I wrote a blog once about “Shooting Strangers”. (Find it in the archives under Street Photography.) Since then I’ve considered several situations where it is probably better to record an image only in your own head.
Take, for instance, the idea that some cultures believe that a picture of an animate subject is at odds with their religion. I’ve read that followers of Islam don’t even allow pictures of themselves. Is that true or is it a misconception? So…I did some research.
It is true. Strict adherents do restrict making photographs — even drawing pictures of animate subjects. Of course there are exceptions: Walk in the touristy areas of Istanbul and you will see hundreds of scarf covered visitors making photographs of one another in front of the ancient cites. But the more important point is that we, outsiders, should honor other culture’s customs.
I know; freedom of speech and expression and all that. And it is true; we do have these freedoms (thankfully) but friends, why would we purposefully insult someone? Why would we hurt — or at least irritate — someone to meaninglessly demonstrate our right? I don’t see this as a political position — it is merely my statement of what I think is courteous and right. So…there you have my opinion.
I’m reminded of another situation where I broke the rules and was chastised for it.
The Bride and I were walking through the various neighborhoods in Rome and found ourselves in the Jewish Ghetto. At the intersection of Via del Portico D’Ottavia and Piazza Costaguti is a no-name bakery whose pastries are so delicious they should be illegal. We sat in the sun, eating decadent goodies, and listening to the hum of the community. Paradise. But that hum of the community turned out to be a gathering of parents waiting for the school across the street to release their children at the end of the school day. Great. This will be an opportunity to record a really happy community event. I climbed to the top of a small wall and aimed my camera down into the mass of smiling parents meeting joyous children.
Absolutely the wrong thing to do. Two big guys appeared from nowhere and informed me that their Jewish community had enough security problems without someone taking pictures of their children. He was right. I apologized and deleted the one photo I had made.
For my part, I’ve learned to be more sensitive to cultural mores. Why not? The world could probably use a little understanding and courtesy — not to mention, kindness.