Saturday, July 20, 2013

Please Do Not Take Pictures of the Children [Guest Post]

We had just sat down at one of the tables outside of a restaurant for lunch. This was in Essaouira, and the restaurant was one where we had eaten a year prior and we were happy to see that it was still open (we heard a rumor back in December that it would be closing) because it had great burgers and desserts. Another foreign couple, older than us, was also sitting outside. I noticed the gent of the couple videotaping the neighborhood fountain across the plaza, then sat down with my back to him.

It is summer, so there are even more kids hanging out on the streets with unstructured time (which is not necessarily a bad thing) than usual. A group of maybe eight boys, ranging from probably about seven to twelve, was sitting on some stairs about three yards away. 

A few minutes later, I looked up from my menu and saw the woman of the older couple standing by the boys. She had her camera out. I did not see her taking any pictures, but it seems safe to assume she had, because a few of the boys started getting agitated and it looked like one of them tried to grab her camera or hit it away.

Any worthwhile Morocco guidebook will tell you not to take pictures of people without first asking their permission. And if you think about it, that's really common sense and not just in Morocco. I am not talking about a crowd scene or a photo of a landscape or something where someone happens to be walking across in the distance, but one wouldn't, or at least typically shouldn't, walk up to some stranger in the US and start taking portraits of him or her (or his or her kids). The same holds true here, the people aren't animals in the zoo, so we shouldn't photograph them without asking.

So the woman returned to her table and the situation seemed to be quieting down. Then another patron of the restaurant, whom I had not previously noticed, started talking. He began telling the woman that it's rude to take pictures of people without asking, but somehow or other within 90 seconds he was shouting, cursing, and storming out of the restaurant.We thought he was disturbed but later learned from the restaurant staff that the guy is an American who has lived in Essaouira for years and visits the restaurant from time to time (though I guess this does not preclude his being disturbed). 

You can use your imagination about what the guy said, suffice to say it involved abundant use of the letter F accompanied by corresponding finger-raising. He seemed unaware of the irony of going on a profanity filled tirade about a point of etiquette. He also set a rather poor example for the kids, because as soon as his fingers started flying they picked it up and began cursing too. Now I'm not so naïve as to think that they had never heard foul language or seen raised fingers before, but they were not doing anything until he did.

The woman seemed pretty upset and shaken up. She and her companion even asked the restaurant staff for directions to the nearest police station, though what they thought the police could or would do is beyond me. I felt bad for the woman; what she did was inappropriate but seemed more based on ignorance than malevolence. The other patron's response was completely out of line (at one point it looked like he was actually about to get hit by a Moroccan bystander) and precipitated the boys' bad behavior. As for the boys, one might be tempted to pigeonhole them as looking for trouble or up to no good, but an interesting conclusion to this whole thing, which you can interpret however you will, was that a few minutes after the kids were following the vulgar example of the other patron, they actually came up to Lauren and me to apologize to us.

Moral of the story: Don't take pictures of people without asking for permission.

1 comment:

  1. I did take a couple of pictures of kids from far away when we visited you, but the only time I photographed anyone close-up without explicitly asking permission was the group of teens who were already interviewing and video'ing *us*, so I felt like it was okay.
    Some people are much more daring when it comes to "street photography", which I sometimes see as intrusive (I rarely take close-up pics of anyone I don't know, and I would generally ask permission no matter what country we were in).
    On the other hand, I have taken pictures of people in what I consider to be a very crowded and public place (e.g., fairgrounds) and had some negative responses. Arguably, no one in any country wants strangers photographing their children, but because people in the UK tend to be especially preoccupied with ideas about pedophiles, it has entered the culture in unexpected ways.
    Not to say we shouldn't worry about people exploiting children, but it can border on the ridiculous, particularly when you consider the totally inappropriate subject matter to which people willingly or passively expose their kids (e.g., video games like "Call of Duty", or sexualized clothing and music).
    But I does seem like the strangest part of your story was the man in the restaurant who responded so aggressively. Really not helpful to anyone concerned!