A word on photos

March 9, 2007

When I first arrived in India, there was some controversy over a volunteer taking photos they were expressly asked not to take. I understand the urge — I felt it the first time I volunteered in Jamaica. My brain couldn’t comprehend the poverty, the disease, and the conditions we were seeing. I knew I could never exaggerate enough to explain it to people at home and I wanted to capture the images to illustrate what I was experiencing. The second year, I shot a quarter of the photos, and what different photos they were. And after that? No camera.

For certain, we are seeing extreme poverty, horrific illness and injury, intense hunger, tragic circumstances, and things that keep us up at night. But the last thing I want to do in those times is start snapping pictures. (Gods help the person who tries to shove a camera in my face to record my personal pain, or even long-lens their way into my life without permission.)

Call it sanitized, but the camera only comes out when I’m site-seeing, or when I’m asked to produce it (which is often), or at those times when the people around me would be pulling out their cameras if they had them. Leave it to organizations with loftier, grander goals than I to document pain in service of their mission. What I prefer to show you is the the beauty, theindia-049.jpg dignity, the urban landscapes, the incongruities, the contrasts, the history, the day-to-day life that I’ve seen and lived. Specifically, at Mother Teresa’s, the camera has only come out three times, by request or with permission, and has mostly been hijacked by the home’s handful of vibrant more-well, more highly-functioning teens, to take pictures of one another in the gardens. The two or three taken inside were expressly framed to avoid capturing the scores of those who aren’t in a position to give or deny permission. I think this is as it should be, and I hope you agree.


One comment

  1. I certainly agree with that position, Kara. Like you, I would hate to have a camera recording my personal pain or tragedy. I cringe when I see news reports of tragedies where the reporter is trying to get a comment or news bite from someone who has just lost a loved one or similar. No matter how poverty-stricken or pain-ridden one is – or how newsworthy the story might be, I still think everyone has a right to privacy.

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