travel photography – Objectifying the subject

The Long Way Home

The Long Way Home

Recently The Guardian ran an article reporting that India is to crackdown on what are termed “human safaris” where comparatively rich tourists visit the Jarawa tribe people of the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal.

The Jarawa people have long been isolated from the rest of the world and are now being affected by a major road built across their land by the Indian government. A video accompanied the report showing Indian tourists getting the tribes people to dance for food.

Of course we sympathise with the Jarawar and abhor the idea that tourists casually throw them food in order to capture a few second of video footage.

But are we so very different? As a keen photographer I keep an eye on Flickr and, today, I came across this picture which appealed to me. The picture shows a couple of Ugandan children walking down a dirt road carrying baggage on their heads. The girl also carries a large container probably for water. It’s a nice shot. The colours are subtly beautiful and the girl’s expression is interesting.

But take a step back here. How would we feel if tourists wandered around poor areas of America with expensive cameras, capturing images of people struggling with bags and then drove back to their hotels in the evening to eat and drink too much?

I am in no way condemning the photographer of this shot. I have taken similar pictures and have to defend photography as an art form and state that, while the streets of western countries are fantastic subjects for photography the scale is less and less human. The beauty of pictures such as The Long Way Home may be related to their simplicity and humanity.

I guess there have always been disparities in wealth and power between the haves and have nots but these days cheap air travel seems to allow we who live in the rich world to objectify people from the “developing world” without a thought.

Vietnamese Girls

Vietnamese Girls

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