When and Where You Can Photograph My Dumb White Face: A Guide

This was around photo number 43.

Very occasionally famous.

As a flagrantly white person living and occasionally roaming around Asia, I sometimes stick out. Whether through the rarity of the wild honky or through lingering effects of the many times with which my ancestors brutally wedged their big noses into other places, or some mixture of the two, I tend to be an object of occasional fascination and consternation. Why does my hair curl just so? Why is my skin so pale, and why does it ripen like a fresh tomato after exposure to a moderate amount of healthy, life-sustaining sunshine? How is it possible that a human being with my configuration of body parts, complexion, hair texture, and eye shape can manage to breathe, eat, speak other languages, walk in a straight line, and perform simple arithmetic? Truly, it is a mystery for the ages.

As a walking enigma, I am sometimes photographed. I have grown mostly at peace with this practice, as I’ve also taken photos of other humans before, for reasons just as nebulous. (When asked, I will usually tell the person, “Because you look really cool in front of this thing!” This usually does not clarify the situation). But sometimes I am also photographed against my will, captured in perpetuity in a desktop folder entitled White People Doin’ Things. Sometimes people jam a camera right up in my grille, camera-lens-to-eyeball-lens, and they breathe heavily as they seal my face into their personal digital memory banks without my consent.

As such, I present a helpful guide to all the times when it is perfectly cool to take my photo, for whatever weird, crazy reason you might want it.

Take my photo…

When I am doing something interesting. This is rare, of course, but if I should happen to be doing a festive dance or making a big ass of myself, it is of course prime time to snap a photo. That precarious dive over the falls outside of Luang Prabang? The foreigners are doing unnecessarily dangerous stunts and might cut themselves to ribbons? Fair game. If I’m going to die, I’d at least like it to be filmed for posterity.

When I am standing around with little else to do. I have walked enough tourist streets to know that it is prime interview-a-foreigner or Snapshot with the Hideous Laowai time, and I wouldn’t be sauntering around if I wasn’t happy to grin and pose.

When I am wearing a hilarious costume. I dress up for Halloween to be a large, obnoxious distraction. Your photographs only feed my ego.

When I ask you for a photo and you say yes. Turnabout is fair play. If I get to have my weird, needless photo of you, I am more than happy to return the favour and give you the keepsake of my visage.

When I smile and say yes when you ask, “May I take your photo?”

Don’t take my photo…

When I am eating. My mouth is full of goo and I am near sharp implements. Choose wisely.

When I am at work. This usually means I am hanging around small children, whom I also don’t want you to photograph, you big weird creep. As this has happened on several field trips with my class of young charges, I have grown increasingly willing to publicly harrumph and tell people to scram. Everyone wants a picture of the whitey and all the weird foreign children, but it is amazing how fast they will vamoose if you start asking them in English what they are doing.

When I am scowling. I know not all facial expressions are universal, but the nature of the “I will eat your soul and rip your spleen from your thorax” frown is pretty world-wide.

When I am sunburned, shellacked in sweat, in some state of undress, or any time you would probably not want your own photo taken. In other words, don’t take pictures of me on the beach. That’s weird.

Without asking me first. I am pretty loose on the parameters of “ask.” While dressed as a spectacular bottle of soju and wandering around the park in Hongdae, Seoul, my friends and I accidentally set up a photobooth with our costumes. Many came over and asked us in various levels of English flourish, but even a gentle shake of a camera, an upturned shoulder, a “Hey, this cool?” quirk of an eyebrow is enough. If someone is polite enough to ask for permission, I generally always grant it.

If you take my photo anyway…

Expect a grimace in your picture, a grimace that follows you down the street as you walk away wondering why I am watching you, a grimace that haunts your dreams at night.



6 thoughts on “When and Where You Can Photograph My Dumb White Face: A Guide

  1. Most of these rules are also the ones I follow for other humans. I generally don’t take pictures of people while they’re working, I don’t take pictures of people on the beach, I don’t take pictures of people praying or doing religious-type stuff. Humanity is sometimes pretty simple.

  2. Reminds me of a post on Metropolitician where he was talking about photography ethics, specifically in the context of taking photos of prostitutes in a red light district. He commented that one photo that appeared, with faces clearly visible, included a sneer that was then used as propaganda against the situation the young woman was in – though he felt that she was “obviously” sneering because of the audacity of the photographer. Which is a fair interpretation, especially since they were violating your own “don’t photograph people when they’re at work” rule.

  3. Hhaaha… This is great! When I was volunteering in Kenya, people would shout after me wherever I went because of my stupid ugly foreign WHITE face. Mzungu!! They would shout, It was a real strange experience that became a normal part of my day, a feeling of being recognized , followed and photographed… erghh.. Would NOT like being famous.

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