A quick note on photographing people:

On the phone with my mom, she asked, “why don’t you post more pictures of people?” Well, it’s a good question.

I left Los Angeles with the idea of shooting more portraits and people like in the day of Freelander or Winogrand. But when all the other tourists are running around wielding cameras like they were working for National Geographic, I just want to put mine away. I don’t want to be a part of that. And they don’t really want anything from me. I have a genuine interest in people and other cultures and usually can people watch for hours, but after finding myself a spectacle that is often stared at (a 6’0 tall white girl with blue eyes doesn’t really blend in around here), I sympathize with being pointed at as a freak show. And so I don’t. Occasionally I shoot from the hip, but that usually doesn’t lead to any well framed shots. So I guess the real answer is that I am not comfortable. When I see indigenous women walking around the town square, yes, I want to take a photograph, but they don’t want me to. I am not engaging with them, it would be a lens pointed at their face, which they knowingly turn away from, as so many gringos have done before me.

Or they demand money:

Walking through Chivay, Peru in the morning, Scott stopped to take video of sheep being herded through the muddy street. Being a vet there was genuine interest to show the clip to kids at home. When he was spotted holding a camera, the man told the woman to go get money. The woman came over to us and demanded to get paid. We said no, and pretended not to understand Spanish, but the man continued on angrily about how we needed to pay him. If he didn’t want a picture, for any reason, then say something, but the matter is we were filming sheep not the older indigenous couple.

I wish I had a picture, but I don’t…

It was very unlike the 6yr old girl with her 2mo old llama all dressed up in the town square, knowing she is there for show, knowing I will give her soles in the end. Did I capture that great picture? Not really. Did I get suckered into her cuteness, of course.

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I have asked other women, whom I have bought things from (be it food or goods) and respect their decline to be photographed. I have noticed I tend to crop out faces or snap one when their backs are turned.

This is a morning walk through the market with my iPhone…

Others shove their handmade goods in our face, so I snap away, yet still kindly ask for propina.

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It’s been turned into an idea of tourism and not about authentic encounters. So be it out of respect for their customs and not wanting to make spectacle out of their culture or I just don’t want to buy into their game, people have not made it to the most photographed list.

11 thoughts on “A quick note on photographing people:

    • Its been a hard one to contend with as to what the “proper” thing to do is. Some people have found it easy to shoot whatever/whomever… just go with what your gut tells you.

  1. Alison – These photos are really quite beautiful! The little girl with her llama is darling, and I love all the colors at the marketplace. Although you haven’t taken many photos of people, the ones you have taken are wonderful. Love, Mom xoxoxo

    • I have quite a lot of photos of people, I just don’t post them. I don’t find them as interesting as others. I will have to re-edit and look at them when I get back and let some time pass. (and I know you’re just saying they are great because you are my mom :P)

  2. Great captures all around. When I was in India it was much the same, people wanted to be paid – mostly in the more touristy areas. At one point though, with two white blond kids, Indians wanted to take pictures of their kids with mine. I asked for money just to see what would happen. It was funny, they were incredulous! Of course I let them take the picture anyway but it was fun flipping it around!

    • Oh, that is so great! I have had a lot of women ask for pictures with when I get off the bike and take my helmet off. I take it as a compliment… maybe i should ask for money next time!

  3. Alison, you are so right. Many indigenous people feel that you are stealing a bit of themselves when you photograph them. In my time in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Mexico and Guatemala I ended up a bit like you photographing scenes without people, or if doing portraits doing so with their permission and almost always getting high quality copies of the photos I took. In the Ixil triangle in Guatemala I managed to do so only two years after I took the original photos. I loved the sensitivity of your photos and as a motorcyclist loved the idea of riding up in the Andes.

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