26 January 2012 by Chris Marais

Lay down a little something

Don’t give them money or stuff in return for their photographs, they say. It will spoil them.

I photographed this little roadside collective of musical Zulu kids sometime back in the ‘90s.

Although I was just passing through their village on the way to Kosi Bay, they darted in front of my bakkie and stopped me in my tracks – brave little bandits.

The extrovert of the gang brandished a massive old Spanish guitar and struck an Elvis pose – even though he wasn’t really large enough to pull it off.

We chatted, I took my photographs and then I rummaged through the vehicle for some Eet-Sum-Mor biscuits, a couple of warm Cokes and a melted Bar One chocolate to share with them.

Well, I say, this is Africa. There are many poor folks who, believe me, won’t be ‘spoilt’ by small gifts of sweeties, pens or notebooks.

In fact, before I began snapping away, I assured my impoverished models that I would be giving them ‘a little something’ for their troubles – and they were happy with that.

Now, if you consult your books on travel photography compiled by some of the big names in the business, you’ll see that my ‘grub for photos’ system of exchange is a big no-no.

‘Don’t give them money or stuff in return for their photographs,’ they say. ‘It will spoil them.’

You’re supposed to spend hours with your subjects, winning them over with your, ahem, winning ways. Convince them to pose for nothing, take your photographs and rush off and sell them to the travel media. That way, you preserve their dignity and the integrity of the encounter, they say.

Well, I say, this is Africa. There are many poor folks who, believe me, won’t be ‘spoilt’ by small gifts of sweeties, pens or notebooks.

I like the idea of ‘something for something’.

I also like the friendliness of the roadside people I meet once they know they’re going to be photographed and rewarded in some small way. The way I see it, this is African bartering at its best.

Category: Culture & History

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