Travel Photography and Respecting Other Cultures

Short post but I wanted to highlight this recent story where a Sri Lankan court has given suspended jail terms to three French tourists for “wounding the religious feelings of Buddhists by taking pictures deemed insulting”. Whilst what the tourists did – posing and pretending to kiss some of the Buddha statues – might not seem too bad, in Sri Lanka, where the majority of the population are Theravada Buddhist, mistreatment of Buddhist images and artefacts is strictly taboo.

One of the things I always mention when talking to people about travel photography is the need to respect the local culture, beliefs and people. For example, when taking a photo of someone, there are still many places where cameras are viewed as soul-stealing devices! It might be inappropriate in some countries for a male photographer to take a photo of a woman, and as in this case there may be religious or even political considerations.

Despite the apparent harshness of the punishment, none of the tourists will serve the jail time and it really just ended up being a wrist slap and a fine. However it does remind you to learn about the culture of a place before you go and to respect their beliefs, view and laws when there.