Our Kelby World Wide Photowalk this year was amazing.  I was just about to post my pictures and say “Hey! We had a great time on our photo walk… here are some pictures!” …only because I’m tired and it’s 1:05am, but instead I’m going to breach another subject.  Why?  Well, this photo walk reminded me of something that has undoubtedly improved my photography.  Speaking the local language.

First, we did have a great photo walk at Kum Bum/Ta Er Monastery.  It had been about three years since I had been out to this particular monastery – needless to say I didn’t get the memo that it had changed from a relatively quite and important monastery into Disneyland.  It was insane.  I got there and there were Chinese tourists literally as far as the eye could see.

In avoidance of tourists, I ended up spending 2 hours with a bunch of Tibetans who were renovating several of the buildings at the monastery – where no one was supposed to be allowed in.  But here’s the thing, I could speak some of the local dialect (read: 6 sentences – very little).  I’m not talking about Tibetan or Chinese – I’m talking about what they speak. I asked in the local dialect about what they were doing and if I could come in and take a look.  They were so blown away that they let me just wander around — my own private personal tour of the innards of one of the most important temples at the monastery.  As a 6’5″ American photographer, the local language breaks the ice even if I can’t carry on a conversation in it.

Not speaking the local language is not a death sentence in this type of situation, but it continues to open opportunities for me and have seen it do the same for other photographers – I’m not breaking any new ground here.  People like to speak their mother tongue, right?  They are usually extremely proud of it – significant pieces of the culture live in the language and if you can manage to utter ANYTHING , the doors start flying open.  We are now free to interact however we can – it doesn’t just break the ice, it takes 100 pounds of C4 to it.

So what are the benefits?  The main benefits that continue to show themselves to me are as follows:

  • I get access to places I’m not generally allowed to go.
  • People literally and instantaniously brighten up and are incredibly surprised and happy to hear a foreigner speaking their language
  • The subjects are usually more excited to get their picture taken.

Heck, I could write an entire blog about the benefits.

With that, I leave this to you –  What are your struggles, experiences, and perceived benefits of language in photography?

(all the following shots are from this years WWPW)