BrickHouse Photo School

Tips, Tricks and Reviews for Photo Hobbyists

Posts Tagged ‘New Mexico

Respecting Culture: Know the Rules Before You Go

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As a photojournalist, I have taken photos of situations in which it would normally be considered rude or insensitive to bring a camera: car accidents, shootings, funerals, wakes, etc. but it was part of the job. For the most part, my presence as a photojournalist was necessary – I was there to tell a story. More often than not, I was invited and discussed the arrangements with the family or the family’s representative. Photojournalists have a code of ethics in which the majority of us hold dear. But what about tourists? Should we, when on vacation, hold ourselves to a code of ethics?

Even though I was on assignment and invited to a public dance in Gallup, I still asked the permission of the dancers to make a photograph. A little common courtesy goes a long way. (Photo Credit: Jeremy W. Schneider)

Even though I was on assignment and invited to a public dance in Gallup, I still asked the permission of the dancers to make a photograph. A little common courtesy goes a long way. (Photo Credit: Jeremy W. Schneider)

Yes. I believe we need to be culturally sensitive no matter where we are or whatever the purpose of our photography happens to be.

Take for example the Zuni Tribe who live in the Pueblo of Zuni along the western edge of New Mexico. I worked as a photojournalist in New Mexico and had several opportunities to go to the Pueblo of Zuni for various events. Surrounded by the large Navajo Nation, the Zuni Pueblo is a small, beautiful area away from the nearest city of any size, Gallup.

I would drive down, photograph my assignment, and return to Gallup to edit photos but after a few trip down to Zuni I began to notice the tourists. For the most, they were respectful of the residents of Zuni Pueblo (remember, it’s not a museum, it’s a community just like any other) but there were a few who were, quite simply, very pushy.

So I asked a friend of mine, who was raised in Zuni Pueblo but lived and worked in Gallup, about the tourists. The stories he told, although humorous at times, were shocking. My favorite is a how a lady walked up to his home, opened the door, peered in while he and his brother were playing video games and said “What? Video games? This is supposed to be a REAL Indian village.”

Now, most of us aren’t quite that, ummm, clueless, but there are those who break the rules to some degree or another.

The Zuni Tourism office even has a posting on its Website on how to visit the Pueblo and be respectful. One of the more important – and possibly overlooked – rules is the photography rule posted clearly on the Website:

“Consider capturing visual memories instead of photographs! Assume that ALL “cultural” activities within the Pueblo are off-limits to photograph, video or audio record or sketch unless specifically informed otherwise. Always inquire first and ask permission before photographing any activity involving people. NO photography is permitted of images inside the Old Mission.”

Does this mean you shouldn’t visit Zuni Pueblo? No. Of course not. It’s important, however, to remember to be aware of the social norms of the area.

Just as you would consider it rude for strangers to walk into your church, temple or mosque and take pictures, so too is it rude to photograph the religious and/or cultural activities of another groups’ way of life.

Another example would be that of the Old Order Amish who live mainly in Pennsylvania and Ohio. For the most part, their religious beliefs forbid them to own a photograph or pose for a photograph and they wish to not be photographed. I have, however, seen tourists clicking away even after they have been asked to stop.

If you’re ever asked to stop taking a photo, please respect the rights of the person whom you are photographing. ALWAYS ask permission first if possible. ALWAYS check with tourism offices when traveling to an area that is outside of what you’re used to. If there’s no tourism board, then follow the instructions on signs. A camera isn’t a license to do whatever you want whenever you want. It’s a tool to make memories, preserve emotions and convey a message so convey the message of sensitivity by NOT making photos when it’s inappropriate.

Keep Your Eyes Open and Be Patient

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Since photography is a form of visual communication, it seems a little silly to tell photographers-in-training to keep their eyes open. Once you start concentrating on composition, camera adjustments and the like, however, it’s easy to forgot to just stop and look.

There’s a whole world going on outside of your camera lens and you have to train yourself not to be too myopic. It’s not easy. As you’re learning the steps to go through to make a good image such as making sure you have the correct ISO, white balance, aperture and shutter values selected and making sure a ton of other things that can go wrong, don’t, you simply forget to look.

Digital cameras have made the whole photographic process much easier and has brought photography to even more people, which are all good things. The downside, however, is that people spend less time composing good images and more time “spraying-and-praying,” a term I heard once for someone who just takes a whole lot of pictures and prays one of them turns out OK.

In photography, we measure time in fractions of a second and as any photographer knows, a whole lot goes on in 1/250th of a second. That’s why it’s important to keep your eyes open and learn to anticipate an event.

Patience is also a virtue not lost on photographers. I know I have spent countless hours waiting for something to happen in front of my lens and it seems right when I’m about to give up hope, an opportunity presents itself.

Be patient and keep a lookout for good images to appear. (Photo Credit: Jeremy W. Schneider)

Be patient and keep a lookout for good images to appear. (Photo Credit: Jeremy W. Schneider)

I use for an example this picture of a little boy riding the lamb. I was sent to cover a fair in Gallup, New Mexico, and it was the last assignment of the day. It was hot and I wanted nothing more than to shoot the assignment and go back to the hotel and in the air condition. Yet, nothing was visually pleasing. It was the typical fairground scene and there were no images that really made me happy. Then I heard over the loudspeaker an announcement asking any children who wanted to participate in the “mutton bustin’” to report to the arena.

I decided I would go and see what “mutton bustin’” was because it at least sounded interesting. Then I saw this little boy with his flame-throwing helmet and I knew the image was going to happen.

An occasional good image may be chalked up to accident or luck. To successfully, time-after-time, make good images isn’t luck or happenstance. It’s training and using your knowledge to work to your advantage.

Good luck and keep shooting!

Written by jeremyparce

February 25, 2009 at 12:21 am