Author at the Taj Mahal with Some New Friends
I’ve been traveling abroad for a year and haven’t seen my family for months, yet it seems like I’ve posed for more family photos than ever.
“How?” you might ask?
Well… excluding the family Christmas Card with my face Skyped in, my ‘family’ photos have been taken with other people’s families–Indian families, Thai families, Indonesian families. You name an Asian nationality and I probably have a family portrait. Not to mention the hundreds of shots with flirtatious youngsters, silly girls and enthusiastic old fellows.
Initially this phenomenon was amusing. While my friend and I scaled the stairs of Borobudur in Indonesia, we were accosted by a giggly group of school girls and asked for a photo. I thought it was just because my male companion was handsome, but soon, one photo turned into a photo shoot with every person in the place. By the end of the day, I found myself ducking behind ruins to catch a look at the temple without being pulled into a photograph.
Author at Borobodur
I suppose I was a little less surprised when the same thing continued to happen throughout Asia– at Bangkok’s Grand Palace, at Agra’s Taj Mahal, at the temples of Bagan in Myanmar. No matter how spectacular the background, it seemed like my American friends and I were the preferred subject of people’s photographs.
Author at Amber Fort
Closely zoomed shots of our faces cut off entire pillars or cropped out Buddha’s head or omitted the family’s youngest son. Arms were slung around our shoulders and handshakes were given simply for the photo opportunity. Within the snap of a shutter we had suddenly become the fictional “English friend” or “the Canadian girls that I hung out with” of the beholder for years to come.
I didn’t get it. Why would they want a picture of some random girls? Do they show to their friends? Frame them? Put them in family albums? Show their grandkids?
Today I was flipping through years of photos in my iPhoto library–through albums overflowing with memories of friends, places traveled and family gatherings. But then, there were also my “artsy photos”… photos of boys playing soccer in Ghana, the aged face of my fortune teller in Hong Kong, and fruit vendors dispensing mangoes in Jakarta. People going about their daily life and me capturing it with my DSLR to look at later on– in frames hanging on the walls to show my friends and grandkids (someday).
And for the first time, I realized how weird it must seem to the subjects of my photographs that I want a picture of them doing… well… nothing in particular.
After this realization, I don’t think I can resist it anymore. In fact, I think I owe it too all the photo happy tourists to offer up my smiling face for photos if they want it.
I guess I had it coming all along. So, here’s my travel photo pledge of good will: As long as I shoot, I consent to be shot. EVEN if it means I become the imaginary “American girlfriend” of a Punjabi man I hardly know.
Have any funny “family” photos from your trips abroad? Where were they? (Click here if you can’t see Facebook comments: Posing for Other People’s Family Photos)