Tourism Disaster Photography

I'm pretty sure 99% of you who read this will have once upon a time, done this same thing.  Heck, I've done the same thing before too.  And most likely this post will offend some of you.  Apologies in advance.

It's quite often these days that I log onto the Interwebs, and see hundreds of pictures of poverty-stricken children all over FB pages and blogs.  It's to "show" our friends the poverty that we saw in Africa or India or South America, and maybe by seeing a picture it could possibly spur the viewer into making an emotional decision and making a difference in the world.  That's the dream, right?

Well, let's get down to reality.

In my opinion, we don't post pictures of sad, crying, dirty kids to help them -- it's to show our friends what we did.  It's to show our family, church, small group -- everyone we know, that "I've stared at poverty in the face," and sometimes, even, a follow up pompous question of "wait, you haven't gone to Africa??  What's wrong with you?  Has Angelina Jolie done nothing to influence you?"

But how often do we get parental permission to publish kids photos?  I know lots of parents in the US who wouldn't want strangers posting pictures of their own kids on the internet.  Why do we assume kids in other countries don't have the same rights as our own?

How often do we really think about that child, and how they would feel if they knew hundreds of people would be looking at their face thinking how pathetic they were?  Or a picture of a families' home, and how disgusted viewers at home think it is

A friend of mine went and visited Joplin right after the horrendous tornadoes last year.  When he got back, I asked him if he took photos.  He said no.  Because when he arrived there were cars driving around the broken town, the now-poverty-stricken town, taking photos.  And nothing else.  There was a sign on someones lawn that said, "Stop taking pictures, come pick up a shovel."  My viewpoint on "tourism disaster photography" has completely changed.  What would happen if we combined all the time we've taken with photographs: shooting, uploading, editing, publishing, and did something else with our time...like physically help someone.  I wonder where we'd be...

Please know that I'm not perfect.  I've posted kids photos before.  I have photo albums full of kids faces from trips I've taken.  But I'm starting to take a different viewpoint: visual raping a photo for my own viewing pleasure isn't right.  Not thinking about the actual person, but only how I feel about the photo.  It's incredibly selfish of me

What's the solution?  I'm not sure.  Maybe starting to look at pictures from a different standpoint.  Maybe asking parents permission not only to take pictures of their kids, but to post them for all our friends and family to see.  Maybe it's not taking pictures at all, and just sharing stories instead of headshots.

Maybe I'm way off base, maybe there's legit justification to why we feel entitled to share the sufferings of other people.  This is what I know: when I'm hurting, when I'm in pain, the last thing I want to happen is someone snapping a pic of me and posting it on Instagram.

No comments: