Wait, Why Are You Taking My Picture?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

What could be more embarrassing for an introvert than to walk into a building and have a dozen giggling teenage girls point a camera in his face and start snapping away? Answer: not much.

Recently, Lance and I, along with a colleague from another foundation, returned from a week of visiting a number of our partner organizations in Cambodia. Among those with whom we spent time was Transitions, an organization working with survivors of sex trafficking, facilitating their restoration by offering them the support and tools they need to recover and live a normal and fulfilling life. We have been impressed with Transitions’ ongoing commitment to quality care and continual improvement and are happy to support their work.

Our visit with Transitions included a stop by their Dream Home where the girls where taking an afternoon learning how to do event photography. As we walked onto the property we were ‘greeted’ by at least ten young girls, cameras in hand, snapping numerous pictures of us, and I must say I was a bit embarrassed and uncomfortable. What I was not uncomfortable with was partaking of the excellent Bloom Cafe pastries that were offered to me. But even as I consumed a most excellent cupcake(s!), the cameras continued to flash away in my face. We certainly had a good (somewhat uneasy) laugh, and were so encouraged to see these girls having a good time.

On the tuk tuk ride to dinner that night I was thinking about how all those cameras in my face made me feel. I couldn’t help but think of my line of work where I, often in groups, visit communities and projects in various parts of the world. It made me wonder how often we may cause the same feelings of discomfort for those we visit. And worse, how many times has the line been crossed and the privacy and dignity of these people been violated?

Obviously, there are many instances in traveling abroad when taking pictures is entirely appropriate. And certainly my experience at Transitions was all fun, and my privacy and dignity were in no way violated. But at minimum, it’s worth having a discussion about how we who frequently visit international projects, communities, hospitals and the like can honor the privacy and dignity of those individuals in the places we are visiting. A number of our partners have written media policies which address these issues.

A little reflection on when we should and shouldn’t reach for our camera couldn’t hurt. What do you think?

Jeremy Floyd
Program Officer
SE Asia Directive

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