Still Waiting: Tips for Sensible Volunteer Travel Photography

Still Waiting by jdespres15
Still Waiting, a photo by jdespres15 on Flickr.

I am slowly editing all of my photos from La Carpio while trying to ease back in to my routine. When the Travel4Souls crew first walked through the unpaved streets of the “Village of Hope” we were warned not to take out any expensive looking cameras. Prepared for this, I had brought a couple of disposables. I only shot about half way through one of the cardboard cheapies before I stopped and realized that I had been had!

I have always been weary of the sensationalization caused by the general media and was and am still very protective of my notorious hometown, New Bedford, MA. Why was I afraid of walking around La Carpio with a Canon?

My advice when traveling with expensive photographic equipment that you are aching to use in such situations?

1. Use the same sense in any slum that you would in New York, Lima, or Paris. Try to stay in a group. Don’t walk around alone at night, and keep your belongings close.

2. Don’t get in people’s faces with your $2000 worth of B&H goods. Don’t get in to people’s faces with your $3.99 disposable camera from the pharmacy. Either way, it’s rude. Feel out the situation. Not knowing the language well, I gestured kindly at folks, while pointing at the camera and awaiting either smiles and poses (99% of the time) or dirty looks. The latter situation? Smile and put the camera away. If you speak the language and people seem approachable, chat them up. Whether or not this interaction ends up captured in a frame, you are certainly being respectful of their wishes and having a more meaningful engagement. This falls in the same category as street photography in Seattle, Atlanta or Any Town, USA, etc…

3. Don’t be a walking billboard. I bought a map case from the Army/Navy store for a mere $14. I had already removed my Canon strap for a more comfy and (of course) fashionable subtle camera strap that I had found in the Photojojo! store last year. Keep the strap tight around your wrists and the satchel swung to the front of your body.

4. Keep it simple. One lens will do. If you are a great street photographer, you should know that the best shots are unexpected, somewhat unfocused, and very candid. There is no need for a telephoto lens unless you want to peer in to people’s homes, and if you plan on doing so please re-read #2. The best photos in my particular scenario were results of engagement with the subjects. Read some great tips from Chris Osburn, fellow blogger.

5. Do not EVER exploit your subjects. In La Carpio it was inevitable to take shots of the filthy roads and some sad faces, but my energy went towards taking photos of people who wanted their photos taken. I didn’t sneak around corners to grab shots of young children crying in sewage so I could use it later in some sad PowerPoint campaign with a certain easy-listening sad ballad blaring in the background. Yeison, our amazing tour guide, taught me how to ask “Is it okay if I take your photo?”. The majority excitedly obliged and the result has been a stunningly happy photographic narrative. (One school teacher, much younger than me, even happily corrected my Spanish while posing for a photo in one of the classrooms.)

While the truths of La Carpio peek out in many of the shots, they are just that — truths! And the fact that I could capture such beautiful smiles, saturated and lively art murals, and true heart in these photos is simply a testament to the unparalleled spirits of the people of La Carpio.

Here a family waves, smiling from their porch. This is one of the few that I could salvage from the disposable camera, inherently dreary and grainy. I find it beautiful, nonetheless. It’s just simply not an accurate depiction of La Carpio.

Via Flickr:

La Carpio. Taken with a $3 disposable, Family sits on porch and waves.

  1. There is a lot to be said for a small discreet camera to do street photography – thanks

      • jamielynndespres
      • September 9th, 2011

      I do agree, for sure. I am currently in love with my mini 110 Holga and Super Slim for these purposes. Just to clarify, I am referring to photographing in these types of scenarios specifically. The blog post has been updated after a brief internet shortage 🙂 Thanks for reading and leaving a comment. There is a small curation of a variety of street shots and candids on my Flickr if you are so inclined. Have a great day!

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