Monday, November 02, 2009

Good or Bad?

I wrote this post a while back, but never published it. For a long time i have been debating how much photography and art can be used for real worthwhile good. This may sound surprising considering the nature of most of my blog. Anyway, the recent photography projects that i started have caused me to think about it again, and i think i'm actually going to stop taking photos. For a hundred and ten reasons.

One thing which profoundly affected my view on photography, and was the reason i refused to take a single photo for at least 2 or 3 years, was an article i read about a hill-tribe in Laos a number of years ago. They are called the Hmong people and are pictured above. They fought on the side of America in the Vietnam war and consequently ended up fighting against their own government. When the war was over they had to go in to hiding in the jungles because their own government started hunting them. At the time they expected America to help them, but America didn't; they were left in poor, basic conditions, always on the run.

The reason this relates to photography is because in order to write the article, some BBC journalists searched for the Hmong tribe, to photograph and find out about them. When they approached the tribe it was the first time the people had seen Westerners in 25 years. The tribe broke down and wept. They thought that the Westerners had finally come back to help them, to 'save' them and they wept tears of relief. Instead of 'saving' them from their terrible circumstances, the Westerners took photos of them and simply left them there.

I can't describe how upset and angry this makes me. Even now it makes me cry every time i think about it. It made me desperately never want to be someone who just takes photos and 'records' things, or even writes about things, but doesn't actually do something to help in a situation too. I know, in a sense, this is what i am doing even now, i am just 'writing' about it - i am being a hypocrite.

I remember around that time i watched a film too, in which there was a tidal wave which was sweeping over the earth. As the wave approached, there were people filming and trying to take photos, whilst people next to them were drowning. Although it was just a film, i felt like shouting 'You idiots, just help save the people, stop filming it.' 

I know things aren't black and white. I know photos can be used powerfully to inform and show people things they'd have never of otherwise seen. Ironically, i even know that if the photos of the Hmong tribe had never been taken, i would never have seen the expressions on their faces and never realised how deeply they wanted to be helped... ironically it is the photos themselves that made me feel upset and made me care for this tribe i've never met. However, despite the 'emotional affect' such photos can have on people, still how much does this really stem into good? How many thousands of photos have i seen and yet how little have i done in response to them? Do they really have any power?

I know that photos and art can be used for good. I would be ignorant to suggest otherwise. In what i've written i'm really not judging any artists or photographers, this is simply something i've been considering on a personal level. Who am i to know what is right for someone else?

The thing is, most things can be used positively and negatively.... a knife can be used to kill, or it can be used by a surgeon in an operation to heal..... I suppose what matters is the heart of the person doing it and their reasons.... and also getting the right balance between 'recording' things and actually helping.

I still feel none the wiser though. And still feel that, for me, taking photos right now is probably a waste of time. If i take photos of strangers i meet, but do nothing to help love them or serve them, then i am no different to the journalists who photographed the Hmong tribe. I don't want to be like that. I feel pretty much the same about writing too... even this post is stressing me out, i'm just rambling....


Anonymous said...

Hey lovely Bex! I have to disagree with your theory I'm afraid. If you only ever did stuff that made a difference you'd live your life always wanting more & being crushed when 'doing good' doesn't fix things. You could say that watching tv, writing, singing, eating chocolate, even having a shower etc. are things that you shouldn't do because they don't help anyone. It says in the Bible, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. I reckon that if your photo's are expressing something of your heart then it glorifies God. They can be fuel for prayer which is the most important thing in glorifying God so my argument is DON'T STOP TAKING PHOTO'S! Don't get me wrong I get where you're coming from, but although we're called to live out our faith in actions, I think prayer is even more important and God gives us gifts for reasons sometimes only he knows until he chooses to reveal them to us. Sorry I've ranted but I love your photo's! If God's said stop then stop but I'll be sad if you do! Love you! Deb xx

Becky said...

Thanks Debs. You make some very valid points.... and you are probably right. It is about doing everything to God's glory... and yeah, i spend just as much time doing other stuff which doesn't clearly help anyone. Even just now when i was walking my dog i kept seeing things i wanted to take photos of, and then i kept trying to tell myself that it was stupid and to ignore that desire... and then i realised that in doing that i was crushing the part of me that allowed what i see to move my heart... and that made me feel sad. To be honest, it probably isn't God telling me to stop, i have little discernment right now, but it's a pretty oppressive feeling that makes me think i should give up, and it's not the same kind of gentle convinction that you get from God... so it probably is just me, cos i'm feeling annoyed with how little i seem to do things that are of any worth. Anyway, thank you for the comment. I appreciate it greatly. Miss you xxx

Anette Acker said...

I agree with Deb. I don't think God wants you to stop taking pictures.

But God has definitely given you the love you have for those less fortunate, and he'll let you know how he wants to use that. You would never have gone to the suffering tribe just to take pictures.