Responsible Travel Photography
Using the Web to Link Locals and
Travelers in Oaxaca, Mexico
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
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
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 online.
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
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.
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).
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 person.