The chanting was just eerie. These little girls, just babies really, dressed up in ornate costumes in 104 degree heat, sitting on the steps of the temple, chanting. “Take picture, give money. I have no money. One baht, two baht. I have no money. Take picture, give money.” All this in a sing-song voice, the phrasing perfectly spaced. The words meant nothing, it’s just a script they’ve been taught, memorized sounds. I know that tourists don’t mean any harm by it, but don’t they catch what they are doing when they take pictures of these little girls? They are allowing children to sell their own image. These girls are made objects, a part of the scenery.
You are sitting in a park. Someone walks up, snaps your picture, and walks away. As if you are a lovely tree, a flower maybe. Is that okay? Okay, what if they drop a five dollar bill after they take the picture? Is that okay? What if it happened again while you were drinking your Americano at Starbucks? This time a woman gives you a ten. At the grocery store a guy with a Nikon D70 gets a great shot of you buying Lucky Charms. He drops a twenty in the aisle. At this point you are a little conflicted. At first you were surprised, and pretty angry. What is wrong with people? You are not a monkey at the zoo. That’s how you felt at first. But that twenty came in handy as you checked out with your groceries. And the more it happens, the more it seems okay. Then you have a baby, and that’s where the real money comes in. People will pay bank to snap pictures of your kid. Even more so when you dress her up in a cute outfit and teach her to recite cute phrases.
Okay, I’m done. This analogy is more than falling apart. Here’s the summary: stop taking pictures of children have not interacted with, of people you do not know. They are humans, not objects. I can think of some other industries where teaching people to sell their own image has led to some pretty gross things, has turned people into objects. If you teach people that they are objects, they will find a way to sell themselves. So stop buying.
I'm not talking about snapping photos of little kids in Mexico who are clamoring to have their picture taken so they can look at the screen. Or taking a picture of the friendly street vendor in France who you've been practicing your language skills with. I'm talking about strangers, selling a little tiny piece of their dignity a thousand times a day.