This jovial fellow is Fernandel. He was a native of Marseille and a much-loved comic actor. He seems to have had a liking for cafés because I saw this same signed portrait in several cafés around the city. All were recommended by Fernandel.
The title of this image is exactly what this girl said to me in a street in the medina of Sousse in Tunisia. So I took some photographs (as you can see, she was a natural in front of the lens) and I gave her a few dinars. But by doing so, I’m well aware that I (yet again) opened an ethical can of worms, at least in the eyes of some photographers. It's commonplace in many developing countries to be approached by children for a photograph in return for some loose change. Several decades ago, many children off the beaten track in North Africa would ask photographers for a stylo or bon-bon and they would actually be surprised and delighted if you gave them money. They would be touting for no more than small gifts, mere trinkets, and the look of joy on their faces when we all gave them some coins! Nowadays, however, dirham and dinar seem to be their sole currency.
The problem is this: On the one hand, we have an opportunity to photograph some aspect of local culture not explicitly intended by conventional mass tourism. You don't see ordinary kids in the street asking for photographs in the glossy brochures and TV ads advertising places in developing countries as holiday destinations. No, you get what the local authorities want you see, i.e., their cultural confectionery. And many people are happy with just that. I'm not, I want to see their culture more broadly, warts and all. On the other hand, giving money (or even sweets) to children in developing countries is said to encourage them to beg and to view foreign tourists as little more than cash cows. In some of the cities and larger towns that see many tourists, children may even quit school for what they see as a potentially lucrative career hustling tourists. This is a real dilemma for me because I value education very highly, both for its own sake and for its undoubted ability to lift whole generations from the economic and cultural dead ends of menial jobs, early marriage and childbearing, often fuelled by worldviews based largely on superstition.
But is it fair to blame tourism entirely for this situation? I would argue not. Many developing countries already have thousands of children from poor families skipping school to do menial work, regardless of whether there are tourists with cameras wandering the street or not. You only have to go outside the main towns on a school day to see young kids sewing carpets with their tiny hands, or lugging cartloads of cloth or looking after the family goats. For some of these kids, hustling tourists is undoubtedly more financially beneficial for themselves and their families than either staying at school or doing menial work and, like the goat herders, they'd struggle to survive without it. This was their reality before I came along with my big camera. And they certainly aren't going to stay in school because some visiting Johnny Foreigner with a camera thinks they should.
A common complaint is that photographing children in developing countries is akin to treating them as if they're in a zoo. Again, I disagree. If you go to a zoo and observe the animals, whether you photograph them or not they are still living in a zoo. Similarly, whether you photograph children or not, they are still living in a Nepalese mountain community, or a remote Saharan desert village, or a back alley in a Maghrebi medina. My presence doesn’t change that. If you go around taking photographs of another culture but stop yourself taking photographs of local children, are you really capturing the local culture? What culture has no children? What culture has no children who like to be photographed? I’ve yet to encounter one, even when the adults themselves are reticent. What culture has no children who like to receive gifts? The real difference for me is not whether I should capture their image or not, it’s recognising which children want to be photographed for the sheer fun of it and which want to be photographed to make a quick buck.
Some photographers have devised an ethic that reasons this way; if you wouldn't photograph a child who wasn’t a personal acquaintance of yours in your own country, then you shouldn't do it an another country and you certainly shouldn't put the images on a website. This, despite the fact that Facebook and other social media is awash with photographs of their own children and their friend's and neighbour's children who similarly haven't given consent to their daily lives being archived for posterity on the web. So the problem I have with this view is that it seems to be inherently one of a sense of entitlement; a chauvinistic attitude, best locked in the hotel safe along with all their other precious things. It's basically the attitude that the 'superior' interpersonal ethics devised and sometimes legally implemented in our own more 'developed' societies should be foisted on other societies. And make no mistake, when children are following you around a maze-like medina repeatedly badgering you for a photograph, and you refuse to go along with their game, foisting your ethics on the people of another culture is exactly what you're doing. Are they really such unsophisticated yokels that they don't realise that the image might end up on a website? How patronising. Having visited many developing countries over four decades, not once have I had a parent, or any other adult for that matter, complain when I've photographed a child and then given them a few coins.
So I don't buy into this righteous indignation. Instead, I try to treat the local kids as equals. I don't walk around aloof and po-faced, and believe me, that exactly what some photographers look like when confronted by these budding street entrepreneurs. On the contrary, I smile when they jovially call me 'grandfather' or something else I don't understand, and I try to happily join in their game. If they ask me to photograph them I do, even if I don't particularly want the photo. I always carry coins and always offer them afterwards. I show them the image. Maybe zoom in and watch them laugh at the close-up of the pimple on their nose. But, importantly, I only do this if they instigate it. I let them control the situation because it's their territory, their streets, their game and their rules. Nor do I ask them to pose or feign emotion, or otherwise influence them. I just let them do their thing and be real. Whatever the reality they choose to portray. And I always make sure to thank them in their own language. For often, they have given me far more than I have given them, even if they don't realise it.
Another version of this post along with more images can be found here.
