Camera Shy

I will be the first to admit that I am camera shy when doing fieldwork. By camera shy, I don’t mean that I feel uncomfortable getting in front of a lens, but rather that I hesitate to pull out my camera when in a bazaar out of fear that it will make others feel on edge. I also prefer to blend in, to be unobtrusive. The way that I go about ethnography is by spending a lot of time milling about a place, then approaching people quietly to introduce myself and explain my project before inviting them to speak with me.

My looks help me do this pretty easily. I pass for a local Russian guy until I open my mouth. Even then, if my interlocutors are from a village or otherwise are not well-spoken in Russian I may still be mistaken for a guy from Bishkek. For people from the city that have been educated in Russian, my accent immediately marks me as a foreigner. Nevertheless, I feel more at ease when I bring little attention to myself, and I feel like it makes people more willing to share their stories with me.

For this reason, I usually don’t stop to take pictures of videos. There is also the habit in Central Asia of having posing in front of any open camera. This is quite nice under different circumstances, but when my goal is to be taken seriously and to show others that I take them seriously, hamming it up for a picture feels out of place. Such a scenario immediately positions our interpersonal understanding in an imbalanced way: outsider/insider, tourist/local, photographer/subject(object). It widens the space between us as individuals when I am trying to show that a deep mutual understanding and respect can be established.

For these reasons, I have not been uploading as many visuals to the blog. I realized yesterday that most people reading this may be unaware of what the bazaars I talk about look like. At this point, I am inured to the idea that the bazaars are exotic or unusual, and as such have lost some perspective of what it must be like for people interested in this topic who have not had the opportunity to visit Central Asia.

To that end, I am in the process of uploading a video that I took of a stroll through some of the alleyways of the Dordoi Bazaar in December. My camera shyness compelled me to keep the recorder next to my chest as a walked around, and that has resulted in a shakiness that obscures part of the video. Still, you should be able to get some idea of what it’s like to stroll through one of the bazaars where I do my research. You can see the endless series of stalls, set up in rows of shipping containers, selling everything from wigs to fur coats. You can see families with small children being dragged behind parents, and young workers horsing around. I filmed this in the early afternoon, when the bazaar is winding down for the day. In the morning, the crowds are too thick to be able to get any clear shots, unless I had held the recorder above all our heads, and made a spectacle of myself.

Another reason I have not uploaded video, is because of the low bandwidth available to me here. Even with a fast connection by local standards, this has taken 2.5 hours to upload. Enjoy, and excuse the bluriness.

This entry was posted in anthropology, Kyrgyzstan and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Camera Shy

  1. betty thomas says:

    You should get one of those 90 degree lenses for your camera. The friends I traveled with had one and it worked great because people weren’t aware of having photographs taken and so pictures didn’t look staged. I’m sure someone makes such a lens for video equipment (although probably not for a flip).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *