Photographers, Can You Do Us Cross-Cultural Bloggers a Favor?

From a recent edition of the weekly web journal Brigada Today, I found out that there’s a photography conference, “Depth of Field,” coming up, February 7 and 8. It’s designed for pro photographers, but I’m thinking that means amateurs could learn even more from it. And it’s in New York, but the “Main Stage” and “Exposure Stage” presentations will be live streamed. (By the way, if you’re not familiar with Brigada, you might want to check it out. It’s a great place for receiving and sharing all things related to cross-cultural work.)

Why is a conference for photographers relevant to you, dear readers? Because I know some of you like to take photos, and some of you are rather good at it, too. And for those of you, I have a favor to ask. Could you help out us cross-cultural bloggers? It’s not easy finding good photos for the kind of topics that show up in our writing, and, frankly, it can end up adding a last level of stress before we hit the publish button. (Is it really what I’m looking for? Is it appropriate? Has it been used here before?!!)

Take, for instance, the picture at the top of this page. You may have noticed that it’s the same photo as the one I used for my post in July. Or you may just be thinking, “Ugh, another generic plane-wing-out-the-window shot.” Either way, it’s not ideal.

But that’s what we need, some “ideal” photos of, by, and for cross-cultural workers. You may already have your own ideas. If not, let me plant some seeds in the fertile field of your creativity. You’ll no doubt recognize some of these tried-and-true images, but I’m asking for an increase in quantity and quality: quantity, so that we don’t have to reuse the same photos again and again (see above), and quality, so that it doesn’t seem as if we’re using photos again and again (ditto). So when you read “more” below, think “more and better.”

Oh yeah, and free. Free, as in creative commons or public domain.

So more and better . . . and free.

For instance, there aren’t enough photos of world maps and globes. We need more photos of unique maps and globes, antique maps and globes, and maps and globes labeled in non-English languages.

We need more photos taken of the backs of people looking out over an ocean or a skyline or a city. We need a bigger collection of pictures, with older people and younger people, with people from a range of ethnicities, with more individuals and families and couples and groups, and with more ways to show emotions such as hope or longing or anxiety when you can’t see the subjects’ faces. (Yes, I’m asking for that creativity here.)

In general, we need a bunch of more interesting photos of people in all sorts of settings looking away from or walking away from the camera or simply with their faces hidden or out of frame. (It’s just often easier that way.)

We need more views of indistinct international cities, with non-English signage that’s been vetted for unsuitable advertisements or graffiti—cityscapes that vaguely remind us of areas in the world without identifying specific locales.

We need more photos depicting poverty, hunger, crisis, and the like, without exploiting individuals, making them no more than one-dimensional illustrations of their circumstances. (Oh, how my own past attempts have failed in this area.)

We need more photos with the people we’re serving, not just of the people we’re serving. And when we’re with them, we need to show that “we” are not always white, and “they” can be our partners, not just recipients of our help.

We need more photos that wouldn’t embarrass (or shame) the subjects if they saw themselves in the context of what we’re writing about.

We need more photos of people representing a myriad of cultures. And they need to represent those cultures in ways other than being dressed in the stereotypical garb that only outsiders think they always wear.

We need more photos of doors and windows from around the world, and people walking through doorways and looking through windows, sometimes looking through cracked or dirty windows or windows with raindrops on them.

We need more photos of paths, roads, highways, train tracks, long sets of stairs, rivers, and jet trails.

We need more photos of planes, trains, and automobiles . . . and boats.

We need more photos of sunrises and sunsets, over the ocean, over cities, over mountain ranges, and over grassy fields.

We need more photos of single trees on the horizon and single flowers growing out of the cracks in sidewalks.

We need more photos of arrows pointing in all sorts of directions.

We need variations of the two-or-more hands of differing pigments clasped in friendship.

We need more photos of praying hands, working hands, and helping hands . . . and of feet (you know, how-beautiful-on-the-mountains-are-the-feet-of-those-who-bring-good-news feet).

We need more photos of open Bibles, coffee cups, and passports, and open Bibles next to coffee cups and passports.

We need more photos of airports, airport signs, airport trollies, luggage, and seat-back trays. And we need those ever-elusive pics of the inside of a plane and the view through the window at the same time.

And jet wings, yes, we definitely need more photos of jet wings.

[photo: “Fight over Slovenia,” by (Mick Baker)rooster, used under a Creative Commons license]

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Craig Thompson

Craig and his wife, Karen, along with their five children, served as missionaries in Taipei, Taiwan, for ten years before returning to southwest Missouri. His experiences, as well as conversations with other cross-cultural workers, have made him more and more interested in member care and the process of transitioning between cultures. Craig blogs at ClearingCustoms.net.

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