Photography, Travel and Ethics

[This is a guest post written by Savannah Dodd.  If you would like to write a guest post in future, we’d love to hear from you.]

Two years ago, I was walking by the harbour in Hoi An when I saw a tourist taking a photograph of a Vietnamese rower in her boat. The man with the camera kept trying to signal to the rower how he wanted her to pose. The rower kept trying to wave him off and turn away from the camera. Unable to speak either of their languages and embarrassed by the situation, I turned away and left them to figure it out.

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Hoi An Harbour, Photo (c) Savannah Dodd

At the time, I was furious with the tourist because he was being pushy by not respecting her wish to be left alone. But now when I think back on their interaction, I wonder if he just wasn’t reading the signs. I still believe that he was in the wrong, but I don’t think it was necessarily intentional. I think he just completely lacked ethical awareness.

A lot of the examples we see of “bad ethics” in photography come from a lack of ethical awareness, rather than from malice or sheer disrespect. Broadly speaking, when people come to understand that their actions are unacceptable or unethical, they stop acting in that way. This is good news because it means that increasing ethical awareness can have a real impact toward a more ethical photography practice.

This has been my mission for the past two years: to raise awareness about photography ethics in order to catalyse a shift toward a more ethical practice across the photography industry and around the world. That’s why I founded the Photography Ethics Centre.

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Like any new venture, the Photography Ethics Centre started as an idea and went through many iterations. In fact, it didn’t even start as a “thing” but as a topic of discussion; whenever I found myself in the same room as another photographer, I would jump headfirst into ethical questions. Soon, I realized that this was not the best way to make friends, so I decided to take a more formal approach by organizing workshops to talk about ethics with other photographers. In those early days, before we even had a name, I facilitated two workshops in Chiang Mai, Thailand and Hanoi, Vietnam.

The discussions that took place at those early workshops were stimulating. People spoke about ethics with such passion, yet it was clear that there was a very real gap in how to apply personal ethics to photographic practice. I was excited, but daunted, to tackle this issue. I knew that I was biting off more than I could chew. How could I tackle such a pervasive and global problem? I knew that I would never be able to cover enough ground to even make a dent in it.

The solution, I decided, is online training.

So, last December I founded the Photography Ethics Centre and I set to work writing a curriculum in photography ethics. Nine months later, I’m thrilled to unveil our very first online training programme: The Photographer’s Ethical Toolkit.

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This course is designed to be a first step in understanding photography ethics. It provides a broad overview of key ethical principles, and applies to anyone who regularly takes or shares photographs. Best of all, we are offering it free to everyone, worldwide.

Of course, online training alone cannot replicate the kind of learning that happens in a classroom. This was something I realized very early on in those first workshops. Discussion is the key element that makes this training work. That is why we are complimenting it with discussion forums, live video chats, and peer-to-peer interaction.

Our first live video chat will take place on Friday, October 12th. It will be hosted on Facebook by the Thomson Foundation, and it will be open for anyone to join to learn more about photography ethics.

Now, you might be asking yourself: “I’m not a photographer, so what does this have to do with me?” Inspired by Peter’s forthcoming book, you might decide to book a trip! And what will your whole family say? “Take pictures!”

Travel photography is an amazing way to share your journey with friends and family, but it has its own set of ethical considerations. How can you ask permission to photograph someone when you don’t speak the same language? How can you gauge when it is not culturally appropriate to photograph someone or something?

When we are photographing people from other backgrounds and cultures, we find that ethics isn’t always as straightforward as applying the “Golden Rule” – just because I might be comfortable having my picture taken doesn’t mean that everyone is. There are many factors that we might need to consider, including socio-cultural differences and historical context.

Our basic training does not get into all of the ins and outs of ethics in travel photography, but it’s a good start toward increased understanding of how to apply core ethical beliefs to photographic practice.

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Making the most of your travels…

The call to prayer echoed hauntingly across the tower blocks as minaret after minaret sounded out for the final time that night, far below us.  We stood on the rooftop, watching across the night sky as one by one the lights went out in various apartments.  It was one of the few cool places we could go in the intense heat of the summer, when even at nighttime, it was a balmy 28 degrees.  Sweat was still dripping off my brow as I heard my friend draw his prayer to a conclusion:

“In Jesus name, Amen”

It was all I had heard of the last few minutes as my mind had been captured by the nasal melodies ringing out over the loudspeakers.  He looked over at me.

“How do you feel?”

