Life Frames

Truly Welcome, Bangladesh

A photographer receives a warm and colorful welcome from Bangladeshi youth.

Nikon D800 camera, 24mm lens, 1/125th at f5.6, 500 ISO
(Photo: ©2014 Jon Warren/World Vision)

What right do we have to do photography, especially of people?

Lately it seems like everyone I travel with is a photographer. If they don’t have an SLR, they have phones. Something or someone interesting? Proof that you were there? Click, click, click. Even local people are filming on their phones and, horror of horrors, they do selfies, too.

For the first time in my career, I’ve found myself putting my camera away sometimes. I need to remember why I took up a camera in the first place and my unique role as a photographer for World Vision.

If I claim to be an advocacy photographer, a loudspeaker for people who need their voice amplified, I first need to be invited into their lives. I need to hear their concerns, see what is lovely about them, and then find the right moment to share with others through my camera.

Along with some World Vision supporters, I visited youth groups in Bangladesh. These teenagers live in a society that pushes them toward early marriage and often relegates girls to a lower status. The World Vision youth clubs promote decency, tolerance, and respect, and train the kids to speak boldly as leaders with goals for each other and their community.

Instead of waiting for us inside the building where they gather, the young people from one group ran out as soon as we arrived and showered us with handfuls of flower petals. I had a 24mm lens on my Nikon D800, set to aperture priority automatic so I could react quickly. I was happy to trust my camera’s meter in the soft evening light, getting off a few frames before the flowers were all gone.

Nothing is more wonderful than feeling a resounding “welcome!” when first approaching a story. The youth in these clubs wanted us to hear their stories, understand their concerns, and share their pride in their accomplishments. They wanted me to do photography because the pictures were for them.

Once inside, my job became more difficult. Dingy interiors and PowerPoint presentations rarely lend themselves to good images. I’m thankful for modern cameras with high ISO capability, autofocus, and stabilized lenses. 

But Bangladesh is a spectacularly diverse and colorful place, so I had many more opportunities to fill in the story. 

When you do photography on behalf of others, make sure you’re first invited in. And if you keep their best interests at heart, you’ll tell the story they want to tell—with an obligation to do it well.

+ Jon Warren is a photojournalist with World Vision in the U.S.

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