The language of photography often seems to be more about receiving than giving. We shoot people, capture them, take their image. But do we give it back to them?
As travellers we can have a great deal of influence over how our countries are perceived in other parts of the world.
In the days of film I often used to find people photography such a one-sided encounter. I would get their permission, snap, snap, snap away and then move on to the next subject. It sometimes seemed to be such an impersonal thing and was one of the reasons I think I found travel people photography so hard at first.
Then I hit upon an idea and started carrying a little photo book of my own around. It had pictures of my house and my family and my cat. My parents, grandparents and as my family evolved my wife and kids. Now I pull it out all the time whenever I'm travelling and it really helps me to break the ice. Show it to one person and pretty soon you've got the whole neighbourhood around you crowding to have a look - and then their picture taken.
And then digital came along and made it even easier to break down the barriers. Suddenly I could show people how they look on the LCD screen. Complete strangers became enthralled with the picture-taking process and active participants, even going so far as to suggest other people I could photograph.
Suddenly travel portrait photography was a two way street. They got as much out of the encounter as I did and I now find people photography so enjoyable. But I'm looking at taking things a bit farther still. Now that there are little printing booths all over the world how easy would it be to get some prints printed off the same day and take them back a few hours after you've photographed them. It won't cost a fortune for a couple of prints and you'll have made a friend for life. And given them a great impression of your country.
Often people in third world countries don't know their own address, if they even have one sometimes. And you're never sure if pictures you send from home are going to get there in one piece. With instant printing you can see their reaction when you give them a picture. How wonderful is that?
We're all ambassadors for our homes when we travel and our cameras can mean that we're seen as so much more than the idiot politicians who represent what our respective nations supposedly stand for.
This photo above is in that same vein but not a complete stranger. This is my father-in-law and this hero shot of him atop Mt Teine on the outskirts of Sapporo has graced a few newspapers and magazines which now take pride of place in his home. It makes him happy to see himself in print, not so nervous about having a scumbag photographer for a son-in-law and keeps me in good with the in-laws. Did I mention that photos can be used as bribes too? :)