I wasn’t sure.  I’d never had such stark reminders that this world was not my home, than the “other”ness of the sounds that hit my ears.  But the city before me was little more lost than the familiar bells that tolled in my hometown, reminding me of the empty cathedrals and apathy-filled churches.  Not to mention the “cathedrals” built more recently within a few hundred metres of my doorstep in Ireland, some open 24-7 to shoppers and others just crammed once a week with 70,000 adoring fans.  Although here, I felt like a stranger.  That night a tear fell on my pillow as I rolled over again, trying desperately to sleep.  I wasn’t sure whether my feelings were from spiritual realities that lay in front of me, or just because I was finding normal life utterly different and hard in this heat, or both at the same time.

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The next morning we rose early, each muttering prayers nervously under our breath as we packed our belongings and headed off to a secret gathering of believers at an unknown location.

The windows were closed and the singing was meant to be muted, but when the old songs of the native language started being played, the believers grew in passion, unable to contain themselves to the quiet whispers of joy.

“How do you feel?” he asked me again.

I wasn’t sure.  I hadn’t understood a word of anything that had been sung for the last few minutes.  But yet inside of me, something welled up, unable to be controlled by mere linguistic barriers.  I knew I was with family.  Family that I could find in increasing numbers of places in the world, whether in minaret filled cities, under cathedral dominating skylines or beside where modern day cathedrals forced comfort and apathy upon baying fans.  I knew that thousands of miles from my home, I’d found a welcome of far more significance than any other you could expect from meeting people for a first time.  A stranger had found a family.  And I loved it.

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It’s funny how it takes a trip away from home to open my eyes to things the Scriptures already have spoken about on my own doorstep, as well as the eternal realities that starkly presented themselves in the “other”ness that I met those days.  Firstly feeling a little lost in a world so different to my own.  Then starting to understand it more.  And further down the line, sadly often becoming numb to the reality around me as it becomes normalised just like my home setting.

There’s something about travel that keeps me in a learning posture, reminding me of my place in this world as one in seven billion people, and helping me to live in light of every person, culture and people I’ve ever walked amongst.  There’s something about travel which helps me see the world as only the Bible describes it: as utterly beautiful but at the same time in ruins – a fraction of the glory it once was.  And there’s something about travel that makes me yearn even more for a restoration to come – a new heavens and a new earth to explore, as time after time even the ecstacy of travel only seems like a passing thrill, earnestly preserved by as many Instagram posts and YouTube videos as I can manage.

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There’s so much good in travel that I never realised when I first (rather selfishly) booked that first trip away across the globe.  And looking back at all I learnt about God, His world, His Church, and myself, over those days, I’m not only glad I did book such things, but I now want to stop and think twice before (like in everything in life) I am tempted to tell someone else exactly whether they should or should not be travelling.  What if they could instead, see travel through the same lens that God sees it?  What if they had questions to help them make the most of their travels, and stories of other travellers to encourage and to warn?  What if they could travel, in tandem with God’s heart?


Travel: in tandem with God’s Heart is released on October 18th and can be pre-ordered through the publisher’s website, through my supplier in the UK (free postage to UK) or soon from my supplier in Ireland.  For more details of events near you, please see the events page on this blog, or consider hosting one locally yourself, to help others around you of all faiths and none, think through this key topic.

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Good, better, best.

[This is part 3 of a 5 part series on seeing God’s glory across the nations.  Please bear with me on this one, as it’s thoughts in process – feedback welcome!]

Choice is paralysis.

They told me we were a fortunate generation to have the world as our oyster.  They told me we should be grateful for being able to re-train and learn any occupation in a few years and do what we love.  They told me that we’d be able to travel the world and find others with similar interests and passions.  They told me we’d be able to spend our lifetime exploring the rich diversity of personalities, cultures, countries and languages on this earth.  But they didn’t tell me this.

Choice is paralysis.

And I find myself part of a generation who have so much at their fingertips, we have nothing.  Because we can’t decide what we want.

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The green fields and castles of Munster, on a summer day in Ireland (copyright me)

We come back from our travels, and we’re so taken by dreaming of the next one, that we struggle to fit in.  And the freedom and exhilaration of new things, new cultures and new people, gnaw away at us when we’re back to brass tacks, sitting at the office desk, wondering when we can next escape.  Perhaps we’re in the wrong job?  Should we change again?  But the last one felt like chains too…and I thought this one was more “me”.  And so I’m left wondering whether the next pay cheque really needs to go on car insurance, or whether we can abandon the car in a bid to travel the road even further.

So many places.  So many experiences.  So much on the bucket list.  So little time.

Choice can be paralysing!

And for the Christian it often is no different.  Just because we have the Holy Spirit, doesn’t mean that life becomes easy or that the golden path is suddenly there.  The Bible doesn’t promise a soul-mate.  The Bible doesn’t promise to outline what country you should live in.  The Bible doesn’t even give a ranking list of professions either.  In fact, the Bible doesn’t even promise you an easy ride this side of eternity – far from it!

