Foto’s Blog: The gift of giving – a note from a new traveler

Aug 2, 2011   //   Guatemala  //  Comments Off on Foto’s Blog: The gift of giving – a note from a new traveler

Phodographer to be Marielle Briant in Guatemala: Punto de Palma '11 (left) and Zunil '09 (right)

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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