The Visual Advocate Blog


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Checking in from Ethiopia

After three long flights I made it to Ethiopia last night just in time to go to bed. I don’t know about you but I never sleep well on planes so I welcomed the sleep. This morning we hired a guide and walked around Addis Ababa a bit just getting a feel for the city and the people. Our guide was overly cautious about taking images of people or having both of my cameras out in the markets so while I did a little shooting I mostly did some scouting of the different areas.

Here are a couple of images from today. I hope to post more but am not sure how the internet will be once we get out of Addis.

This shopkeeper and his employee loved my business cards. I got to give props to the folks at MOO.com because everywhere I go people love my cards.

At first this Muslim man said no when I asked if I could take his picture but after I spent time in his shop talking with him about his love of soccer, his family and other things he finally asked me to take his picture. He told me I am the only photographer that he has let take his picture.

If you visit Ethiopia you must have some Injera, it is pretty good!

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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.


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Looking past the obvious to find the best

Here is a post I started writing during my first few days of traveling through North India. I wanted to post it while in India, but alas I had no consistent internet for the entire three weeks! So I am posting it now! Enjoy.

I once had a non-photographer friend tell me India is one of those places where anyone can make great picture. As I have been traveling through North India for the last six days I have been thinking about during my shooting. While I understand what he meant, I have to disagree and here is why.

While it is probably true that just pointing your camera at the Taj Mahal or a woman in a colorful sari will probably result in a good picture for your scrapbook, it won’t result in a compelling image unless you think about what you are focusing on and why. Personally, as I have been creating images over the last six days in Old Delhi, Nizamuddin Dargah and now Jodhpur, I have been constantly thinking about what I am trying to communicate and why.

What has resulted has been me looking past the obvious blur of colorful humanity to find scenes that to me speak of the essence of the places and people I have been encountering. So the moral of the story is if you are serious about creating stunning images and not simply taking pictures then you need to look past the obvious to find the best. When you do this via careful selection and thoughtful intent there is a good chance, all else being equal, that your images will get stronger.

Here are just a few of my favorite images from the last 6 days:

Two young Muslim girls perform their Salat at Nizamuddin Dargah.

A Muslim family enjoys Humayun's Tomb in New Delhi as the sun prepares to set.

Sufi Muslims pay hommage at the tomb of the highly esteemed Muslim Sufi Saint, Nizamuddin Auliya.

Young Indian girls proudly show off their newly finished Mehndi.