Friday, December 20, 2013

Portrait Equality: Give Photos, Don’t Just Take Them!

I heard about the Portrait Equality project through the e-newsletters I get from World Nomads.  (  It is joint collaboration and non-for-profit project that seeks to give people in the developing world and remote communities a family photograph, in places where owning a photograph would be rare.   

The motto of this program is “Give photos, don’t just take them”. 

Sujith at the Mirissa Fish Market
An instant camera is provided on loan to photographers travelling in remote countries so they are able to leave behind photographs with the people they meet along their travels.  When I heard about the program, I wrote to Alicia at World Nomads to say I was travelling through Sri Lanka to visit family and that I would love to be part of this program.  Alicia wrote back to say the cameras were already out on other missions but encouraged me to take and then share the photographs with the people I met in my travels. 

Portrait Equality was conceived by the Browns, when they were travelling through Papua New Guinea and started sharing photos they had taken on their instant camera with the people they had met.  The reaction to this gesture inspired them to start up this creative and
Sujith's Friend and Co-worker
worthwhile project.   See their website for more information.

As it turned out, during a recent trip to the south of Sri Lanka, I visited a fish market at Mirissa.  It was while I taking photographs of some of the fishermen at the port that I was asked if I could mail them copies of the photos.  Their faces lit up when I said of course I could.  I showed them the photos I had taken and had the same reaction that many travellers do, when they share the images they have taken on their digital displays.  Faces light up and many on-lookers gather round.  I have now developed these photographs and sent them on their way.  I hope it will be a nice Christmas surprise to the fisherman I met and photographed.  So many travellers take photographs but often forget to follow through on their well-intentioned promises to send pictures back.  However, this little gesture could mean a lot to someone who has never owned a picture of themselves. 

Since coming back, I also had the chance to take a family portrait of someone who has been with my mother for many years.  In Sri Lanka, it is common to have a domestic who will help with meal preparation.  They often stay in your home and go home to their own families (often in the more rural parts of the country) about once a month.  Leela has been with my mum since my dad passed away in 2009.  A few days ago, her daughter, son-in-law and two grand daughters came for a visit.  As it turned out, it was the little ones birthday and a special day for the whole family.  They were all dressed up in their Sunday best and their eyes lit up when I offered to take a family portrait.  I took a number of photos of the three generations of this family and have now framed a couple of them and made copies of the rest to give to Leela as a Christmas present.  I know it will be much appreciated. 

Leela with her daughter, grand daughters and son-in-law
Portrait equality is a wonderful concept and a wonderful way for travellers to give back a little something to the communities they visit and the people they meet.  In this digital age when we take photographs for granted and share them so easily with friends and family on websites, blogs and and forums such as Facebook, we rarely pause to think that there are still many people for whom this is still a luxury.  They have never owned a photograph to display proudly on their mantelpiece.  This Christmas, don’t just take photographs…give them too.

Sharing the photos with Sujith

"Give photos, don't just take them." Portrait Equality

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