Can The Right Photo Be No Photo?
A look at ways to photograph people different than ourselves.
By Matt Brandon | January 31, 2011
Photo by Lesley Fisher
Last Friday I did a blog post that drew a considerable response. The post titled "What is your Un-Suck Filter?" asked what things photographers do to savage an image, but ended in a deep conversation on the ethics of shooting images in cultures other than our own.
One reader made this comment with respect to cultural or travel photography: "How many people understand that their (or especially their children's) photo will be used to promote a photographers professional reputation? Do they get asked if their image can be reproduced whether they agree with the context or not? Are Westerners the only people predominantly doing this?" I would like to expound on this and maybe try to bring some balance.
As we travel the world, we find things that are different and interesting and often visually exciting--things we are not used to seeing at home. So we snap a quick picture for our memories and move on. Not a problem...generally. But this gets complicated quickly. Where does our subject's right to privacy start and where do we start becoming rude and obnoxious? There's no easy answer however there are some common sense guidelines we can use.
Here's a sample scenario. You are walking through a village in Thailand and you see an old man sitting smoking a classic pipe. He is wearing a traditional dress that is very colorful and the scene would make a great photo, what do you do? Here are some things to consider.
The best way to gather images in any village setting is to slow down and spend time in the village. Let the people there learn to trust you and spend time earning their trust. You can read my article "Dear Beginner, You make ripples!" for more information on this approach. But what if circumstances just don't allow you to spend the time you want to in the village?
Here is a quick little matrix that might help.
Does the old man with the pipe see you? Have you made eye contact? If no, would you be able to take a photo of him without his knowledge? Ask yourself these questions:
- Would taking the photo make him or others watching feel you are a predator? If so, stop!
- Do you feel like a predator? If so, stop!
- Would you be willing to delete this image if asked? If not, stop!
- Once you make the image, is it good enough to walk up to the person and show them? If not, erase it!
- Would they look at it with approval? If not, erase it!?
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