But what Jesus does do, is to let us know that He is Lord over everything, and that we can serve Him in the vast array of different giftings, cultures and personalities that we all have.  How freeing!

So no need to try and endlessly interpret whether one door is closing or opening.  No need to wait on someone to come along and confirm your life calling.  No need to wait til all the circumstances perfectly line up in your life for something.  No need to mysteriously open your Bible at a verse that matches the numbers on the car number plate that you’re following at the time.  That’s often more superstition than Jesus.

BUT…

There are certain things Jesus would say we should bear in mind: 

 

  1. Things the Church should do/be (eg. The bride of Christ…individuals cannot fulfil this role)
  2. Things individuals should do/be (eg. a part of the body)
  3. Things Christians with certain gifts can do/be (eg. Evangelists or speakers of tongues – neither are for everyone)
  4. Things mostly all Christians can do/be (eg. “be my witnesses” – we’re all called to this)
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My work in progress – sorry to those who don’t think like this!

1+2+3+4: Many things, like putting our hope in God’s Word.

1+2: Sins of omission: Many things where the Church and individuals ought to do something or be something but don’t/aren’t

3 alone (eg: using tongues in private or chatting to lots of lonely people) or

4 alone (eg: wearing a cross at work or being kind to everyone) or

(3+4) : (eg: telling someone they ought to be kinder)

Some gifted people use their gifts outside of formal church context and outside of where they’re called specifically to use their gifts.  Consciously this happens for example, in the business world or anywhere we work.  Unconsciously, this happens ALOT, when people think they’re using gospel gifts, and are actually just acting culturally rather than Biblically.

1+3: eg. Go to unengaged peoples (this is a unique subset of certain gifts which individuals within the Church need to act on)

2+4: eg. Partner to help reach some of the unengaged peoples (this is what everyone else is required to do as individuals, to have God’s heart for unengaged peoples)

Why go to this length with an infographic (that is far from perfect)?

Well, what I think this shows us, is that everyone can sit back as individuals, in a highly individualised church scene, and confidently say that they don’t feel called to unengaged peoples.  And to some extents they may all be able to justify their decision making in highly logical, Biblically good and God glorifying ways.  And no-one would go.  Ever.  And this is what I would argue has happened for centuries of church history (with notable exceptions).

Who would be to blame?

Well, it’s hard to say, isn’t it?

No single individual could be held responsible.

No single church could be expected to guarantee folk to go to the unengaged world.

Even no single denomination necessarily should be held responsible Biblically speaking.

But the Church at large is not doing what it ought to do: making disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey all that Jesus has commanded us.

We’ll look at a collective response to this in due course, and what this means for churches.  But for now let me suggest one thing for us as individual Christians: that we cannot afford to give ourselves the luxury of thinking that others will go and that we are not the ones to go.

When I speak to most people with obvious gifts of evangelism in the church, they don’t think they have such a gift!  Because to acknowledge it would be daunting, and to them, it’s just God’s gracious provision in giving them opportunities to speak a word in season (in their weakness).  It doesn’t seem like it’s for them.

And similarly with going to the unengaged.  Please, please do not wait for an angel from Heaven to tell you to pursue opportunities to see whether you could go.  Jesus has already told the Church to pursue those opportunities.

Perhaps rather, I’d ask you to pray over, and be asking yourself this question:

Why should I not go to the unengaged world?

You’d be surprised like Moses in Exodus chapter 3, with how many reasons God can answer!

  • Feel too weak? Good, God is with you.
  • Feel too sinful? Good, God has a history of using such folk who realise their sin.
  • Feel you need to get married to someone who isn’t willing to ask the same questions? You could marry someone who would keep the possibility real, instead of closing doors unduly.
  • Feel you don’t have the right gifts? I’ve seen virtually every type of person on the field!
  • Feel you’re indispensable to the church at home? Perhaps God can show you, you’re not.
  • Feel like you’ve a great career ahead of you and don’t want to throw it away? Do something career related in your unengaged people, but primarily, weigh up in your heart what Christ is worth.
  • Don’t think you’re an evangelist? Good – teams need all sorts.
  • Don’t want the responsibility of intentionally giving years of your life to working towards the unengaged world? Christ is worth it!

And so I’ll pray this evening that you join me in praying that question, regardless of your age.  There are enough really genuine reasons that will stop you going without adding. any of the above to them!

Double Listening

“The phrase ‘double listening’ has always been significant to me. And it means that we’re called to listen to both the Word of God, and to today’s world, in order to relate the one to the other.”

