It’s been a considerable time working in a social organization. Too short to have seen it all but long enough to have been introduced to different aspects, work areas and stakeholders. Largely, as a fellow or an employee, we usually visit the following places – field areas, field offices, head office, government institutions, training centers, partner organizations and fund-raiser meetings, depending on the experience and/or designation.
From what I have seen, whenever we go to the community, there’s always one common agenda besides the purpose of that particular visit. No matter how successful or redundant the meeting(s) go, at least one team member (who isn’t even an assigned photographer or photojournalist) makes sure to click fifteen pictures, all from the same angle, half of which would be blurred. The quality or even the quantity isn’t so much of an issue here. What happens next, all these pictures are uploaded on a Whats-app group where the reporting manager sees it and usually thinks that work is being done.
Ever wondered why this doesn’t happen when you meet the investors or who we call funders? Why no one walks around shoving a camera in their faces while they talk about budget allocation. Even if the pictures get clicked, it’s usually at the end, when more important things are already taken care of and that too, with everyone ready to pose, knowing they’re being photographed. Observe any difference in these two cases?
The consent is missing in the first one. Yeah, you don’t just need it in the bed.
How would you feel if a bunch of people, claiming to be doing good work, knock at your doorstep, make you sit, talk about certain things they seem to know better and claim that those will impact your life positively. You may consider listening to them but then they start clicking your pictures. Well, I would kick them out and may even complain for violation of privacy if this gets repeated. Why shouldn’t our communities do it? They have every right. What they may not have is access to those rights. By taking advantage of it, you are further exploiting the exploited.
India, unsurprisingly, has no law against shooting people (with a camera, of course). But in countries like Hungary and Macau, citizens have personality rights to not be clicked, even in public places. Spain has been more lenient by restricting only police officers from being captured in a picture.
Clearly it’s not illegal here but is it immoral? A good way to decide that is by answering this question – “Would you like it happening to you?” If no, then don’t do it with someone else. Here are a few tips to take that shot the right way:
1. Ask before you snap – In my experience, people generally like to get clicked and they are happier if you ask them before doing it. Considering you are there to work with them, you may have already broken the ice. If not, that’s the 1st step, taking out your camera phone isn’t. Once they are comfortable interacting with you, ask them if they’d mind a picture. A simple question like, “Can I take your photo?” is enough. Chances are they’d give a wider smile or a more intense expression than what you would have managed sneakily.
2. Take a No as a No – I know it can be difficult for most of our men who are still struggling to make sense of the situation where ‘N’ and ‘O’ come together, in that order. Hope they learn soon and remember it for life. Others please make better use of your understanding. Keeping your camera/phone aside, divert the conversation on a different track, indulge them in an activity or just say a polite goodbye but please, for humanity’s sake, don’t be forceful.
3. Start with the kids – They are the ones who are most unlikely to object for a photo. If you aren’t yet comfortable mingling with adults, start here. But again, it should never be the first thing you say to them. Play a game or two; ask them about their thoughts or their home. And, never ever, give them a chocolate or a ten rupee note in exchange of coming in front of the camera. They may, for their life, believe that this is how it works. A random stranger stops by, hands them over a candy and takes their picture. Isn’t that bizarre on certain levels? If in doubt, keep yourself in that place.
4. Let them know the usage – If you have been working with the community since long, they may realize the pictures will be used in the organization, but re-state that anyway, and ensure it’s used only for the stated purpose. If, by any chance, the pictures get published elsewhere, communicate about it on the next visit. Carry a snapshot, to show them. They have every right to know, after all. How would you feel if a picture of yours, you haven’t seen before, shows up in a magazine you have no clue about? Be fair. You always know the right from wrong.
So, next time, don’t hide behind that big zoom lens or walk around with a camera phone, looking for a chance to click when they aren’t seeing. Be friendly first. Great pictures will happen subsequently. This holds true not just in the context of NGOs but also on your travels or in any other situation where you find yourself clicking without someone’s permission. If it feels incorrect, it probably is. Hold. Ask. Continue. Don’t be this camera carrying insensitive idiot next time on field. You’re worth more.