Camera Shy?

Jordan Ricker - Senegal

February 26, 2013

When I first got to site in Mboro, almost five months ago now, my 12-year old sister was totally OK with me taking pictures of her. She even took my iPad and took pictures of herself with it. However, as I’ve spent more time here, and as she had her 12th birthday in October, she has become more and more reluctant to see herself shown on film.

Which is why it was very interesting for me to pick Mame Bousso as the subject of my A Day in the Life documentary video.

A Day in the Life, which is sponsored by Nike’s Girl Effect, is about what happens in a normal day for a girl (or boy) in the countries that Global Citizen Year is operating in. It’s about looking at the comparison between the lives of children in the developing world and children in the United States. The Girl Effect is specifically focused on how crucial different turning points are in a young girl’s life for her and for her country. They have chosen age 12 as the most important point, because normally it’s at age 12 that girls in developing countries either continue or stop going to school.

If they continue, then they have the chance to finish middle and high school, and go on to university. That, in turn, doubles the number of educated workers in the country, because they are tapping into their most powerful resource – the other half of their population.  This is very beneficial on an individual as well as a national level. However, if the girl stops going to school at this point, or even before the age of 12, then it is VERY unlikely that she will ever even finish high school. It also drastically increases the chance that she will become pregnant before the age of 16 and/or that she will be in a child marriage before she is 18. Neither of these things is beneficial for the individual and even more detrimental for the country as a whole.

This is why the Girl Effect has asked us, the Fellows of Global Citizen Year, to tape short films about A Day in the Life of a girl in a developing country. To show a wider audience the realities of life in a country that is very far from their own.

So I picked Mame Bousso, as she is a girl that recently turned 12, and a member of my host family, which provides me with her context and personal story. However, she now does not want any pictures taken of her, and doesn’t want her face to be shown on film. So, how was I going to film a video about her daily life if I couldn’t get a single shot of her face?

To answer this question, I’m actually going to fast-forward to after the video was already completed.

At TS2 (Training Seminar Two, our mid-year retreat), all the Fellows across the country got together to share our videos and discuss the process of our Day in the Life projects.  One person’s experience really stuck out to me. Claire was actually not able to finish the project because each time she took out her camera for pictures or to take a video her family got very stiff and unauthentic and within 5 minutes or less would ask her to put the camera away again. How can you possibly make a video without any footage? Claire talked about her experience trying to make the video and our group got into a discussion about the differences between taking out a camera in the United States and taking out a camera here.

Taking out a camera in the U.S. means that you want to take a photo souvenir of whatever is going on at the time. It means that you deem the moment special enough that you want to remember it later. When you take out a camera in the U.S. most people smile and ask for a copy of the picture, or more likely, ask you to tag them in it on Facebook. The assumptions and connotations around a camera in Senegal are very different.

If you take out your camera in Senegal, immediately everyone notices. Very, very few people have cameras here. If they do, it’s probably on their cell phone and isn’t high quality. Tourists and people with money have cameras – the Senegalese don’t. Taking out a camera here automatically singles you out as VERY different. Some people love it when you then take a picture of them, some people absolutely abhor it. Reactions are mixed to the photos themselves, but everybody will zero in on the person with the camera. So trying to film or take pictures here is an entirely different matter than in the United States. You can’t take the same principles and logic and just expect them to work. They can’t and don’t. You are in a different environment and with different people – the rules change.

So I decided to interview Mame Bousso. I filmed her from different angles and asked her questions about her life, but always made sure to not show her face.  I did my best to make a video that was honest about her life as well as culturally sensitive. It was harder than it would have been if I could have had her face in the shot, but it was worth it because I got to hear the story she was telling.

All of this makes me realize even more how important the Girl Effect and A Day in the Life project is, because it leads to better cultural understanding. Only through better cultural understanding can any real and successful cooperation between peoples of different cultures be reached. And that successful cooperation lets us all live in harmony with our neighbors of different races, religions, cultures, and languages. We still have a long way to go, but the steps are there. Just start walking.

Jordan Ricker