I believe that talking is important? Not only talking, but actually being visible in our discussions? Why is it important that, at a local level at least, people see other people like themselves trying to bring about change? A basic human behaviour is copying, or to give it a technical term: ‘Mimesis’. Rene Girard’s theory on ‘Mimesis’ states that imitation can be as simple as buying things that other people are seen to buy. But this, in turn, can lead to ‘mimetic desire’ which is not wanting to copy the action, but the actual object, the desire. And this can lead to multiple people sharing the same desire, and that desire being a very limited resource. And when one group succeeds in achieving said desire, all the other groups lose, and, thereby, seek revenge. This, in turn, leads to a cycle of revenge and it is what can lead communities into a seemingly never ending cycle of violence and crime.
This is why role models have to be held to a higher standard; so that we have an example to copy. Problems occur when our public people and institutions fail in their duty to provide a moral compass because the society will not stop imitating them just because they start breaking the law or acting in a way unfit for office; in fact, they will begin imitating those actions. When MPs ‘fiddle’ their expenses, or vote for a pay rise when the society at large is seeing an unprecedented rise in the use of food banks, or haven’t seen a wage increase in real terms in almost a decade, then people will not only lose trust in those individuals AND the institutions that they represent, but people will also copy that behaviour: the behaviour of seemingly looking after one’s own interest before that of others.
Importantly, however, the theory of mimesis or imitation can be used to alter the cycle of desire. All it takes is for one individual or group to start providing an alternative role model for groups and other individuals to imitate. Throughout history there are examples of individuals who have stood up against the popular culture to become a symbol of an alternative action: think Gandhi, Dr King Jr, and Mandela.
Now, if we take this back to a grassroots community level – having a visual group actively and publicly working towards bettering people’s lives beyond their own self interest is a hugely powerful statement. It can, and does, provide the role model for others to imitate. And once imitation starts it can grow exponentially as it reaches more and more people within that community. The fact that it is a grassroots group, that it has come from within a community, is important; as this stems the possibility of apathy. No longer will it be possible to say: there is no point because I can’t change anything; or, why should I do it if they/he/she/them aren’t doing it.
The beauty of grassroots community is that it is highly relatable and, therefore, imitate-able.
Therefore, at a local level we need symbols of change, of kindness, of people putting others before themselves. And these symbols must be visible. Change is possible, through the commendable efforts of individuals who are willing to work towards a community where mimetic desire is not the over arching symbol to replicate.
For me, this is an increasingly hopeful message. Organisations like Angel of Youths and The Real Junk Food Project are working visibly towards raising the standards of expectations in people’s lives, they are a symbol to the community that people do care and are willing to do something for those that may need help; because we all need help sometimes. Every act of kindness, every time you do something to help someone that you didn’t have to, you are helping to set a new symbol within your community.
Therefore, it doesn’t matter how small or great the gesture is, simply being a part of the change is what is important; being a visual role model of the change you want to see.
Loneliness does not discriminate. But we all have the power to make a change for the better.
So, click play on the music below and take a look at some of the photos of those amazing individuals from Leeds all working together to create a better community for everyone.
You can find the Twitter links for some of the organisations at the bottom of the page, please follow and get involved however you can.
As always, thank you!