I encountered this Street Zorro early evening walking toward me in Hollywood, Los Angeles. He told me he was on his way to work, posing for tourists for a few bucks. I was his first customer for the day and he kindly waited while I changed my lens. The Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar makes a very fine portrait lens but it was let down here somewhat by my over-enthusiastic use of fill-in flash. Blown highlights are one of my pet photographic hates. The Praktica BD36 TTL flash throws a strong beam, and definitely needed a diffuser.
Number Six: Where am I?
Number Two: In the Village.
Number Six: What do you want?
Number Two: Information.
Number Six: Whose side are you on?
Number Two: That would be telling. We want information.......information.......information.
Number Six: You won't get it.
Number Two: By hook or by crook, we will.
Number Six: Who are you?
Number Two: The new Number Two.
Number Six: Who is Number One?
Number Two: You are Number Six.
Number Six: I am not a number! I am a free man!
Number Two: [laughs]
Number Six: I will not make any deals with you. I've resigned. I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered! My life is my own!
If none of the above makes any sense to you, you are definitely not an aficionado of the British 1960s surreal cult TV series 'The Prisoner'. For those who do understand what this all about this image was captured in April 2017 in the village of Portmeirion, Gwynedd, Wales (where the series was filmed), on the 50th anniversary of the first episode, including a re-enactment of the second episode. The rest of the images from that day can be viewed here.
A rare cold, cloudy day somewhere in the Sahara desert. The negative had suffered some damage over the years so after scanning I renovated this image as best I could. I've always liked the way the man and donkey composed themselves for me.
Big Istanbul smile and a colourful wall backdrop in the suburbs of Balat and Fener (I can never tell where one suburb changes to the other). A couple of coins in his pocket and he was even happier. A photo-essay of my time there can be found here
I was walking down the main drag in Hollywood when this guy comes out of a hotel surrounded by a dozen or so photographers, all clicking away in his direction. I quickly got myself into the crowd and grabbed a few shots. I had no idea who he was. I asked someone and they mentioned a name I'd never heard before and very quickly forgot. So to this day, despite showing this image to numerous people and performing reverse image searches, I've still no idea who he is!
Encountered these girls on a mountain path outside Pokhara heading toward Sarangkot. We were dressed in the correct gear for a hike, sturdy boots, thick socks etc. They were barefoot. It really brought home to me how pampered and soft Westerners are. I wouldn't dream of walking a dirt track up a mountain barefoot. They do it everyday. And probably still do. And probably their children now, too.
Stretching the pide dough. I like the contrast between his still face and the motion blur emanating from arms onto the dough. A pide is a kind of oval-shaped Turkish pizza with turned up edges that sometimes resembles a boat carrying minced meat. I spotted these guys rolling out the pide bases in a small shop in the Istanbul suburb of Balat and asked, via sign language, if I could document their work. They were very happy to let me (as were most people in Balat and the neighbouring suburb of Fener). I spent perhaps 20 minutes with them, sipping (yet another) Turkish coffee. More of my images from Balat and Fener can be found here
A chance encounter, strolling through the back streets of an Andalucian town. My first thought was that she must have lived through the Spanish Civil War. I pointed in the direction we were walking and pointing hopefully in the right direction, asked "estación de autobuses?" She must have thought I spoke more Spanish than I actually do because she offered comprehensive directions, accompanied by numerous directional flexions of the hand, of which I understood perhaps 10%. She very graciously let me photograph her and I later added a little Photoshop dating treatment. After we thanked her and walked away my wife said "bet she was a babe when she was younger." She still is, or sadly, most likely was. All things must pass.
I consider this image to be my first definite 'keeper', i.e., an image that stands on its own rather than merely one that captures a moment, acting no more than an aid to memory. It was a chance business encounter on a finger-numbingly cold -10C street in Brașov, whereby we swapped a few Lei notes for a few shutter clicks. If, anonymous model, you are reading this, please accept huge thanks.
It's became special for me because the same day I got the prints back from the processor I was in a bar where I was then living in the far north-west Highlands of Scotland when, by chance, I got chatting to a visiting professional landscape photographer. I can't remember his name (it definitely wasn't Colin Baxter, who seemed to have the monopoly on local postcards in those days) but he used a large format camera and, as I had never seen one before, he kindly fetched it from his room upstairs. After I'd had the demonstration he asked if I'd like him to take a look at some of my images and give some advice. After telling me I had a good eye for composition, which I took to be his way of salvaging some constructive critique from my mess of photographic potage, he got to this image. His face lit up a little and he asked if it had been captured in Turkey because it reminded him of the work of Ara Güler.
I'd never heard of Ara Güler (so I had no idea how flattering that observation was), nor had I been to Turkey at that time, both deficits since rectified largely because of that chance encounter. If, anonymous landscape photographer, you are reading this, please accept huge thanks. It was your encouragement, likening one of my images to the work of a photographer I now admire greatly, that made me look at street photography in another light, and gave me many more 'keepers'. An excellent introduction to Güler's work is the book 'Ara Güler's Istanbul' (2009). Among all the 5* reviews on Amazon I found this 1* gem:
"The photos were all good quality but the theme of the book made me depressed. Lots of poverty and sad pictures. I wanted more of the famous sites and less pigeons."
Unlike my landscaper friend, not someone likely to appreciate my lamb and girl, I suspect.