Photographer Interviews

You’re Not from Around Here: Photographing Others’ Cultures with Sensitivity and Respect

July 3, 2017

© Tasneem Alsultan

A Syrian girl walks through a graveyard in Jordan. Alsultan wins the trust of her subjects by being transparent about her own beliefs and intentions. "At least [the subjects] feel like you’re someone who is not trying to manipulate their story,” she says.

Photojournalists have long worked from the perspective of outsiders, telling stories about cultures and sub-cultures other than their own. However, subjects want and expect more say in how the media represents them. For the July “Photography and Ethics Issue” of PDN, we spoke with four photographers who explain how they’re negotiating the ethically sensitive territory of photographing cultures other than their own with dignity, respect and an avoidance of stereotypes:

Eirik Johnson on Capturing Portraits of the Homeless
Johnson discusses his process for gaining access to a homeless community in Seattle, and then earning the trust of his subjects for an assignment from Pacific Standard magazine.

Danielle Villasana on Capturing Portraits of Transgender Women
For a project documenting transgender women in Lima, Peru, Danielle Villasana explains why, as an outsider, she chose to focus on the complexities of gender identity.

Tasneem Alsultan on Photographing Everyday Life in Saudi Arabia
Tasneem Alsultan would have gotten “much more recognition” had she documented victimized women in Saudi Arabia, she says, “But I didn’t want that because it’s not the truth.”

Jason Houston on Working with First Nations Communities
After documenting conservation efforts for NGOs, Houston says he “realized the stories had to be much more about people who live” in the communities rather than just the environment.