We’ve all probably been on holiday somewhere, seen a local person dressed in traditional garb or suchlike, and thought, “That would make a fantastic photograph, but I don’t have the nerve to just take a snap.”
Well, you can always ask permission, and the worst that can happen is a curt refusal. But often even with a ‘yes’ response, the moment of the perfect shot is lost, or the local person might start to pose or look awkward. And is it ethical to take photos of local people? Is it somewhat like treating them like monkeys in an open zoo?
Wilfred Thesiger took the most wonderful photos of people in far off places that I’ve ever seen. I wonder how he did it. The people he photographed, in many cases, would not have known what a camera was and may never have seen a photograph. So did Wilfred just say to them, “Go and stand over there on that sand dune and look noble, whilst I fiddle with this little box thing. You will never see the result of all of this, but your image will appear in books and amaze people thousands of miles away, and folk will look at your image even after you and I are both dead.” I wonder how that went down, with a local marsh Arab.
I take a supply of balloons and pens with me, nowadays, which worked OK within this setting. With kids, I ask what their name is, and how old they are, give them a balloon, and then point at my camera and indicate that I’d like to take a photo. Usually this works well, but I don’t always take a photo.
The two above seemed not too sure what to do with their balloons. Their parents were across the track on the Nepal side, and seemed happy that I’d given their kids balloons.
Balloons are just a temporary bit of fun. If you give folk pens, is it a step on the road to a cargo cult?
If kids ask me for money, I don’t give them any and I don’t take their picture.
I sometimes offer older folk a pen and then ask if it’s OK to take a picture. I had to ask the woman above to go back to doing her washing for the photo, as she initially thought I wanted her to pose standing up.
Sometimes a mixture of locals and a tourist can work OK.
And often, you can take a perfectly reasonable photo without having to trouble the locals at all.
I’m happy with the above snaps, but I wish I could work my Canon camera properly, and then the photos would be a lot better. I had an auto-focus problem with the Canon for a while on the trip, and my eyesight is not good enough to focus manually. I’m not a patch on JD, the Lone Groover, who sees great shots where no-one else sees them.