“What are you doing? Making poverty porn?” I asked.
It was a Sunday night here in Dhaka. I was drenched in sweat having nearly completed a 50 mile bike ride around the city. I was passing by the upper class part of town when I had to stop.
In the middle of the street, stood a foreigner taking a photo of the most crippled street beggar he could find – an elderly man with stubby deformed legs roaming around in a wheelchair.
Armed with a DSLR and lighting rig, worth more money than this beggar would see in his entire lifetime, the foreigner had the beggar pose with a photo of Ronald Regan in front of his face.
“Why Ronald Regan?” I asked the foreigner. He ignored me – pretending I wasn’t there.
I pedaled right next to him – putting myself between him and the expensive luxury SUV he had rode up in. I didn’t notice it at the time, but the car sported yellow license plates: a privilege reserved for diplomats and dignitaries.
“Excuse me – why Ronald Regan?” I asked again. The foreigner coyly shrugged. “Because why not?” he asked. “But why Ronald Regan? What are you trying to do? Besides make poverty porn?” I asked. He turned to me and smirked.
“That’s exactly what I’m doing” he replied.
His flippancy was astounding. It only got worse.
Continue reading ‘The Foreign Pornographer’
Who is Benazir Bhutto and why is she someone who should be remembered even if you’ve never heard of her before? She was a politician and former Prime Minister of Pakistan. But more importantly, she was the first female leader of a Muslim country. She didn’t walk around in a burqa, cover her face, or get bullied/wiped/stoned by any man. In many respects, she was a catalyst for the emergence of progressive Muslim countries which were democratic, progressive, and respectful of both women and female leadership.
Now she’s dead.
And I can’t help but think that those who killed her did so because they hate democracy, progress, and don’t want to respect women or see another female as a leader of a Muslim country ever again.
Belinda Meggitt is someone I met here in Bangladesh through Mikey Leung. In one of her recent blog posts, Belinda asks the question if candid photographs of third world suffering constitutes a form of voyeurism. One thing I’ve learned since going to the cyclone disaster area is that, when it comes to cameras, the poor are often be treated like zoo animals.
There is a right way and a wrong way of taking photographs. If you want to be respectful of those you are photographing or filming, you sometimes have to risk coming back with horrible shots or horrible footage. Filming and photographing should come second – being respectful should come first. This was exactly what my experience was with Save the Children. When I was handing out my blankets, filming was done in a corner away from the kids. A lot of the footage didn’t turn out that well – but all of it was gathered in a unobtrusive and respectful manner.
Unfortunately, not every cameraman is that respectful.
A lot of people gathering footage and photos would sometimes setup their shots – asking aid recipients to stand, pose, and look at the camera. Sometimes this can be unobtrusive and just a simple request. Other times – and I’ve actually seen this – people would be tugged at, pulled, and placed into position. One time I saw a kid who was hiding her face by tightly hugging her mother. Staff members from a charity wanted to take a photo of her – so an aid worker came and stuck his hand under the kid’s chin and lifted her head so that her face could be visible.
But even if you aren’t manhandling your subject – there are other concerns as well.
As someone rich enough to have four walls around me and a roof over my head – if I want privacy, I close the door. What about those too poor to own a home? Or, as with Cyclone Sidr, have recently lost their home? Their private moments are made public by the simple fact they have no place to call their own. As someone who is behind the lens, I can tell you it’s a very tough call. There is always this feeling that if you are able to take a good photo or get good footage – it just might be what inspires others back home to start giving a damn. I think a lot of charities which gather footage and photos feel the same way.
Whether or not someone receives your charity – they always deserve your respect.