John Stott (following on from Karl Barth and many others, I’m told)

I think it’s been one of the most influential concepts to me in life, having the newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other.  Regardless of what worldview I followed, I’d want one that gave time to understanding the world and those around me.  More on it here.

Girlfriends, travel, housing and winks across the dancefloor

So since moving to Cork I’ve had about 13 housemates.  Unlucky?  Having lived with me, I think they all probably thought they were, yes.  Moving in to the house, I remember being asked whether I wanted to move in to the spare room, or switch to the big ensuite room.  For a little extra cost, I fancied a room longterm that I could make my own, so opted for the big one.  So far, so good.

  1. The chap who left the small room, went off to get married.
  2. The following chap to step into that small room was a graduate entry medic.  At the end of our year together, he left, to get married (he wasn’t engaged before being in that room).
  3. The guy who replaced him was another graduate entry medic (yes, I’ve had free health service, even in Ireland), who, you guessed it, left after six months to live with his newly married wife.
  4. For one year after that, an Iranian researcher who, during his time living here, found the love of his life and then left to marry her and live elsewhere.
  5. After that came a Brazilian friend who had nervously started going out with a girl.  I went to his wedding a few months ago.
  6. And finally??  An Irishman now living in that room, has indeed completed the current tally and is about to get married this summer.

Assuming I would want to get married, it could be that this is a divine rebuke for my selfish and materialistic grab for the large room, when I could have given others it.  And in a highly superstitious Irish culture, perhaps many may chuckle and read into it exactly that.

I chuckle but don’t.  Coincidence, I reckon.

But then one night I’m travelling from Waterford to Limerick around dusk.  Three quarters of the way there I stop to pull over a hitchhiker by a farm in a rural village.  Flowing ginger beard and a waft of ginger hair, he looks like a proper Irish stereotype, around studenty age.  His first question determines where I’m going and his second is:

“What is a Christian?”

Slightly stunned at such a question, given there is nothing in my car to suggest I would know, and given that everyone in Ireland reckons they’re Christian so doesn’t ask, I stumbled to ask him why he asked that.  “You’ve a northern accent.  You must know.  I mean protestant and catholic and all that.  Y’know?”

But as I was sure he’d met many a northerner before, I persisted.  “But what raises the question?”

Turns out he’d been travelling round the world a year and had ended up in Hawaii.  So beautiful was the experience with the community they’d met there, he decided to stay on and get to know them.  Time was running out but he wanted what they had!  So they said to him “look, we run this summer volunteer thing in Haiti this year – you should go and find us there.  Go home and raise funds and we’ll see you out there!”

And so he had done.  His family thought he’d met a cult.  “I know they said they were Christians, but that can mean anything from those born-agains to cults” they said.  “Stay clear of it”.  And so it got him thinking, “what is a Christian?”.  And so he asked the next person who he met, who happened to be me driving along.  4 minutes later and we’d reached his brother’s house and he jumped out.  All that we’d established was that the group were Youth With A Mission, that he should trust them and go, and that in the meantime he should read his Bible to see what produces this genuine faith, unlike all he’d met before.  With that, he walked off into the dark, slamming the car door behind, after briefly asking my name.

Coincidence?

To stereotype:

  • The atheist would presumably say yes, that anyone could have driven along that road.
  • The agnostic may want to remain curious but ask us to treat both cases the same.
  • The conservative (perhaps cessationist) would declare it to be the providence of God using promised means (humans).
  • And the more charismatically inclined may lean towards declaring it something more spiritual.

Perhaps I can answer some other time, but here are some questions it raises for me:

  • For those sceptical: what are the chances of these happening?  My suggestion is that the latter is far more unlikely (the former occurs as males of my age in conservative cultures tend to all pair off and get married), given how few evangelical Christians are in rural Ireland.  Maybe add into it, the fact that tens of these coincidences seem to happen regularly to me, it makes it harder to explain, but not impossible, perhaps!
  • For those keen to call it a God thing: if we are to call the latter an act of God (using human means), would we call the awful things that happen in this world also a carefully planned act of God, or is He not in control of those?  Perhaps on a basic level: this may help.  But I’m not convinced there’s any easy, neat answers, philosophically and theologically (though I may come back to this).

In the meantime for the Christian I found Kevin De Young’s book a bargain and worth reading.  And for those more sceptical still, why not ask (the-potentially-imaginary-being-in-the-sky) him to reveal himself to you?  Or start by looking where he promises to do so?  Right here: Uncover: see for yourself.  I don’t trust on any of those coincidence-like experiences to tell me about God primarily.  That’d be like depending on winks across a crowded dancefloor to tell you whether a girl actually likes you or not.  It sometimes thrills my heart and gives me butterflies.  But ultimately, I’d wanna know…like, for real.
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