Last Saturday, I was in a government store trying on a saree. All of a sudden, there was a blonde woman in front of me who snapped a couple of pictures of me with a digital camera, smiled at me, and then continued taking more photos and even videos. In a few seconds, her friend and husband came by and watched me as well. Thoroughly confused, I asked this woman, in English of course, where she was from. She was from Germany, and I told her I was from the USA. She was clearly taken aback by my language and nationality, and now asked me if she could take my photo. I smiled and said yes.
This exchange was extremely strange. On the plus side, I finally had a stranger taking my picture, like many of my lighter-skinned, brighter-haired peers have had on this trip [I’m tan and brunette]. And, I am generally happy to help anybody, especially with something as simple as a cute saree pic. However, having someone take your picture without asking is disturbing. I believe that this lady did not ask for permission at first because she thought I was a local, and that there would be a big language barrier. In my opinion, mistaking me for a local is worse than if she knew she was taking pictures of another tourist. Tourists are ready for pictures. People in their own towns are minding their own business and living their daily lives. They should not be gawked at and taken photos of like a zoo animal.
Picture taking with permission is a totally different story. So please, to my fellow students, amateur and professional photographers, and Indian people alike, ask for permission before taking a photo. The language barrier can be a big deterrent to this, and I know it’s easy to think “it’s just one picture, and I’ll sneak it in quickly!” However, it is not so difficult to point at a camera and motion that you are going to take a picture, and make hand signals to question if that is okay. Most people know what a camera is, and if they don’t, it’s easy to show someone how it works without words. Even if you do not get the full message across, if they realize after the fact what you are doing, they will appreciate your attempt to ask for permission. You may lose out on some candid shots, but you will earn a lot more trust and respect from the people you are photographing.