Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Are people objects to be viewed?

I got a kick out of a story on NPR this morning.

Evidently, there is a new sky walk over the Grand Canyon. It's quite a site. The Hualapai Indian tribe opened the skywalk to generate income for their tribe.

One of the tribal members had worn a traditional beaded shawl over a long, print dress with colored ribbons on the hem. Visitors took her picture. In turn, she took pictures of them. One reporter asked her what she thought of all of that. Laughing, she said she was thinking about the fact that she was taking pictures of all of the White people. The reporter asked why she thought that was funny. Ms. Cuerto responded by saying, "Because everybody takes pictures of the Indians."

In other words, Ms. Cuerto had decided to turn the tables. Since everyone was taking pictures of the Indians, she decided to take pictures of all of the White people. I think it was her own little way of making an irritating situation humorous.

I don't know if that resonates with anyone but me, but I was laughing right along with Ms. Cuerto. I'm not sure that those of us who are White think about what it feels like to always be the "object" of people's excursions and adventures...and photographs.

I've often felt like Ms. Cuerto...not because people come to take pictures of me, but because people come to take pictures of the kids and our community. The inner city has become a novelty to people.

They come,
they play with the children,
they take pictures of the children,
and they go back home and show the children to their friends.

They come,
they look at the Indians,
they take pictures of the Indians,
and they go back home and show the Indians to their friends.

It sounds like what I do when I go visit a petting zoo.


Anonymous said...

I think its all in the approach and motivation that makes the difference. On one hand, someone might come to the innner city to visit with people and take pictures etc. because they want to gain a better understanding and awareness of this world that co-exists right along with the prosperity of America, yet that so many have misconceptions and stereotypes about. There might be those who come to learn, to understand, and then to take their discoveries back into their circles of influence to be a voice and and advocate. In this instance, we need MORE of that. We need people to see and understand and be aware of what REALLY goes on in our inner city neighborhoods and to have faces and names to these friends and neighbors who live here. However, i think where it rubs me the wrong way and what you are talking about is when people come with a more self-centered agenda...they want to go home and feel good about "helping out" in the inner city and they want proof to show all their friends of their good deed helping the little poor black kids! They don't take their pictures and stories back home to be an advocate for change of what they've seen...they take it back home so they can get pats on the back and compliments like "Awww, that was so sweet of you. You were so brave to go down there and help those poor people!" Its more of a photo-op to highlight their charitable deeds than it is to truly remember the people they've met. They're using the plight of people in these neighborhoods to glorify their own acts of "selflessness." And THAT's what makes it so undignifying for our neighbors. --Rachel E.

Janet Morrison-Lane said...

Even when the intent is to gain a better understand--for self and others--it's tricky (in my opinion). CDM asked me to take pictures of "The Dallas no mayor wants to see" for our upcoming prayer breakfast. Even though I was trying to take pictures with the hopes of making people who never come to the inner city aware of the boarded up buildings, the lack of city services (i.e. code enforcement), the exploitation, etc., I could still feel the extreme skepticism as I pulled out my camera. It was a very uncomfortable feeling. Of course, when I was around people I knew, I could explain what I was doing and they were eager to point out stuff...though they still didn't really want me taking pictures of them or their stuff.

On the other hand, I have been around people who make taking pictures perfectly natural. In that sense, I agree with you that it is completely in the approach and the casual manner in which the picture is taken.