December 3, 2012 I was humbled to receive the first Woman of Peace Award from Women Against War at the organization’s 10th year celebration. Both my husband and my mother along with 60 other friends and supporters were present.
I was grateful to sit next to my mother who reached over and held my hand as I listened to Maureen Aumand describe so expressively how my work is seen.
It is a rare honor to been seen so clearly by others and I thank my friends and coleagues in Women Against War for this honor. I will wear the small silver ‘peace crane’ necklace they gave me as a talisman of the many friends who recognize the importance of the humanitarian journalistic work I do.
I include some of the photographs taken by Mable Leon, a dear friend and colleague.
Here are Maureen’s words:
It is a truly humbling privilege to introduce, celebrate and salute tonight on behalf of all of you gathered here, Women Against War’s first Woman of Peace award winner Connie Frisbee Houde.
I feel quite confident in positing that all of you gathered here share with me the conviction that for the scourge of war to be eliminated from human history, there must be a paradigm shift that allows us to truly see ourselves, conceive of the world, know deep in our hearts that we exist as a global community, intertwined and interrelated. Thus, Connie’s work as a “global photographer” marks her as a peacemaker extraordinaire. Her tireless travel and the beautiful, moving images that result/ inspire and inform all who see them to believe in, to hope for, to work for peace.
Connie has long been on a journey, a quest to understand how the world works, to fathom the warp and weave of things, to understand the material world and material human culture, to understand the human condition in all its diverse detail and finally to probe what is truly of value, of universal significance across time and space and culture.
Lucky for all of us and for the many who continue to become familiar with the probing, thoughtful, compassionate images she brings back to us, that Connie invites all of us to join her in her search.
Connie did not begin her quest as a photographer. Her formal background is in clothing and textile, a background that underpins her current employment as a Research and Collections Technician for the New York State Museum.
In reflecting on the forces which fed, encouraged and emboldened her to not only take the risk of defining herself as a visual artist but also the risk of venturing forth across the planet to learn and share the human stories to be found, Connie credits the intentional community she has lived in here in Albany since the 1970’s built up around the Free School, for its commitment to embracing the necessity, the primacy and the building of community as well as the fostering of continual personal growth and profound self realization for the good of others among the community members.
Additionally, Connie acknowledges that her marriage to Frank Houde whose own personal journey took him from being an Air Force bomber pilot to being a national leader of Veterans for Peace made ever clearer to Connie the deep psychic as well as physical cost of war and our essential responsibility as individuals to speak to, to act in reconciliation toward the historical moment we find ourselves in.
Thus fed, supported, goaded and emboldened, Connie says that she began to feel compelled to embrace her art and to use it to tell the stories of our fellow planetary riders in an effort to make clear the essential sacredness of each life and our inherent human,… superseding all differences… connectedness across cultures.
To this end, Connie’s camera has framed the faces of the people of Peru, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Thailand, Egypt and Jordan…and even post Katrina New Orleans. Connie has found herself followed by a truckload of armed soldiers in Mexico in trying to understand and capture the effect of US involvement in the suppression of indigenous peoples. Her bus was stoned in Bosnia when on a mission to capture the human costs for Bosnian village women of that cruel civil war. (About fear?, Connie says that yes…although the radar is always up…the work is too important to be stymied) Connie traveled and photographed during the past few years to remote areas of China and most recently to 4 nations in West Africa where she documented waning traditional spiritual practices.
Perhaps, of greatest significance for the work of Women Against War, Connie has traveled since 2004, 5 times to Afghanistan. Inspired by her friends, the late Dr. Tom Little and his wife Libby’s deep love and unstinting devotion and commitment to that beautiful, war torn nation and its people, ever victim to the Great Game being played out endlessly within its borders by invaders and occupiers, Connie has returned over and over again to capture the beauty, integrity, intelligence, hope, pride, ravaged faces, courage and longing for peace , the essential common humanity of the people. Her photographs, especially of the women and children invite us, one after the other, to contemplate eye to probing eye, the life filled absurdity, the human, moral untenableness of war.
Connie’s love of Afghanistan gave her the opportunity to meet Afghan American activist Fahima Vorgetts whose own intrepid love of county and its peoples compels her also to work tirelessly to bring their needs to our consciousness in order to help provide the resources which will enable them to rebuild a sustainable way of life out of war wrought devastation and impoverishment.
Fueled by her own love of the Afghan people as well as Fahima’s vision of what is possible, Connie with a steady and gentle force of will and determination to “do something” inspired Women Against War with her sense of imperative to work in conjunction with Fahima to enable the building of a well, a school and a women’s shora in a village not far from Kabul, Mir Taqi Shah.
Afghanistan, its plight, its people, is much more real for all of us because of Connie’s lens and love.
With all of this in mind, in framing this award presentation, I would like to share with you the reaction of American poet Archibald MacLeish penned some four decades plus ago in reaction also to a photograph, a photograph taken from space by other voyageurs…the first image ever of our planet.
“For the first time in all of time men have seen the Earth. Seen it not as continents or oceans….but seen it from the depth of space; seen it whole and round and beautiful and small….And seeing it so one question came to the minds of those who looked at it. ” Is it inhabited?” they said to each other and laughed and then they didn’t laugh….for what came to their minds was the life on that little, lonely, floating planet; that tiny raft in the enormous, empty night. “Is it inhabited?”
The medieval notion of the earth put man at the center of everything. The nuclear notion of the earth put him nowhere…beyond the range of reason even…lost in absurdity and war. This latest notion may have other consequences. Formed as it was in the minds of heroic voyagers who were also human, it may remake our image of mankind. No longer that preposterous figure at the center, no longer that degraded victim at the margins of reality, blind with blood, man may at last become himself.
To see the earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in the eternal silence where it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the earth together, sisters and brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold…sisters and brothers who know that they are truly so.”
Connie we can only begin to imagine the effort it takes for you to journey forth for all of us: the reading and preparation, the logistics of organizing travel, the financial burden and worries travel engenders, the exhaustion, the time away from family and work.
We can barely conceive of the courage of mind and heart it takes to over and over again confront the rigors of travel in physically challenging environments, often compounded by the uncertainty and tension of war and strife.
We can only guess at the efforts, the endless study and practice of technique, the purchase of equipment, the commitment to craft that has gone into honing your art.
We are in awe of your efforts to come back and process, frame, maintain a website for, schlep and hang your work from exhibit to exhibit, prepare for and deliver lecture after lecture …compelled as you are to tell the stories of the fellow planetary you are to tell the stories of the fellow riders you have met.
We are humbled by the humanity and tenacity you do all this with.
Thank you for all of that commitment and work dear Connie, it is beyond our words or ant award to repay but most profoundly, thank you for helping us see. We are truly grateful and honored to have you as friend and colleague.
I did not have a written response so I cannot reproduce my spontaneous words here. I can only express my sincere thanks to all my friends near and far. Without all of you this would not be possible.
In loving gratitude.