on exploitation and story

Last week we got to spend some time with Mark Regouby of TellTheirStory.org. We talked a lot about how to tell somebodies story and not exploit them. Mark works to connect people from the states to microfinance projects in the developing world. He also records and tells the stories of the people who are part of these projects. So, here is the question: how do you record and tell somebodies story and not exploit them? Especially when your organization (and livelihood) depend on somebody hearing the story and being compelled to some action. I’m not sure the answer…perhaps you just have to live with the tension of that.

Tonight I was out walking around taking a few pictures. As I was walking I noticed a homeless man sleeping. I must say, this might be the hardest picture i have ever taken:


It’s not even a great picture, but it took me a long time to decide to take it. I think there is an important story in this picture…a story about homelessness, hopelessness, perhaps something about economy, health care, family…despite that it does seem a bit exploitative. Did I just take it to satisfy my desire to take an interesting picture? Or to make a blog post about something I have been thinking about? I envy great street photographers who can take pictures of people and compel the viewer to consider how to react to the situation. Perhaps someday I will take a picture that does that…but i hope that I never lose sight of people, and never disrespect the story of the people in the picture.

what do you think? How do you take pictures of people, how do you tell the stories of people without turning them into mere subjects?

One Reply to “on exploitation and story”

  1. Ben,

    I think a first step to avoid exploitation is to be aware of and challenge our assumptions. Your observation is that the picture showed homelessness, hopelessness… it might very well show homelessness but if we assume the hopelessness then we are placing our interpretation of the events on the other person. If we do that we are only a step away from then trying to take charge of their life and we begin to cross the line. This person may be hopeless or he might see himself as free. Certainly, he looks uncomfortable but beyond that be careful of making assumptions. Hear the story first then decide what the situation is.


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