The Visual Advocate Blog


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Free people find true success

Over the last couple of weeks I have been rolling a lot of different ideas around in my head, some photography related but mostly just about life in general. One thing I have been thinking about lately is how attractive “free” people are. Let me explain what I mean.

As I get older, I am realizing more and more how attractive people are who are not impressed with who they are, where they have been, what they have seen or accomplished or who they know. These people have dealt with and are dealing with their own fears, guilt and shame (the very things that keep us from being free people), which frees them up to be focused on others.

Now I am nowhere near perfect (and if you don’t believe me just ask my wife!), and I have definitely been THAT guy who talked about himself for like 15 minutes straight or tried to sell myself just a little too much, but I so want to be this kind of free person.

The other night I had the opportunity to talk to about 80 college students at the University of Georgia about which peoples and cultures in the world are in the greatest holistic need and how they can use their skills, passions and degrees to bless them. After the talk ended, I was in conversations with students for over an hour, just talking about what they are passionate about and how they can use what they love to change the world. It was so fun to not really share anything about me, but just to give these students permission to dream big!

So how does this relate to photography, and more specifically humanitarian and cultural photography? Well in my opinion, it has everything to do with our craft as photographers. If we are not becoming truly free people, we will not be able to really serve our clients and the peoples and cultures on whose behalf we create these image and stories. Instead, we will still be trying to make a name for ourselves, which will affect the way we do business and the way we approach our subjects and stories.

Now this doesn’t mean we give our work away free or volunteer for assignments for free, though it may me mean that in some circumstances. We as creatives absolutely need to be masters of our craft, which includes being smart and determined business people. Instead, what I think it means, is that we will be free to esteem our clients and the peoples and cultures we are photography higher than ourselves in every way possible, and if in nothing else, at least in our attitudes!

I could go on but I won’t. In closing, I just wanted to share some resources that have influenced my thinking as of late. I would love to hear your thoughts and comments on what I have written here. In fact, we can help each other become people who are more free by sharing our stories.

Here are the resources:


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To Pay or not to pay: Should we pay to take someone’s picture?

If you have traveled probably almost anywhere in developing  countries as photographer you have probably been asked by someone for money to take their picture. If not, then you are either not being bold enough in approaching people or traveling in countries where they have never seen tourists!

Anyway, on my last trip to India I was asked by so many people who I approached to be paid! Having traveled through North India pretty extensively I have just made it a rule that I never give out money, for a picture or otherwise, except on rare occasions. While I have been swarmed by street kids and been chased by a kid who was trying to throw small boulders at me for not giving out money, I still don’t do it today.

Now, as I said there are rare exceptions to this. On my last day in India I was shopping for some family members and I saw an elderly gentleman without legs pulling himself along the street with a stick while he pushed his begging can ahead with one of his arms. As I watched this man for a few seconds, and then looked around to make sure there were no swarming packs of street kids with small boulders in their hands, I bent down and placed the 20 rupees in my hand into his can.

The other time I gave out money on this trip was actually for a photo, which was first for me. Now again as I said, I rarely do this and was even hesitant this time. The story is I was driving from Jodhpur to Udaipur in a taxi with two South Africans and the taxi driver agreed to stop so I could take a picture of this Rajasthani guy that was hanging out on the side of the road.

The Rajasthani shepherd who my taxi driver insisted I pay 10 rupees.

The taxi driver insisted on walking over with me and while we did, he told me I should give the guy 10 rupees. At first I told him I don’t do that and even if I did, I didn’t have 10 rupees. He insisted and even gave me 10 rupees to give the guy. As I walked up and talked the man with the little Hindi I speak, the taxi driver began talking over me, rapidly reeling off some Hindi, which I gathered by the way the man eyed the 10 rupees in my hand, was a push for the man to take the money.

At first the elderly gentleman denied, but finally at the pushing of the taxi driver and his friend, he took the money. I was still uneasy about the whole thing, but since we were out in the middle of no where, I did feel a little safer at least. Whether I should or should not have paid I don’t know, I will leave that to others to decide. Will I pay again in the future? Probably not except in very rare situations.

Should those who are more fortunate pay those who are less fortunate to take their pictures? I don’t know. My gut is that it is not going to make much of a difference in the lives of those who have very little and it could probably cause more problems. But I could be wrong!

I would like to hear what you think. Share some stories of times you paid and it was the right thing to do and times you paid for pictures and it worked out bad. I am just one voice and I would like to know what others out there are experiencing.