Photographer Wants World to Go Nose to Nose

Mimi Gerniers from Belgium and Mama Nsona from Congo are connected by their passion for Congo, the city of Kinshasa and their commitment to improve the lives of children.


Photographer Wants World to Go Nose to Nose

Photos that challenge personal space rules could evoke more wisdom, peace, says Jan Somers

Via a shared screen, I can see Jan Somers’ nose to nose photo archive as he scrolls through close-up after close-up of two people with their faces turned towards each other, so near they would feel one another’s breath, noses just a wisp apart.

The Belgian photographer is telling me about the project he launched last year in a spurt of inspiration while attending a forum on strengths-based community development in Chennai, India.

Two conference attendees, one from Germany living in Singapore, married to someone from Australia and another from Kenya were chatting outdoors during one of the breaks when they saw Jan passing and asked him to take their picture.

  Nathalie Legros (right) says the invitation to participate in a nose-to-nose photo had her first feeling some reluctance but that quickly evolved into a sense of being “taken into this positive energy of connection and closeness.” Moved by photographer Jan’s enthusiasm, she says in the end she was inspired by the possibilities in this art form to ignite a greater sense of humanity in people.

Musing on how to meet their request creatively, Jan suddenly remembered a quote he loves — that wisdom can be found, not between the ears, but between the noses. So he invited them to put their noses together.

“They got so excited about it and told people around, ‘Come and watch this on his camera, what he did with us,’ and then others were saying, ‘Oh, wow, we want one as well.’ ”

So Jan snapped more of the same poses at the conference. Inspired, he also took his camera to the streets of a few villages in India where he found a few people willing to strike a nose to nose pose.

Returning to Belgium, he captured more such images, took a trip to New York with his son where he did the same and then back again in Belgium.

About a year later he has about 100 vibrant photos, each depicting two different people in that nose-to-nose pose. There are people who know each other well — mothers and sons, couples, friends. There are also complete strangers who were first taken aback at the request, then listened carefully to Jan’s reason for the invitation and gamely agreed to give it a go.

Sanghamitra Iyengar from India is one of those who agreed to participate, though she admits she felt a bit shy and uncomfortable at first.

What convinced her, she says, was realizing this is about connecting people. As a consultant with the strengths-based community development process called Community Life Competence, that’s what her work is all about, she says, “bringing people together.”

“Then it seemed a good idea.”

Jan has a story for each photo, some funny, some a bit sad, some inspiring, others just plain cute. All relate in some way to a connection between the two subjects of each picture.

There’s the poignant story of a mother and son reunited after 40 years who asked Jan to help bring their story to the world via pictures.

In another case, two youngsters won a photo shoot by Jan as part of a contest and happily and easily put their faces together. Jan says he was struck by their complete lack of concern about personal space.

At one local community event, Jan happened to overhear two women who hadn’t known each other before forging a new bond over mint tea. He asked if the women would like to pose together and they gladly agreed.

In one case a man wanted to go nose to nose with his dog, who was fully on board and engulfed his master’s nose with his wet jaws.

Jan’s ultimate dream is to see people around the world get inspired and capture and share similar images in their own communities, families and organizations.

“My absolute dream is that we get about 100,000 photographers around the world — everyone who has a mobile phone or a regular camera. They join this movement in bringing people together and created united noses picture where people meet in a very respectful way,” says Jan.

Axiomnieuws Belgium founder Griet Bouwen says she believes Jan is inventing a form of what could also be considered generative journalism.

She recently invited him to cover an event for an Axiomnieuws client, Cordium, a Belgian social housing organization. There he also took nose to nose photos. An Axiomnieuws journalist then interviewed those depicted about their connections to one another and on the experience.

“I loved the pictures and the little stories of two people meeting each other,” Griet says. “It contributed to the covering of the event in a warm and connecting way, totally different than what we are used to. It engaged people, and that was what I wanted to see.”

We also see how the nose-to-nose project aligns with the intent of generative journalism, as it provides another tool for creating connections between people, which is an integral step in evoking collective energy towards new possibilities.

For Sanghamitra, the experience has certainly opened her eyes to the potential of different art forms for igniting connections between people, for helping people “to feel close to each other, as part of one world — of humanity,” she says.

Jan’s nose to nose pictures testify that the “world is coming together, people are smiling together, touching each other, bringing an end to prejudice and distance,” she says.

Jan has a started a Facebook page for the United Noses for Wisdom and Peace project.

You can also reach him by e-mail to learn more and get involved.

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Michelle Strutzenberger

Generative Journalist


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