I have lived without a phone for a month. I love it. I love not being expected to communicate at all hours of the day, people constantly knowing where I am, missing phone calls and receiving voicemails.
It’s pure ecstasy.
I have also lived without my iPod for a month, which is not as easy for me. But I decided to be here, to be fully here, and not escape the moments with the familiar music that soothes my soul.
I have not, however, been without my camera. I have to document classes, projects, and events throughout the course of the internship. This requires me to participate in a world that I openly and unashamedly loathe – technology.
I am not a fan. I hate when there are cameras in my face. I hate the imagined connectedness that social networking provides. I hate spending hours trying to update software and download programs and format documents. Hate.
Yet, I’ve had a camera with me just about every minute since I left my mom’s house in New Jersey. The drive to get the grade I want has the ability to ignore the fact that I’m annoyed.
One thing that I can’t ignore, though, is the voice that whispers to me every time I photograph in a bateye. I pull my camera out, a small, digital, point and shoot that my mom lent me, to capture a moment as it is happening.
Then the kids run to me, asking for, “A photo! A photo!”
They pose. The girls, with their hands on their hips. The boys, flashing numbers with their fingers, representing what they imagine to be a tough kid from the city.
They know how to use the camera. They know how to switch between the photo library and the active camera.
It’s clear that Americans visit bateyes frequently.
Lately, the little voice has been more of a scream and less of a whisper.
I’ve been wondering about how it must feel to be eating your breakfast and have your photograph taken, as though the act of being alive was worthy of documentation.
I’ve been wondering how it must feel to see people walk through your village and capture images that represent your reality, knowing that it must be so drastically different from their own.
I’ve been wondering about the subject of the photograph. The object.
I imagine it must be dehumanizing.
I’ve taken some amazing photographs in my time in DR, photographs that speak words I’ve yet to find. I’m grateful for them. I’ll have them forever.
And I know that the camera has changed the world. Photography has exposed atrocities, injustice, and poverty that never would have been seen otherwise.
Dorothea Lange showed the depth of sadness of the great depression when she photographed a “Migrant Mother” with her two children.
The photograph of Tiananmen Square is symbolic of the power one person to impart change. That poster hangs on the wall in my classroom.
The imagines of starving children, genocide, and war have evoked emotions from all of humanity, causing us to speak on behalf of those that have lost their voices.
Photo-documentation is necessary. I appreciate it on multiple levels.
In the act of photo documenting, I have been looking at the photos in a different light.
I can remember this thought process beginning in me just after September 11, 2001. The cover of time magazine showed the plane hitting the second tower. You could see the shadows of bodies falling to the ground, bodies that were easily confused with the pieces of cement headed to the street below. I remember thinking that those people were fathers and mothers and sisters and brothers and friends. I remember thinking how enraged I would have been if the image of my loved one falling to their death had been published and sitting on coffee tables across the country.
Now I’m on the other side, to a much lesser extent, and still asking those same questions.
I have no answers.
I know that photography, specifically to expose injustice, is noble and beautiful.
I know that being photographed in your natural setting by people that you don’t know is dehumanizing.
I wonder what the consequence is of being photographed in this way, what it does to the psyche.
I wonder if there is a way to document, to capture the images that need to be seen, without sacrificing the dignity of the person on the other side of the lens.
I imagine that the process would start with a conversation. Perhaps a request for permission coupled with respect for the culture.
I imagine that remembering that people are humans with feelings would be a good place to start. Maybe if we all did that, there would be less injustice to ask for permission to expose.