February 23, 2009 in Features

Miss Manners: Ask permission to take photo

Judith Martin
 

Dear Miss Manners: A group with whom I was hiking in Peru passed close to a woman and a boy working the land on a picturesque hillside. Each of my fellow tourists photographed them as they walked by. The people at work did not visibly react.

In the towns, one sees local country people who come in their traditional clothing, with their animals, solely to make money posing for photographs, which is perhaps why the farmer photographs made me uncomfortable. It seemed to me that the people should have been offered payment for their participation, or at least asked permission.

I didn’t do anything, but the interaction seemed a bit insulting to the people at work, treating them as part of the scenery. Should I have apologized to them or offered them some payment?

Gentle Reader: You are to be commended on your ability to distinguish human beings from scenery.

Miss Manners means that sincerely. As you noticed, an amazing number of people are unable to make this leap.

The universal rule is that you must ask people’s permission before photographing them. And anyone contemplating saying yes would be wise to ask what use will be made of the pictures.

So unless the Peruvians were shown as merely small figures in a landscape, your fellow tourists were at best callous.

However commendable your desire to correct this, you must be cautious about your own manners. It is now hard for Americans to imagine that being offered money could be construed as an insult, but in the America of a century ago, it was, and there are places where dignity is still considered more important.

Had your companions asked in advance, they would have given their subjects the chance to say that they charged. After the fact, you could have provided the opening by saying, “Thank you, I hope we didn’t disturb you.”

Choking on the “we,” when you dearly hoped to disassociate yourself from the group? It’s to protect you from yet another rudeness, that of chastising them before others. Sorry.


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