Sunday, 29 March 2015

Photography as Theft

I'm always conscious of the voyeurism inherent in any foreign travel. I find it discomforting and try to avoid it whenever I can. You want to respect people and the lives they lead, not gawp in wonder or shove cameras in their faces. This is not a zoo, and they are not animals.

Nepali people are remarkably open and friendly. If you ask them if they mind having their photograph taken they will probably smile and assent. Most of them are a lot poorer than you, and some might ask for a little money in exchange for their photo. But probably not.

Sat down by the lakeside in Pokhara last night, I watched two women row a boat full of firewood across the water. When they finally arrived on the shore, they were struggling with the heavy, awkward bundles. I wondered about offering to help them, but genuinely figured that they were probably a lot stronger than me anyway, and might not appreciate the offer. What it never occurred to me to do, was this:


I was filled with fury watching these guys, shamelessly, without asking, shoving their cameras in the face of this woman as she went about the arduous task of trying to make a living for herself. Perhaps I am being over sensitive or dramatic, but to me this is reducing her to a lesser being. Something to steal the image of and use for your own narcissistic or commercial purposes. It is theft.

There is no skill to taking these pictures. No sympathy or understanding of your subject; no humanity. Not only that, but a good photographer, even one who was an arsehole like these guys, would feel and anticipate what was happening around him. He'd figure that after stripping the bundles of wood, they'd probably be hoisting them on to their backs and walking off along the shoreline, the sun setting behind them. He'd know that this would be the better photograph and would wait.

These dickheads were long gone when that happened, probably shoving their lenses in the face of some amputee or orphaned baby. I can only hope that some terrible incident befell them before they got to upload their "work" to flickr or wherever.

*
Later on I saw the photo I took of the Chinese people next to me on the plane and wondered if what I had done was any different. I decided it was.

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