To ‘Other’ someone, also known as ‘Othering’, is to view or treat a person/a group of people as different from and alien to oneself. Despite the insurgence of individuals educating themselves on such terms and ‘humbly’ deciding to post their ‘unlearning’ process on their social media pages for all to see, one cannot help but wonder whether this action is a deliberate attack against someone or an unconscious bias that many inherently have within them.
I will not seek to answer this question in this article, but instead, want to encourage those reading to critically and as much as possible, objectively analyse and question their own biases and patterns of behaviour. Othering occurs in a number of different situations, however, the type I am discussing is in relation to photography. The act of a tourist travelling to a land considered foreign by them, and feeling the need to capture the ‘foreigners’ (despite it being the ‘foreigners’ land) and then bringing it back with them and displaying it for all to see, spectate, ponder, question and at times criticise the individuals in the images, labelling them as different, less than, and overall, not as educated as the initial tourist, is an unfortunate case that perpetuates itself continually. The desire to capture an individual or group of people that are considered ‘different’ to oneself, eventually translating to ‘peculiar’ may have the cover up of ‘appreciating’ ones differences, but in truth, is another way to box someone in, subjecting them to a rather limiting label.
Instagram photography enthusiasts to travel photographers, this constant desire and need to capture the ‘beauty’ of another person and their countries with the aim of bringing about ‘awareness’ and ‘appreciation’, is a practice that is becoming more and more problematic. Despite its innocent nature, the implications of doing such is becoming more damaging as time passes by. Does this mean that you should hang up your camera and no longer take holiday snaps on your travels or adventures? No, certainly not, but it is a call to action to be more critical and analytical on why you are doing what you are doing. What are your intentions with those photos and how do you wish to circulate them? How do you view those that you are photographing and how do you want others to view them? Answering these questions in a frank manner will give you the answer and eventually influence how you take photos.
A common misconception that needs to be addressed is the belief that only ‘white people’ Other people. This is completely false, Othering can take place regardless of your race, the simple act of viewing someone as different and subjecting them to your preconceived notions of them, is Othering. I have seen African Photographers Other those who are also African and have agreed to be photographed by them. This can be done by a privileged individual deciding to take a ‘tour’ in a slum a few hours away from their neighbourhood and then circulating it amongst their privileged friends either online or through print with the sole aim of, being the ‘voice of the voiceless’, and every other stereotypical nonsense that usually comes as a justification for doing something unethical.
This mechanical act, which may come automatically for some, needs to be examined. Before being quick to pull out your smartphone, DSLR or whatever medium you are using to take photos of someone, attempt to be quicker in evaluating your reasons behind doing such and the ramifications that may arise after the act has been done. Only by practicing this conscious effort to be ethical storytellers, will we start to see a decrease in Othering and an increase in meaningful images that don't just ‘highlight’ or ‘appreciate’ an individual, but actually brings about change in their lives and the lives of those who are viewing their images.