I don’t often take pictures when I’m traveling. I find it takes me out of the moment. And if I’m with people, I’d rather be having fun than being behind a lens. That isn’t to say I’m trying be be in front of the lens either—I hate having my picture taken. But that’s another story or hypocrisy or whatever.
While I don’t take pictures when I’m traveling, I do travel with the purpose of making pictures. When I was in Ghana, I went to Cape Coast expressly to photograph the castles and beaches in that area. I just booked a tickets for two weeks in Ethiopia next month, and photography is going to be the main focus of my trip. It’ll be nice, traveling solo, able to take my time. I really hope I get some good stuff out of it. I’m going all-in on the tourist thing—I’m touring a country, and specifically the historical sites, to learn more and create art images. Sure, they will serve as reminders of my trip, but they won’t be create for that purpose.
Here in Tanzania, it’s a trickier balance. Most the time, I’m not a tourist: I go to work, I’m out in the evenings, I go to restaurants or for walks or stay home and do my laundry. My life is here. At times, I’ve traveled as a tourist in Tanzania: I went on safari to Ruaha National Park with my family and visited Stone Town on Zanzibar. Some buddies and I went to Kilwa Kisiwani and toured the ruins there. Tourism, plain and simple. And all these times, I brought my camera—it was expected. That’s what you do. Whether I was trying to mark proof of my experience (I wasn’t) or make compelling pictures (I was) didn’t come up. It was tourism in touristy areas, so who really cares what the camera is for.
But now, as my skill increases in photography and my desire to make new pictures expands, I want to move away from the ostensibly “important.” I want to explore the quotidian. To find the art in that. This is by no means a new sentiment—thousands of photographers have done so. But it takes on a weird flavor in the developing world. People in Tanzania are averse to cameras because of the booming tourist trade in their country. Often, people like the Maasai will ask for money if you take a picture with them in it. It makes sense, to be honest. And it raises interesting questions that inherently involve words like exotification.
I find myself in a weird place: an American, living in Dar es Salaam, wanting to photograph the people and places that make up my world. I’m not a tourist, but there’s no way a white guy with a camera in Dar isn’t a tourist. And in a way, I really am: sure, the stories and lives I want to document—to peer into—are average, and I would do the same with their equivalents in America, but I cannot deny that there is something more interesting about them because they are from a world so different from the one I lived in for so many years.
I haven’t come to a satisfying conclusion while thinking about this. I don’t have an answer that I like. I’m working on it, though. I guess it’s a moot point, though, because walking around Dar with a DSLR isn’t safe anyways, so my street photography dreams are a bit stymied. I’ve always been tempted to hire one of the Maasai security guards as a kind of bodyguard on his off day. Though I suppose I’ve got to come up with some good answers long before then.