About a month ago I was sitting in a Hong Kong hotel room sick as a dog with Walking Pneumonia.  I was watching television that afternoon when an interview with a European expat photographer living in Hong Kong was featured.  The photographer had made his living selling portraits of Hong Kong street life.  He began to elaborate on how his method was, like many street photographers, one of capturing life as it happened as naturally as possible.  “Awesome, I’m all for that!” I thought to myself.  He continued on about  how he had developed a style where he only/exclusively/always shot from the hip as to not disturb what was playing out infront of him and to at all costs not let the subject know they had been photographed (even post sale).  The photographer said point blank that this was the best way to “engage the culture” and how he loved documenting the people of Hong Kong in this fashion as “one of their own“.  The expat photographer rambled on about how he is a naturally shy person but finds confidence to, again, engage the Hong Kong culture from behind the camera while not disturbing people.

This got me thinking about what do people really mean when they say they are “Engaging Culture”?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge advocate for street photography and photographing people naturally, but in this case and with this photographer it seemed very much like an avoidance of what engaging actually is defined as.  To hear him describe his work as something that actively “engaged the culture” seemed a far stretch from the extensive “do not disturb” methodology that he had fervently adopted.

What does engaging a culture look like? Is engaging a culture more than simply photographing it?  Does it even matter?  Should we engage culture?  Are their benefits?

I decided to throw these questions to my friends Matt Brandon and Craig Ferguson.  The result was a three part series that turned into much more than just discussing how we as photographers engage cultures and what the term means – but rather turned into an 80 minute discussion on what a photographers relationship to culture often looks like.

We hope you enjoy it.  And remember, Parts 2 & 3 will be posted Wednesday and Thursday of this week.


*If you have trouble playing the audio click here.

You can check out Both Matt and Craig’s websites by visiting the following links.

Matt Brandon – The Digital Trekker
Craig Ferguson – Craig Ferguson Images