Eco-tourism 2 - Photography
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Date: 12 October, 2002


Ghana, West Africa.
Photo: Andre Shine
'Should picturesque tribespeople simply be considered fair game for our hungry lenses? Should we snatch the photo-opportunity at any cost?'

In the second of her six-part series on eco-tourism, Andre Shine looks at some of the issues to bear in mind on travels with a camera.

Portrait hunters
West Africa is to the social anthropologist, what East Africa is to the Safari enthusiast. From the nomadic Touareg tribe of the Sahara to the Ashanti tribe further south, there are infinite portrait opportunities.

My own story starts in Kathmandu, where children often take advantage of striking a pose. Clad in traditional dress and make-up, a beautiful smile is exchanged for a few Nepalese rupees. Fair deal? By contrast a Turkana tribeswoman, who'd approached me for my bar of soap, asked US $20 for a photo. I tried to barter my soap instead. Conclusion, $20 was her best offer, and probably the extent of her English too. We parted without exchange.

In a more foolish moment I agreed to exchange my shoes for a picture, with a bunch of six or seven Malawi children. Unsurprisingly an acrimonious argument broke out (over who would end up with the shoes) between previously playful children.

Adopting the code
Fortunately for the majority of us travellers, who want to capture these soulful faces with history etched deep into their smiles, there are some simple guidelines to follow.

Forging relationships - Build a relationship with your subject - an easy task in parts of North West Africa where tourists are often invited to partake of the mint tea / friendship building ceremony. Once you get to know your your subject, their expression is likely to be more natural, plus you'll have an authentic story to tell.

Special requests - Constantly being propositioned to take a photo can lead to frustration - and threaten your availability of film! Plus there's likely to be an expectation that you'll forward a copy of the picture.

If you've made a pledge you should keep it. It may mean less portrait images but you could find that you're rewarded with reciprocal communications.

Taboos - Religious ceremonies should be considered off-limits. Plus any high security areas including airports and border posts - even if the aeroplane's tail is decoratively painted with a giraffe.

Some religious sites allow photography subject to a permit, which is often available close by for a small fee.

A cash price? Distributing cash can lead to future expectations. If the first gift is US$20, then that has set a precedent for the next traveller. It can also lead to other misconceptions about tourists and encourage begging.

Bartering is perhaps the safest option. Offer useful items such as soap, postcards of home - or even offer to teaching your subject(s) a few words in your own language.

Flash - Ancient monuments are incredibly sensitive to human activities and to light. Natural colours that decorate walls of temples, and tombs, can be adversely affected by flash photography. High profile sites may prohibit flash photography - any warnings should be followed and your own judgement used elsewhere.

Consenting to the picture - Always ask your subject for permission before raising your camera. If there's any objection don't take the picture - either from close range or from a distance using a zoom.

One final thought - a small camera can be less intimidating than a huge pro-job. And a Polaroid may save you overseas postage.

This article is part of a series - use these links to view the other eco-tourism articles
Eco Tourism 1
Eco Tourism 3
Eco Tourism 4
Eco Tourism 5
Eco Tourism 6



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