Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Through the Looking Glass

I deal with a lot of internal conflict when it comes to photographing a destinations' locals.
Take this image for example:

It instantly conjures up my first wandering day in Kochi, India. Everything about this shot epitomizes that street, and I will look at this for the next thirty years and I will remember this moment exactly. The moment I apparently stole this man's soul.

And this image cannot even be valued with words:

This image was taken more of the train than the man, but later cropped when I saw the man's expression.

This woman knew exactly what I was doing despite my expert covertness:

To be fair, she was staring at me (with this incredible, knowing face) for a solid five minutes before I pulled out my camera.

My conflict stems from the feeling that I'm taking something that doesn't belong to me.
And this feeling isn't unfounded. I've found myself on the other side of a stranger's lens and, you know what? I don't like it. Rightly so, I'm suspicious of their motives:
  • Is there something wrong with the way I look?
  • Do I walk weird?
  • Do I meet some sort of creepy conditions this weirdo documents and collects?
But guess what! When I'm in a foreign country, I'm that creep.

And that's why my visit to the Athirappilly waterfalls in the state of Kerala, India was one of my most positive tourism experiences in my life. And not just because of this tiny squeaky baby monkey:

Though the falls--acclaimed as India's Niagara Falls--were a beautiful site and packed with tourists from all over India, they apparently weren't the hottest attraction. The three white people were. To put it lightly, we were mauled by crowds. At my best guess, we posed for around 150 photos and shook at least 60 hands. We were posed and photographed with daughters then sons then mothers then cousins then aunts then fathers then grandparents then mothers- and daughters- and brothers- and sisters-in-law and so on and so on...

And even though my human-stranger physical-contact quota was met and exceeded by like 3,000-fold, I found the whole thing to be a rather tolerable, if not pleasant, pseudo-karmic payoff for all of my greedy, western voyeurism (see above the above).

I've taken to asking permission for photos, and it's been met mostly with success. Some people even point at my camera and ask if I would like their picture. Granted I ensure they know I have no intention of paying them, but most seem delighted to see their image frozen in a little 2.5 x 3.5-inch screen.

And, okay--when I said that I always ask permission, that wasn't completely true. But let's face it--some people are just asking for it:


  1. I definitely concur with Tourareas. (I think, anyway). I suppose you already know this, but besides being a very good writer, you are also a very good photographer!

  2. I would have to say that, your pictures have each been worth a thousand words or more!! : )


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