nomadphotoexpeditions

March, 30

2017

The Ethics of Travel Photography Tours in India


Harry Fisch




India Photo Workshop   

One of the first is always questioning the ethics of approaching a subject, especially on an India photo tour. People ask, “how would I feel if a foreigner came up to me in my own country and took my picture?”


 

IS THERE AN ETHICAL IMPERATIVE ON A PHOTO WORKSHOP IN INDIA?

 

I get a lot of questions about how ethical people photography is, especially when I kick off an India photography workshop. Often they’re the same questions that come up over and over again.

One of the first is always questioning the ethics of approaching a subject, especially on an India photo tour. People ask, “how would I feel if a foreigner came up to me in my own country and took my picture?”

 While the spirit of the question isn’t wrong – after all, all people ought to be treated with equal autonomy and respect, right? – the execution is a bit  ethnocentric. How things are conducted in your home country versus your target country are likely very different, the cultures and societal norms wildly so. The real question is: will this person here in India be comfortable if I take their picture?

 And in a lot of areas in the world the answer is probably yes.

 

On a boat in Varanasi India

Are you violating an obvious privacy they are attempting not to share?

 

 

ASKING PERMISSION FOR A PICTURE
 

The idea of privacy exists on the subcontinent, but in a different form and within different strictures than in the West, and that must be taken into account when on a photography workshop in India.

 The question you actually want to ask is about autonomy and permission. Permission, especially on some of my India photography workshops in Varanasi, does not necessarily mean approaching a cowboy and asking ‘excuse me Sir may I take your picture?’ If you’re an experienced travel photographer, you already know you building rapport with them is the best way to a good photograph, so you might already have permission.

 Permission might be implied if you smile and they smile back, you raise your camera, they keep smiling and do not hide their face, and go back to their business. And you might need to photograph first in order to get something candid, then show the person afterwards and connect with them that way.

 The key here is to have common sense and ask yourself, are you treating the person in front of you as an autonomous human being or a prop?

 

Kumbh Mela Photo Tour

Is the person performing and thus expecting to be watched or documented?

 

 

TAKING PICTURES IF PEOPLE OR STEREOTYPES IN VARANASI

 

Is the person performing and thus expecting to be watched or documented? Are you violating an obvious privacy they are attempting not to share?

 People bathing in the Ganges for instance do not care if you see them doing so. Someone bathing behind a folding screen cares if you see them, so don’t stick your camera into someone’s window just because it’s open.

 Sometimes I also get questions about whether or not it is dignified to take photos of things that seem like stereotypes. My answer is that as a photographer you’re looking for something interesting, not a postcard. At least when I’m on an India photography  workshop I’m not particularly interested is the chintzy street performers who hang out in the tourist districts, and probably you aren’t either.

 

Pushkar Photo Tour

 

 

WHAT TO SHOOT AND WHAT NOT

Sometimes you will run into a scenario that will make an amazing photograph, even if it is something you always see associated with India, like the devotees coming at sunrise to bathe in the river at Varanasi. Here there is a difference between stereotypical and iconic: a good photo is a good photo, and you’re chasing the beauty of a single moment in time that hasn’t happened before nor will again. People do actually bathe in the river, they do wear saris, they do herd camels in Pushkar, so why shouldn’t you capture a beautiful moment if you see it?

 Yes, there are some things you should avoid, e.g. don’t photograph naked children and post the photos to Facebook, because that can only gain you a world of trouble. And if someone asks you to delete a photo, then be polite and honor the request.

 Otherwise if you’re photographing a reality, if you’re taking the time to really carefully observe your subject and establish any kind of link with them, then you’re being a good photographer.