A Picture Says a Thousand Words

Ever wonder why when people show you their holiday photos there are always snap shots of locals doing seemingly average tasks. This practice has both confused me and mesmerized me for the past two days in India. The fact is we, as Canadians, Westerners and privileged citizens of the world feel as though it is completely common practice to take pictures that best represent the authentic culture that we are hoping to see, while feeling as though we are immune to the same sort of treatment. I came face to face with this realization while visiting the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Being a large group of foreigners it was easy to stick out and attract attention while attempting to engage in our tour. As we listened to our guide people were watching and taking pictures of the group. When we were taking pictures of the Golden Temple, others were taking pictures of us. Some people even got up the courage to ask for pictures of us standing beside them or their children. The question that circled around our group was why, what were they doing with the pictures, why were they more intrigued by the group of Canadians then the place they had originally come to see? These questions have stuck with me for the past couple of days which has possessed my to write as a way of understanding my feelings about this phenomenon.

What possesses us to travel as a culture I have come to see as a major contributor why this challenges me so much. As Canadians we travel to experience something culturally different from our own lives. We take pictures of the differences in the food, clothing, transportation, wildlife and anything else that we can use to indicate to others that our experience was worth the cost. With this we are looking for the authentic, things that can show how different people life, to either affirm our own culture or demonize it. But is this how others travel? Do other people around the world visit tourist attractions to find things that are true to the country they are in, or are they looking for spectacle. With this being address would a bunch of Canadian students not be the spectacle that they were hoping to find. A picture that they can show to their friends and families to say they saw something that they usually don’t see when they went to the Golden Temple.
Where does photo sharing become a privilege? Is it possible for us to say that it is acceptable for us to be taking pictures of a local woman working on a handbag while being offended by someone taking our picture doing something that we need to do? Is this a practice that roots itself within a colonial past were we as white, wealthy (in terms of world averages), westerners are not expected justify their own actions? Is this an act as I say not as I do, mentality? These questions of power may be subconsciously influencing our travel culture. If these are the reasons behind these ideas of photography there must be a way to change travel culture in order to give everyone more decency with regards to photo sharing and privacy issues. Unfortunately this would not be a simple task, nor will everyone in the world will gain great insight to how their use of photography makes others feel, but actively understanding how you would feel within the situation can reduce the harm you make while travelling as well as create a dialogue for change.
This instance at the Golden Temple was the first time I was truly uncomfortable with myself. This feeling and gut reaction of discomfort may be something that is beneficial. While I did not want to feel as though I was being watched, the truth is we as Westerners go abroad to see other peoples lives, so why is it any different. I am not saying that we stand three paces over and watch others, rather we have made a theatrical understanding of the other for centuries, while only realizing recently the discomfort with the feeling of being watched.


One comment

  1. wisewebwoman · May 1, 2015

    Also another question I’ve asked myself is: are we totally “in” the experience if the whole time we are there we are taking pictures or video?

    Great blog!



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