Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Photographing People - Exploitation or Celebration?
While walking through the medina in Marrakesh, Morocco, my new traveling friend Peter, encountered a man who was upset that he was taking a picture. Peter tells me that he takes photos of things to later paint. Peter tried to show the man that he was photographing a building and no person was in the shot, but the man was still upset.
Our guide explained that people sometimes feel that they are like animals in the zoo, with crowds of foreigners going by and taking their pictures. He felt that these pictures ended up in publications in the West making them appear exotic and other. We were also told that some of the people believed that you would bring them bad luck by singling them out to take their picture.
This conversation has really made me think about my photography. I take a lot of zoo pictures, so I had to consider how this was different, because it feels different. My feeling is that if someone doesn't want their photo taken, I certainly am not going to photograph them (even if it feels compelling artistically). My goal in photography is always to capture a feeling for someone viewing the image of having been there. Too few people have the chance to go to Morocco and experience the scenery, the light, the people. I think that without seeing through photos, it's easy for Americans to view Muslims and many foreigners as the enemy and potential terrorists rather than as just people like they are. The clothing may be different and they may have donkeys instead of cars in some places, but essentially we're all under the same sun on this rotating orb just trying to make our way. My photography is not about trying to find the exotic and point out the exotic, but instead to show the common humanity.
In the top picture, Berber Biker, substract the desert background and he could be on the Sahara or a boy down your street. In the bottom picture, Donkey Parking Lot, the gentleman by dress and surroundings is clearly not in the US, yet his face and his expressions, his sense of purpose seems so familiar.