Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Photography is one of my favorite hobbies and I’m constantly taking photographs. Having the opportunity to come to Bhutan, with its beautiful scenery and people, the number of photos in my album has increased dramatically. It’s okay to take photos of the beautiful scenery, however, when it comes to photographing people I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing or not.

I always ask people when I want to take a close-up shot of them, but when they are far away, I just take the picture. It wasn’t till the day of the Tsechu festival that I questioned the idea of taking photographs of locals. Is it okay to photograph them with their permission/without their permission or Is it in the way we go up to them and photograph them?

During Tsechu, there were so many tourists, and during the festival performances, I just watched as they poked their huge camera lenses in the faces of locals just trying to get a shot. I sat there feeling very irritated and uncomfortable watching as this went on, and felt it was an invasion of privacy and space for the locals. Coming from countries in the West where privacy of space is such a big deal, why do we invade people’s privacy and spaces when we travel elsewhere? - especially to third world countries. I immediately hid my camera and made sure not to photograph locals, except for my friends I had come to the festival with. Later that day, I had seen a group of cute monk boys and wanted to photograph them badly, but hesitated because of what I had witnessed earlier, so I just walked on.         

Some children have walked up to me and asked me to photograph them, and I believe it is okay in that case since they ask. Apart from that, we should ask before taking pictures of locals and respect their decision of “yes” or “no”.

The following day, I attended Tsechu again, and on my way out of the festival, this tourist put his huge lens in my face and started to take pictures of me without asking. I was quite shocked and uncomfortable, but just stood there and smiled for him as he clicked away. But in that moment, I was wondering why and how he started taking pictures of me. It was out of nowhere and I wondered if this is how locals feel when we photograph them without their permission. 

-Noel Manu
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