I’ve traveled most of my life and I’m almost always with my camera. I’ve experienced the good and the bad and the difficulty and the ease when taking photographs on my travels. Some cultures are open to being photographed and some not. I’m not just talking about the rules and regulations concerning photographing landmarks and such, which has certainly changed since 911, but rather the receptiveness of the people in various countries.
It used to be that the people in “third world” destinations were leery of being photographed and superstitious. That has given way to more of an attitude of wanting money for every click of your shutter in their direction. But then there are some cultures that it’s a bit of a surprise how open the people are to being photographed.
Istanbul was certainly one destination where the people were quite accepting of photography. And surprisingly, Moscow is another city where I have found that photography is a lot less restrictive than I thought. Aside from some museums where cameras are not allowed, I have found that shooting on the streets of this city hasn’t been a problem at all. Quite different than I imagined and in fact a bit of a contrast to what I’ve experienced lately in my own country where I feel like I’m an intruder with my camera or worse, feeling like I’m breaking the law.
It’s a fine balance when arriving in a new destination and feeling out the situation as to what is or isn’t off limits to a camera. One needs to be observant and respectful and work into the culture gradually. When photographing people, I don’t go up and ask them if I can take their picture. It’s not because I’m trying to be sneaky, but rather I don’t want a posed moment and that’s exactly what happens if I ask permission first. However, after I’ve taken a few shots and a person has noticed me, I will then question with body language if it’s ok to take pictures. If they say no, I respect their wishes and move on.
I’m on a long extended shoot right now creating a documentary Opening Our Eyes with my daughter Erin. In our free time, we are doing a bit of sightseeing and photographing the landmarks and people of the destinations we are in. From time to time we want a picture of the two of us in a quintessential setting and we seek out just the right person to take our picture. We have discovered that picking the right person is an art in itself and quickly find out if our hunch in who we ask to take the picture proves right. We have acquired quite a collection of photos that people have taken of us from the terrible to the pretty good. It’s always funny to see other people’s eye and how they frame us in the shot.
We have another two months for our journey and it will be interesting to see the cultural differences with regards to photography. I hope that we won’t encounter the obstacles that seem to be popping up more and more in the US when it comes to taking pictures. I wonder – is the change in attitude because of security or is it because everyone has a camera these days with the ever-present cell phones and maybe people are just tired of being photographed.