Responsible Tourism Photography in Oaxaca, Mexico
Using the Web to Link Locals and
|Oaxaca City - Internet workshop for Teotitlan artisans
Luis Lazo Mendoza and Ron Mader.
How do you explain the terms "Internet," "real-time
communication," or "Web 3.0" to residents of rural
communities who do not have their own telephone and who have never
set foot in a cybercafe? How do they interpret the jargon? Most
importantly, are they able to find ways to use these services
for their own benefit?
Mind you, these terms are not the first thing I talk about, but sometimes
these techno terms come up in conversation. Frankly, it is hard enough for me
to keep up with the relentless avalanche of new widgets and gizmos.
I moved to Oaxaca City in the spring of 2001. My Mexico
guidebook had recently been published and I was eager to prepare the second
edition in a place that I thought deserved a book of its own. Like many long-time
visitors, I was already a fan of the local cuisine and folk art. I promptly
started to create features such as the directory of where to buy crafts in Oaxaca City and where to eat.
Conversing with locals, I explained as best I could how these web pages worked
and did not, and I was not accepting payment for inclusion.
Motivating entrepreneurs, activists, or government officials to develop
their own web presence has changed quite a bit during the ensuing ten years. What
was an exclusive dialogue among the digerati is now more open and accessible to all.
There was at least one previous attempt in Oaxaca to introduce web-based
marketing and sales to artisans and it failed miserably. Back in 2002 the
consultant—on a trip around the world—had just a few days to run his
workshop with locals. Among the challenges—working with the local people, some of
whom did not have bank accounts or phones. The focus on e-commerce would be
understandable in communities with more developed infrastructure, but it was
interpreted as either sheer nonsense or not seen as critical among locals.
The critical step that had been missed was that to in order to build capacity it is sometimes necessary to build capacity. What was missing was e-culture and getting locals motivated to share part of their culture online. The first step was simply
to take fear out of the equation when using the Web and then building toward
specific skills such as creating a photo gallery of their tours or crafts.
Most interest in using the Web remained dormant until late 2006, when
social unrest led to the collapse of tourism in Oaxaca. For the first time, artisans started requesting Internet classes.
My approach was to demystify the Internet by using certain public and free channels,
starting with Flickr, a popular photography website.
I explained that there are a number of services that could be seen as an
extension of the tools in an ordinary toolbox. We held internet classes in the way that cooking is taught in Oaxaca—by allowing the participants to learn about
the Web by using the Web.
Much of my teaching has been conducted simply by sitting down with a few
friends and showing them first-hand how to edit Flickr or post a message
By teaching artisans to learn at their own pace, we have seen slow and steady progress. Sessions need to be coordinated. The Internet is becoming more
accepted as two things happen:
- Greater publicity and awareness of the Internet.
- Many of the kids are growing up.
We are seeing the rise of “digital natives,” particularly those in their late teens who are equally adept with a century-old loom and yesterday's cell phone. Veronica, seen on
the cover of this webzine, is one of the under 20 crowd whose abilities
have soared the past three years. A proficient photographer, she contributes
regularly to her family's Flickr account.
In 2006 we saw the start of wireless Internet in local hotels, and in the following two
years in a smattering of cafes and restaurants. Now wireless connectivity has been extended to free use in public parks. From no phone to cell phone and from
wired to wireless, this has been a communication revolution in terms of
technology. That said, to bring further depth to content and conversation, we need to think outside the box... literally.
How Visitors to Oaxaca Can Assist Local
How can visitors truly assist Oaxacans? I would call your attention to the word “acompanamiento”—which means simply “accompanying.” When we have the
opportunity to hang out with Oaxacans, visit the markets on their terms, we
have a tremendous opportunity of seeing through their eyes. Much of this can
only be arranged on the spot and only if we are ready to listen.
Since not everyone can “hang out” with the locals we have created some fun
events, including public Fotosafaris not in a market, but rather the beautiful Llano Park. The park is two blocks long and boasts several dozen species of trees, not to
mention some notable monuments. By asking locals and visitors to come
together in a public park and take photos of trees, we have created a unique
teaching event that allows participants to improve their photography skills while
learning the names of a few of the trees. Each walk is different by virtue of
the diversity of participants. Groups have ranged from two to 20. We ask participants to upload their favorites to a Flickr Group we call Arboles de Oaxaca (Oaxaca Trees).
|Fotosafari in Oaxaca.
There's another way to participate. For those coming to Oaxaca, visit the
Flickr galleries of locals, indexed on the Oaxaca Wiki. If you're registered on Flickr, then
add a star and “favorite” the pictures of your choice. These friends are
using the Web today to tell their own stories, to let you know a bit about
their own history and culture. Most do not speak English, so looking at these
pictures can be a great introduction.
You are also invited to print select portraits on Flickr (printing out the
whole page) from my collection of Oaxaca markets and
give these to the local people during your visit. In so doing, you are putting a new spin on the traditional “take only photographs” mantra by giving the photos back to those seen in the picture.
If you take your own photos during your trip, be sure to respectfully ask permission
before taking a portrait. Also, consider uploading some of your favorites
to a group on Flickr. If that sounds too complicated, you can also use the “old school” method of printing out the pictures and giving them back in