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
NEW Phodographer Hester Bury in Antigua, Guatemala May 2011
I’m Hester Bury and I arrived in Antigua from Chicago early on a Sunday morning in May. I spent the morning walking around the town, getting my bearings and enjoying the beautiful old buildings and cobbled streets. I sat down on a bench in the Parc Central and within minutes was approached by a young girl selling woven bracelets and bags. I bought a couple and then asked her how long she was going to be in the park and if she would like her photo taken. It was mostly sign language as I don’t speak Spanish. I went to fetch Foto and my printer. I returned started to take photos, mostly of the people selling their wares. Before long a crowd gathered and I took and printed photos for more than an hour. The recipients certainly appreciated the gift and one provided small plastic bags so they could be taken home clean and safely. Several tended not to smile at the camera, so different from the US.
For me it was a great experience to be able to recognize individuals through Dog Meet World. Because of my lack of Spanish I was not really able to explain the significance of Foto, but I hope they understood that holding the dog connected them to others all over the world. The printer worked well and provided great quality photos. Thank you for the experience – I hope to inspire others to participate!
Phodographer Allison Hillis in Zunil, Guatemala August 2009
In honor of Mother’s Day….Dog Meets World shares this favorite photo of Moms admiring their children’s first pictures in Guatemala. Moms worldwide understand the significance of capturing a child’s image permanently in a photo. It becomes a family artifact to remember the moment and beauty of youth. A photo is tangible joy! Happy Mother’s Day to ALL MOMs!
Phodographer Patti Hughes along Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, March 2009
Photographs are truly priceless. They capture and record our lives.
DMW believes that each single shared photograph creates a cultural connection and an indelible affirmation that is left behind as a personal artifact and a tiny seed of peace.
Smiling for a camera is a learned reflex….we are constantly told from childhood to “smile” or “say cheese”. Those in the world unaccustomed to photography often merely look at the camera. However, once the prints are made….smiles abound especially from this girl’s mom receiving her daughter’s first picture.
Best Foto of the Week!
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