Taking Pictures with Poor Kids

I am kneeling down beside her. My tattooed forearm is turned towards the camera. Her drawing of my snake tattoo is positioned just right for a side-by-side comparison. She’s in her Sunday best. Her arms are interwoven behind her back. Her head is titled to the side. And, she holds an incredible smile.  It is one of the cutest pictures I have ever participated in. And, I felt this overwhelming urge to share it with others. So, I turned to Santiago (our Program Director in Honduras) and asked “When there’s a break in the lesson, can you ask her Mom if I can share this picture with my network?”

Smugly satisfied with the care I had taken to secure permission, I walked away visualizing the flood of likes and comments that were sure to follow. Thankfully, the values and ethos that guide the work my students and I do with our clients kicked in. And, so did the questions.

Can her mother really say “No” to your request?

I do not know. She is one of our clients, which places me in a position of relative power. And, I do not know her. Therefore, she has no reason to trust me. She has no reason to trust that I will not punish her if she were to deny my request. So, more than likely, she cannot.

Why did you have your picture taken with a child that you do not know anyway? Are you part of her family? Are you a trusted neighbor, teacher, coach, counselor, or religious leader?

No. She ran up to me. She gave me a wonderful gift. I was caught up in the moment.

Would you feel the same urge to share a picture of you with one of your son’s friends?

I don’t have any pictures like that.

Why not?

I don’t take pictures of myself with Dillon’s friends.

Why not?

I do not know them well enough. And, it is not appropriate behavior in my community.

If you had such a picture, would you want to share it with your network?

Probably not.

Why not?

I think many in my network would ask “Why is Shawn posting images of himself with kids that have no known direct relationship with him?”

If you did want to share such a picture, would you seek out permission from the child’s parents?

Yes, of course. But, I’m pretty sure my request would concern them. Hell, if another parent asked for my permission to post of picture of him and Dillon I would say “NO!” And, if he did post it without my permission, I’m pretty sure I would kick his ass and then call the authorities.

So, why do you feel like you can post this picture?

I do not know.

Is it a calculated choice?

What do you mean?

Does it have anything to do with power and privilege? Your son and his friends are privileged. The little girl in your picture is a child of poverty. It seems that you choose not to take and post pictures of you and your son’s friends (or any other child you do not know very well or have a direct relationship with) because of these things:

  1. You know someone (like yourself) is willing and able to vigorously defend the interests of a child of privilege. They would say “No.”
  2. Your culture actively protects the privacy and safety of children.
  3. You have internalized these cultural expectations. You know it is wrong to do this.
  4. Your network would most likely punish you if you posted a picture of you with such a child.



So, why do you think your network would find it permissible for you to post a picture of you with a child of poverty that you do not know or have a direct relationship with? Why is this behavior consider culturally acceptable? Why does it not concern most of you when you see a child of poverty in the arms of a man of privilege that she does not know? 

I do not know. I do not know. I do not know. I feel like I am going to vomit.

Why do you want to share the picture? Why do you want to override this child’s interests?


Thank you for being honest. So, why don’t you keep the picture to yourself. Share it with your loved ones if you must but off-line.


Shawn Humphrey, the Blue Collar Professor (www.shawnhumphrey.com)

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4 Responses to “Taking Pictures with Poor Kids

  • I really appreciate your honesty and rigorous self-reflection here. Thank you so much for the invitation to look into my own life and practice with this same discipline and love.

  • chris fitzpatrick
    7 years ago

    Do you see any difference between posting a picture of yourself with a poor child, and a picture of a poor child on their own?
    I have a fantastic photo of a beautiful teenage girl who was collecting shells with her two sisters and mother in the backwaters of Kerala, India. I was so excited to capture her image (and she was very happy for me to take the photo) and when I showed my fellow travellers, many suggested I should enter it in a competition, or send it to National Geographic, etc.
    I said it would be exploitation, and they seemed surprised by this opinion. But I did reconsider and thought that perhaps if I were to win some money in a competition with it, I could track her down and give it to her for education, but I decided I couldn’t publish her without her knowledge and permission.
    We all know the haunting image of the beautiful blue-eyed Indian girl from National Geographic, and I often wonder if she and all the other poor peoples who sell magazines have ever received remuneration or if their permission is granted.

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