Photography In the Mayan World

I love taking photographs. In the Mayan highlands of Guatemala and Mexican state of Chiapas the opportunity to take an amazing photo is around every corner. The indigenous people here are beautiful, often friendly and have endured many social and economic hardships. One thing you can be sure of is MANY of them do not want some stranger taking their photograph. In some towns in Chiapas it is actually against the law to take photographs, if the locals catch you incarceration and heavy fines are very likely. In the highlands of Guatemala many people are concerned with child abductions and in towns like Todos Santos it could be worth your life to take pictures of children. Imagine if a Rolls Royce suddenly pulled up to your family BBQ then a bunch of overtly rich strangers got out and started taking pictures of your children or your spouse without asking. Now imagine you have concerns in the back of your head that these strangers are here stealing the souls of your loved ones. That puts you a little closer to understanding why snapping pictures of people you don’t know in a new place without permission is just a bad idea and actually quite rude.

Here’s some simple tips to help keep you out of trouble with your camera when you want to photograph people around the Mayan world.

  1. Ask Permission!  If you can’t speak the language pointing at your down-turned camera and then nodding, not pointing, at the person you want the picture of communicates your wishes quite clearly and respectfully.
  2. Do not point your camera at someone as part of your asking permission, this could be perceived as “stealing” a shot.
  3. In tourist heavy areas taking a shots of  large group scenes like the crowd at a market may be permissible, but even then I guarantee there will be some angry looks directed at your lens from within the crowd.
  4. In places you have been warned people do not like photos being taken, leave your camera in your pocket or bag and forget about it, enjoy the scenery and relax.
  5. If you promise you will get a copy of a photo to someone, do it. A promise easily forgotten to you or I could be a family heirloom never received and you have just taught some one that gringos with cameras lie.