you photo me?

Day 7: A Photograph of Something You Never Leave the Abode Without

When last I answered this prompt, there was no question in my mind as to what I could not exist without: chapstick. This addiction has not wavered, assuredly, and I’m still of the mind that should Blistex or ChapStick ever want a poster girl they need look no further than me.

But equal to my unhealthy adoration for lip balm is my love of photography and video. You might have surmised as much.

As an early birthday gift, my father helped me buy my new camera: an Olympus Pen. I’m absolutely in love with it for, while  I adored my Canon Vixia camcorder, having a camera that both takes HD video and has incredible photographic options (the depth of field!) is both lighter to carry around whilst trekking across East Africa and, well, just kicks ass.

While the photos I’ve been posting here predominantly have been reduced in both size and quality, there is a smattering of pictures in their original-ish state here on my facebook, should you care to have a glance-through.

In one of the pictures in the aforementioned album, there are three boys laughing at the lens. My attempts at subtle photography of the market were decidedly more apparent than I intended, so now whenever I’m shopping for beads or visiting Alice the Tailor (etc) a small crowd of children might gather, exclaiming “Photo me! You photo me?”

Happy to oblige (most of the time) I’ll take a few snapshots and show the kids the picture on the screen. This is what they seem to love best, because 9 times out of 10 they’ll laugh or shriek with delight, demanding more.

I’m not sure why this is- I infer that these kids don’t often own their own cameras and have joy in seeing their images in mine. But part of why I’ve tried to be especially cautious with my camera usage is because, perhaps more than anything else, I do not want to promote ‘poverty porn:’ images of pot-bellied children, shanty-towns, bare feet, and mothers without milk lacking in an explanation of their names or stories. Poverty porn is one of the cruelest, and unfortunately most effective, tools at painting AFRICA as a poor, struggling nation. Whoops, did I say Africa was a nation?

There is undeniably intense poverty across the continent just as there is in North America, or Europe, or anywhere else on the planet (save perhaps Antarctica…). In the Karamoja region, where I now reside, there is some of the most intense poverty I’ve ever encountered. A few days ago a mama came into the office where we work. She walked in and before we could say a word, she knelt down on the ground, shaking our hands in a gesture of reverence. In Ngkaramajong, she explained her hunger and how she could no longer produce milk for her baby. It was the portrait of what you might read in a sappy, Poisonwood Bible Family blog. But it was real- she was breathing, living, right in front of me. Asking if I could help with her hunger.

So, yes, there is some truth in the poverty porn myth. But as I’ve mentioned before in my blog about Kampala, this is not all of Uganda- or even all of Karamoja. There are some incredibly intelligent, innovative, and informed people on the compound where we live. The ‘unsung heroes,’ the people who are working for the real change to lasting Peace, the less glamorous than activists like Archbishop Tutu* and not acknowledged with prizes or fancy write-ups for news networks, these are all part of reality here. And snapping a shot of starving children does nothing to unpack the enormous and complex issue of poverty, nor does it (in my humble opinion) do much for ending hunger.

Thus I committed myself before departure to practicing ethical and realistic photography, to the best of my ability. When children ask for me to take their pictures I’m happy to do so. But I also want to communicate to all of you, dear readers, that there is so much more than the poverty porn pilfered in magazines and terrible infomercials.

Which is why I am hardly without my fifth limb, the Olympus Pen.

current jam: “july, july!” the decemberists

best thing in my life right now: giving haircuts!

last film: everything is illuminated (another favorite!)

fantas consumed: 8

*(not that I don’t absolutely adore the Archbishop- he make the top 5 list of people I’d like to encounter in my life and career)




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