Visiting other cultures
with cameras

Copyright 2012 Bob Harvey and Diane Kelsay

Images by Bob Harvey and Diane Kelsay

Our cameras have become a bridge between travelers and those living in the special places we all like to visit.

Over the past few years, we've spent a good deal of time in South America where, with great groups of photographer friends, we were able to spend serious time interacting with local Andean villagers.  We did our best with Spanish and some of us even tried a little Quechua. 

But, it was our ability to capture an image and then immediately show it to someone on the back of a camera that really broke the ice.  Locals were able to see themselves through our eyes.  Images elicited laughter and awe. 

The sharing itself closed the physical distance between people whose worlds and lives are so far apart – to where we were as close (physically) as two friends from the same culture. 

 

Interaction between travelers and host cultures has always been a challenge.

We as travelers really value the people we travel so far to visit.  We want to know and understand them – even to capture bits of them and their world in images.  We admire the unique ways they fit in the world, the ways they dress, the things they do in everyday life that are different than the things we do.

We never want to insult them, nor make them feel like we are invading their privacy.  We don’t want our visit to make them feel inferior to us, or worse, to feel like their world is somehow inadequate.  We want to explore and understand without hurting (or maybe even changing).

It is unavoidable that a local person will perceive the world traveler as wealthy, able to travel around the world with no apparent need to work to provide food and shelter for a family.  We travel with cameras that are technologically centuries ahead of the daily lives of many people we encounter.  The differences are hard for some villagers to grasp – they don’t share our ability to travel.

The thing that is hardest for our local hosts to see is that each of our worlds has great things to share – everyday things that are not part of each other’s worlds

Sometimes, kneeling in front of a stall in a local market, we are able to strike up a conversation (dancing around language barriers) about some local vegetable or spice and how it is grown or used.  It’s fun to share our words and uses for something in their world – and to learn theirs.

Explaining to Quechua people that at home guinea pigs are pets rather than food is an exciting (and challenging multilingual) conversation.  But in the process, we all get to laugh, we learn about their world, and they learn about ours.  We become people in each others’ eyes. 

At some level we form a relationship – something the world needs more of.

 

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