Photographer as white messiah: looking back at a picture I wish I hadn’t takenWritten by duckrabbit
Here’s an except from one of the most thoughtful blog posts I’ve read in a long time, written by Eliza Gregory
It’s very easy to come from relative affluence (which you do, in this world, if you own a camera) and try to work for the betterment of others as an outsider, and end up further marginalizing or denigrating the very people you seek to assist.
For example, I worked for the International Rescue Committee in Tanzania in 2005, and part of my job was to document the work they were doing in the refugee camps along the border with Burundi. In that area, malnutrition can sometimes be an issue.
I was making pictures in the hospitals, which the IRC ran, and I met a woman seeking treatment for her malnourished child. I asked the woman if I could photograph her.
She was extremely embarrassed. It took her a few moments to muster the courage to say anything. She said I could photograph the child, but not her face. She covered herself with a scarf. A hospital worker turned to me and said, “She is ashamed because her child is malnourished.”
When I think about that incident, I feel gross. Of course she was embarrassed! I would be embarrassed! Is there any mother who wouldn’t be? Can you imagine how awful she felt? Why was I so thickheaded? How did I think she would feel? Did I think she didn’t have feelings? Did I think she would feel differently than I would in the same situation?
I humiliated a woman. I basically coerced her into being photographed because I represented an agency that was giving her assistance. And I made what was already a very painful, stressful situation for her significantly worse.
It is I who am now ashamed when I talk about this.
Please read the rest of this deeply thoughtful blog post over at adevelopingstory.