Monday, March 22, 2010

Being a tourist Part III: Taking Pictures

Pictures are really complicated to me and I try to be aware of what they potentially mean.

Political and Philosophical Issues:

From my Indigenous struggles in the Americas class at the UC, our professor who specializes in ethnographies of indigenous peoples in South America told us that several indigenous communities really don’t want their pictures taken; it is seen as a form of violence.

Many people find it really hard to understand photography as violence, (even I’m not sure if I can fully understand that) but photography really is imbedded with philosophical and political issues that may not be very obvious.
It’s kind of how here in the states it is illegal for magazines and to show nudity (like nipples etc.) when it isn’t porn which can only be restricted to sales in adult stores and the like. However, there are exceptions: when the naked people aren’t White or from Euro-industrialized countries. It is fine when National Geographic shows naked African and South American people in their homes, but really it is an invasion of privacy.

They always justify it with “well it’s because this is their natural state where they live”--and that is the key! This is normal where they live but by taking their pictures and publishing them in millions of other communities where it isn’t, changes the meaning. And even if the photographers ask for their permission it isn’t likely that it is informed consent all the time since those people may not really know how widely the magazine is viewed. And even more they may not know how different the context is and how different the perspectives of these viewers who are allowed to enter their privacy. Do they know that many people looking at them sexualize their bodies, exoticize them or think they’re backwards and savages? Probably not, so I think that it is a form of violence to invade such privacy and create an image of something different than what it is.
These tactics have been used as tools in colonization before. To depict people as savages in need of civilization. Or Muslim women in the Middle East as oppressed because they may wear headscarves. “Liberation” of women has been the recent false justification for current occupation and exploitation of countries.

I personally am not planning on taking pictures of women in thong bikinis or starving babies. Even though I don’t think that I am exoticizing Brazil and Brazilians, doesn’t the whole taking pictures of fruits and people and forests and beaches that aren’t so common to me kind of imply that? I’m doing it because I think it’s interesting because it’s different, or beautiful, and isn’t that what exoticizing is?

And this inner conflict is intensified when I’m posting pictures on this blog because I am necessarily taking them out of their context. They don’t mean the same thing to you than they do to people who live here. But I do think hard and weigh the benefits and harms of every picture.
And I usually don’t post pictures of people without their permission but I didn’t get permission from every single person who is in the pictures I take. I usually do if they are the focus of the picture but sometimes there isn’t the opportunity to do so, and I always prefer candid shots. So many pictures of people, I don’t post and I try to cut out their faces or something because they have a right to privacy too, even if they’re performing for us. I mentioned in the Lençóis entry that I felt uncomfortable posting pictures of the capoeiristas. I can’t really explain it, and not everyone has to think this way, though. These are just my feelings and perspectives and well obviously I end up taking pictures and here is how I go about doing that:

When and Why I Take them:
In general when I decide to take certain pictures I mainly do it for the purpose of assisting my memory. I am a very visual person and pictures really help me. I also just think of it as with taking pictures with my family and it’s not because I feel more powerful than them or think they’re exotic. It’s because I really liked that moment and wanted to capture it in an image to remember it for longer. There is emotion attached to all of the pictures I take. So those are my personal rules for taking pictures: for the sake of memory; they’re primarily for me and I will only show those pictures to people that I trust if at all. Another rule is, not only get people’s permission, but ideally after we consider each other friends or at least had meaningful conversations so it’s more to remember the people I meet than to “take a picture” of someone doing something “different”.

Deciding which to Post:
The reason I post up pictures though—apart from breaking between lots of words that can become a little tedious and boring—is to open up my viewers’ world by sharing visuals of these places and in hopes that you will view them with respect and try to understand what’s going on I guess. I do it especially for people who don’t have the opportunity to really see things like this or know too many people who have studied abroad and I feel that pictures really help orient. I have been lucky to see this and want to share. I know that there are many places that I will never get to see personally and I would really appreciate pictures and stories so I can travel vicariously through others.
The pictures I post are those that I don’t think would invade people’s privacy too much and hopefully to take them in a way that I’m not exoticizing or scandalizing anything. These are people or places just like anywhere we’re from. From my perspective though, there are fewer differences than similarities and I see more familiarity in things than not. But, anyway if there is ever any picture that offends you that I post here, or possibly a different way that I should post it, or if you think I should give more descriptions, let me know. Whatever your comments I would really appreciate them. And also if you want to discuss these issues that I mention here, I would love to!

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