Photographs can have a powerful effect, for good or for
not a morally neutral activity. Each photograph has
ethical importance. For example, your photographs can
perpetuate stereotypes or undo them; they can build
trust or undermine it.
cameras are perceived differently than behaviors that
include cameras. Cameras usually create a personal
distance between the photographer and the person
behaviors reflect on every visitor with you and after
Rely on local
hosts to guide you in decisions of what to photograph
and under what conditions.
Photography is a privilege, not a right.
who thought that a photograph took part of a person’s
soul were partially right. A person’s image is a
precious thing that is not yours to use as you wish.
comes responsibility. Your responsibility is first of
all to the person being photographed and only
secondarily to those to whom you want to show the
things are best left un-photographed.
Seek to be
personally transformed by your experiences, not just to
The absence of a
camera may enhance the chances of a genuine
photograph is one of thousands just like it.
photography is very rare; unoriginal photography is very
common. Chances are the photo opportunity you see has
been seen and photographed by many people before you.
photographed by visitor after visitor has a cumulative
negative effect on the people photographed.
created by patterns of images. You can add to the
pattern or break it. Africa is often portrayed as a
child in need. You can work against that stereotype with
photos of children who are happy, or Africans helping or
pre-existing photos when they are available (for example
post cards, stock photos, or a photo taken by a friend).
the person you are photographing as a
in telling the story.
Treat the people
you are photographing with the respect you would give to
a friend, not as an object without a life history.
When one or a few
faces are the focal point of the photo, ask the people’s
permission first. You may need to use an interpreter. Do
not assume that a response you don’t fully understand
(because of language or cultural differences) is an
get the first name of the person photographed and use it
with the photo to humanize the subject.
Honor the wishes
of the person you want to photograph. If they don’t feel
appropriately dressed, for example, don’t tell them it
doesn’t matter and then take the photo anyway.
People are nearly
always honored when given a copy of a photo of
themselves. In poor communities, even a black and white
photo of oneself on regular paper is a rare thing to
have. With a digital camera, it is thoughtful to show
the photo taken to the person(s) in the photo.
Assume that the
people you photograph will see every image of them you
produce in every format and setting. In each
circumstance, consider how they would feel about their
image being used.
James Thomas is the founder and president of Africa
In addition, we would like to
add a couple of points concerning behaviour on taking
pictures in the
in the Soweto slums and the Children's Home in
General rule: There is
no problem taking photographs inside the
Clubhouse area. If you like to take photographs
outside Clubhouse, always ask the staff
assigned to you. This also applies when you are
with a family in the slums; always consult our staff
before you attempt taking pictures. The same rule
applies to the Children's Home in Tigoni: Inside
the property no problem, outside always ask.
Remember: We are the
ones having lived here for long and know the local
customs better than you. You are the one
going home, while we have to live with the