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Africa, Photography

Photojournalism etiquette in Africa

I’m going through culture shock. I’ve been trying to deny it to myself, but on Day 4, I’m starting to accept it.

Accra is different than Lawrence, believe it or not. (The fact that there are palm trees everywhere definitely makes up for the humidity.) And my role as a journalist is different in Accra than it is in Lawrence; that has been hard to accept the past few days.

When I take pictures in the U.S., I can take pictures of people in public without their permission. In fact, most people usually like when I take pictures of them, and ask where they can see the pictures (in print or online). I love candid photography, and I’m good at going unnoticed while taking photos at home; but let’s be honest: I’m white and I’m in Africa, so I’m not exactly blending in here. I can’t go unnoticed, so there’s no good way for me to get a candid photo, and according to the local etiquette, I’m not allowed to.

I don’t want to be that person that has her set ways and can’t adapt to new situations. I’m slowly starting to adapt to this situation because I think it’s a valid courtesy that I want to respect.

The stereotype of Africa is that it’s dirty and the people are all starving. We have this impression because those images are the only ones really shown in the U.S. Accra is a major city, so some people have smart phones (I don’t; I’ll be sure to add a picture of this beauty soon. Imagine your first cell phone circa 2005. That’s what I’m working with.) and, yes, they have Internet and electricity here. But the Western world doesn’t see this because people focus on the poverty. Accra, like any major city, has rich and poor areas, but no one talks about the rich areas, in which the houses are surrounded by gates topped with barbed wire and are monitored 24 hours a day by a security guard.

Africans have almost exclusively been exploited by photographers, which is why some people do not want their picture taken. It’s a fair request. Some photographers take pictures of these people living on the brink of poverty, and come home to sell these photos for hundreds or thousands of dollars. Do the people in the photos receive any money for these photos? Probably not.

So, I sympathize with the Ghanaians who have been exploited for far too long. Even though I’ve always taken photos before approaching the person I’m photographing (The token photojournalism rule is “Ask for forgiveness, not permission.), I’m going to honor the rules of Ghanaian photojournalism because I want to earn the respect of these people. I don’t want to spend six weeks pissing people off in order to show my family and friends the photos they’re expecting to see (And I promise I will add the few photos I have taken soon!). This is why I’ve only taken about 50 photos in the four days I’ve been here, which is completely out of character for me; I can easily take 50 photos in five minutes or less if I’m shooting sports.

But, to make my people (anyone reading this) happy, here are a few photos!

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