Pics, privacy and poverty porn.

I live in the city. When I travel to rural parts of South Africa, I’m always fascinated by the vibrancy, colours, huts, hawkers, street stylists and street markets. I love the women carrying wares on their heads and babies on their backs, the men roasting mielies, pushing wheelbarrows, herding cows, cutting hair, smoking, drinking and living!

It’s street life. It’s African. It’s poor. It’s different and it’s fascinating.

And even though I’ve travelled through rural areas like this often before, I always take photographs. Sometimes I ask for permission, sometimes I just take the pic.

This brought up a debate recently when I travelled with a few friends. Some of us, myself included, took pics without asking permission. Some members of our party took offence.

The people we were taking pics of didn’t take offence.  But here’s the thing – how would we even know?

‘It’s rude,’ we were told. ‘It’s poverty pornography and it’s not okay.’

We listened and mostly paid attention because, it’s true. But as someone who loves taking photographs, it was hard!

Yesterday a far away photographer friend posted what I thought was an incredible pic. A few people sitting on a bench, strangers to one another, sharing a space. Each seemed unaware of the camera or of one other.  Each was in their own world.

Each a little odd.

It was what made it a brilliant pic. As well as the photographer’s good eye, of course.

It wasn’t poverty pornography but it was a pic of strangers caught in a moment.  Had they seen it, they may or may not have liked it.

I asked the photographer what the rules are. Because I also want to take those pics. I mean, I do, but I’m kind of aware that maybe I shouldn’t.

He gave me the rules.

Nothing compromising.  Nothing humiliating.  Nothing for marketing purposes.

Earlier in the day I’d been for a walk and seen a man standing alongside a dam. He was in his own world. Unaware of anything around him. Having an intense conversation with himself, throwing words out across the water.

It was a moment; an unusual one.  A beautiful one.

And an odd one.

I took his pic.  Almost in silhouette. Kind of from the side.

But still recognisable.

I wanted to share it.

I STILL REALLY WANT TO!

But should I?

I think the answer is I did, but probably shouldn’t have.

****

N.B. The pic above was taken with permission.  Street hair stylist.  Jozini Dam.

 

17 thoughts on “Pics, privacy and poverty porn.

  1. Ah tricky! I think the photographer’s rules are a good guide line.
    I am not on social media at all and would resent a photo posted of me, with my name. Otherwise, who’s to know?
    I remember long ago we’d taken our girls to The Gardens in CT. My 2 year old was throwing nuts to the squirrels and a professional photographer started taking pics. He did not ask permission. I didn’t mind as it was too cute a picture, and he never got our names, so we were still anonymous. In retrospect, perhaps he should have asked permission afterwards! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A few months ago I was taking photos at the Long March to Freedom exhibition outside Maropeng. A rich white woman who happened to be there came up and said I’m not allowed to take pictures of people without their permission and tried to make me delete all of the pictures of her and her husband on my camera. She was so angry when I refused.

    It is always legal to take photos in public places (in South African at least) and you can use photos of people however you want as long as it’s not for commercial purposes.

    I guess this debate has been around ever since photography was invented and will continue to be forever.

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    1. I thought of you when I wrote this post, in fact. I understand people getting upset if they feel their status may be compromised (a Zimbabwean living illegally in SA for example), and I do think we should always ask if we are photographing someone in particular, BUT – it’s hard. And the rich white woman can fuck off. (Unless she’s having an affair with a richer white man in which case they can both fuck off)

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Hahaha. The other photographers with me that day also surmised that might be the situation.

        The truth is I also think photographers should ask permission n many situations but in some cases it’s not possible or feasible. There’s a reason why we have a term called candid photography.

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  3. A good question. I think if the picture is not being taken for exploitive reasons, it is fine. I may liken it to some of the sites that allow you to use the pictures they’ve taken as long as you don’t do it for marketing purposes and you would use it for a blog, for example. If you take a close-up picture, then I would ask for permission, but if it’s from afar and it’s not something that could be seen as incriminating but say a cute interaction between two people talking or even a person speaking to himself as a form of self-expression, then I would take it as capturing life and relaying it as an art form. Personally, I don’t take pictures of people unless they’re expressing something no words can express. IF I want to capture abject poverty, then I would share just one picture that sums it up and not have a bunch, thereby making it a porn issue because you’re oversaturating your statement. If your intention is to share a slice of life you’ve witnessed, and it’s shared without judgment and don’t label it as poverty porn, but life in process, then I think that’s okay. But, that of course is a subjective matter. Oh, there’s so many factors to consider.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think you have summed it up perfectly well. Just this morning I saw a paper picker ZOOMING along the road in his brilliantly hand made paper picking trolley with wheels. I had to photograph him, because WOW and so innovative. He gave me the thumbs up.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I always ask for permission and am hardly ever refused. Mostly it breaks the ice in opening a conversation with a stranger and learning a little about them. And I often offer to WhatsApp the picture to them. Most people – even the most hard up – are on WhatsApp.

    Liked by 1 person

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