I had never been to a developing country on my own before I traveled to Guatemala with friends over spring break. We had the opportunity to see most of Guatemala’s East coast, from Antigua all the way up north to the Mayan Ruins in Tikal, Petén.
We observed the poverty up close, although we always had a nice place to come back to at the end of the day, whether it was a family home or a decent hotel. Around the Lake Izabal we discovered what was left of the Indigenous Mayan civilization in a village called Aktenamith, which means “pueblo nuevo” in an ancient Mayan language. I left this town with the feeling that I was one step closer to understanding how these people lived.
In Punto de Palma, my friend Verena led us to the village behind her summer beach home where we interacted with schoolchildren, teachers and residents of the area. We approached the home of Verena’s household handyman and caregiver and saw a mother of 16 years of age holding her child in her arms (see photo on left). My friends and I started taking pictures of her and her family. Both my girlfriends posed with the baby while I took a picture or two, and that’s when I started to feel a little upset.
The family did not see the harm in our picture taking, and this intrigued me. Why was I feeling unsettled but not them? How could they not be bothered by my intrusive behavior in taking pictures of their family and leaving without sharing the photographs? I felt like I had violated their privacy and stolen a part of them that I did not deserve.
I started thinking about everything that I had learned up until then, mostly in school, about cultural relativism: about how everything is relative within a context and to the people concerned. The conclusion for me at the time was that these people were poor but most likely happy because they did not know anything different, or had not experienced it. What I hadn’t realized then but understand fully now was that my perspective was ethnocentric and that I was unknowingly judging them. What had originally intrigued me and left me perplexed when I took the picture of the mother with her child was the fact that she was not judging me.
I started to wonder what they would have thought if they had judged me? I was so quick to judge their lives that I hadn’t realized that by the simple, oblivious act of photographing their family, I was giving them plenty of good reasons for them to look down on how I lived my own life. This is why when I got back to New York and found out about Dog Meets World the whole concept of photo diplomacy clicked for me.
I realize today that photo diplomacy is not only about giving people a photo of themselves, it’s about creating awareness of each other and realizing how much our judgment gets in the way of getting to know other people that are different from us. I intend to practice Take & Give photography and no longer just TAKE someone’s photo for my own amusement and benefit but print it up on the spot and share. Photo diplomacy is a two way street and it’s all about sharing the experience captured in the photograph. The picture on the right was taken by phoDOGrapher Patti Hughes also in Guatemala and show the delighted mothers looking at the new photos of their children.
– Marielle Briant, DMW Outreach & Communications Intern
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Praise for DMW
"Participating in Dog Meets World was a truly magical experience, bringing joy and wonderment to all I met."
John Carr, Phodographer across South America
"Dog Meets World unleashes the power of photography as a diplomatic and personal tool in building connections among the people of the world. It embeds a memory in photographer and subject alike."
Prof. Patrick Fleming, Fulbright scholar & Phodographer Cambodia & Kyrgzystan
"You will never know just how important that photo will be long after it is taken and given."
Delores Barr Weaver, co-owner Jacksonville Jaguars
"Dog Meets World went over fabulously in my village. It is a perfect option for Peace Corps volunteers like myself. I like the Foto dog mascot, kids like it, and it is a representation of the peace and the ideas of the project."
Kristen Woodruff, Phodographer Costa Rica
"The kids are absolutely loving Dog Meets World. For a majority, these were the first images of themselves that they have ever owned."
Marti Johnson, Phodographer Uganda