Photographing Children in a Developing Country
I recently came across this post by cashewman called “13 Tips for Great Photography in a Developing Country” (via BoingBoing) and it got me to thinking about the times I’ve shot scenes of life in a developing country. Over the past few years, I have spent time visiting the orphanages of Tijuana and Baja California, and always bring my camera along for the trips. Whereas in the U.S., photographing children is fragile and often dangerous ground for photographers to trample, even for those of us with the best intentions, in Mexico the children and their guardians seem to welcome the chance for little ones to be in front of the lens. However, there are two things about photography that I have learned over the years that have helped me to understand the true experience of these orphaned children even better.
The first experience that surprised me when I began taking these trips was that the kids were so fascinated by my camera because they didn’t have anything like it in their home. They were much more interested in being behind the lens than in front of it. Of course it can be nerve racking to say the least when a five-year-old starts toddling around the hot, unpaved terrain of Baja California with your gear. But reviewing the shots he takes– seeing his world through his perspective– captures so much more authenticity than I ever could through my own shots. The above shot was taken by one child of another on the playground equipment at an orphanage in the hills of Tijuana.
Another intersting aspect of photographing the orphanages that I began to understand was that shooting the environment or setting in which these children live life, devoid of any actual children in the shot, can often make a more powerful statement about the children and their circumstances than including them in the picture.
Of course, getting a smiling face to fill the frame is always powerful as well, so I make sure to do plenty of that always.
Sometimes shooting photos in a setting that you aren’t necessarily familiar or comfortable with can bring out the best in you as a photographer. And when there is a language barrier involved, it often inspires you to push your creative boundaries even further and involve your other senses in the photography process rather than just relying on the comforts of dialog with your subjects.
All images © Allison Gibson