The Ethics of Taking Pictures

I want to take pictures. Of everything. Mwanza is so gorgeous; everywhere I look is something beautiful and its people are welcoming and love their country so much. Taking in the animals, trees, plants, and even the soil, I find myself wanting to know everything about this place. I want to know what kinds of trees are here, and species of birds I’m hearing, what the soil is like, and just anything that will give me more information about this place I am falling in love with.

I want to take pictures. I really do. But there are a few things that tend to stop me.

I’m already a mzungu. I’m already a foreign, White girl that doesn’t speak the language (although my Swahili is improving) and is usually lost. To be carrying a camera or even my phone around taking pictures of everything that I want to take pictures of just makes me even more of a tourist. Acting and looking like a tourist means two things: I’m more of a target for theft, and I’m also less relatable. I realize that I there will always be a cultural divide, but I’m going to be here for three months. I’m going to be working with new Tanzanian friends and colleagues. I don’t want to gawk at people and take their pictures, as if they’re objects or artifacts. I don’t know them, I don’t know where they’re from, I don’t know their names. I have no right to snap pictures of them while walking by.

Pictures are also misleading. Pictures are worth a thousand words, but at the same time they are wordless. Anyone can ascribe meaning to a picture. And because pictures are wordless, they can be used in ways that they were never meant to be used. I do not mean that anyone following this blog or reading this post would use a picture maliciously. But one needs to be sensitive and critical when pictures are concerned.

We have also run into problems with picture taking, especially in the city. Iris is always good at remembering to take pictures, and she has had good responses from some that are happy to have their picture taken. But others have asked us not to take any pictures, and that wish must be respected. As outsiders that are coming into a city where people are living day-to-day lives, we have to understand that they are not here to be our models of Tanzanian life and culture. They are not on display for us foreigners to see and show our friends back at home. Maybe I overthink things (okay yes I do overthink things), but I feel that this is a really important thing to keep in mind.

That being said, here are some pictures of Mwanza, Tanzania. My new home away from home, and the place that I have come to love. Its people are proud of it, and they definitely have reason to be.

Me hanging out at Mikono Yetu
The wonderful Mikono Yetu staff and us
Lake Victoria = new fav place
Me at Lake Victoria
Rooftop view of Lake Victoria and Mwanza
Rooftop view of Mwanza
Sunset…I love this place
Trying to do laundry in my bathroom
Around SAUT
Around SAUT
Around SAUT
SAUT campus
Walking to SAUT
SAUT campus
SAUT campus
Walking around Mwanza
Our hostel
The space around Mikono Yetu
The garden at the hostel

One thought on “The Ethics of Taking Pictures

  1. Amara

    Although I will never truly understand your predicament, on a tiny level I can somewhat understand. When travelling you never want to single out people or yourself by taking pictures especially of unknown people.

    We are so focused as a society on capturing every moment especially when that moment is has an expiry date. However I think the most enriching experiences can occur when your are in the moment and not behind a lens.

    I hope you are able to find a comfortable medium, where you have pictures to remind you of Mwanza but experiences to define it.


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