The truck driver, a lovely Haitian lady, smiled and waved. I took her picture and she smiled and waved some more. But some of the fieldworkers made it clear they didn’t want their pictures taken. And that was OK, too.
I asked Glenn Cox if I could take pictures of the mule train at work harvesting his sweet corn crop in south Georgia. Glenn told me before we got to the field that a Haitian crew was working it, and some of the crew might not want video taken of them. I was just taking still images that day but that was sure to get lost in translation. We’d see how it went.
Sweet corn harvest is very labor intensive. The mule train is a large, ingeniously made contraption mechanically pushed over the top of the corn as dozens or more workers -- either riding on it or walking along side it -- pick the corn, sort it, pack it in crates and load the crates on a truck, which in this case was being used to push the train through the field.
It’s a fascinating harvesting procedure.
On this particular day, a Haitian crew of about 18 worked the mule train. It’s hot, tough work but they get paid well and that’s why they were there.
I went to Haiti soon after a devastating earthquake rocked its capital city a few years ago. The devastation was reported worldwide. While there, I took hundreds of pictures. I always asked or gestured for approval before taking a direct picture of somebody. (I was advised to do as much.) Almost all of the Haitians were happy to have their pictures taken, especially the children, and they often asked to see the pictures on the camera’s view screen.
But some Haitians met me with a serious stare or turned away quickly – letting me quickly know snapshots of them were off limits.
Why? It’s the religious or a cultural belief that a photograph or video taken of them can endanger their souls or bring bad omens, either by the hands of the person who takes the picture or by upsetting a balance between body and soul. I’m no expert on the matter but that’s the gist. Or the reason could be as simple as they just don’t want their pictures taken, as many non-Haitians make clear from time to time, too.
The farm reporters I know make an effort to be respectful when taking pictures. They ask, and don’t ambush. Farming, thank goodness, is no paparazzi-drawing industry.
“OK, that’s enough. Some of them are saying they don’t want the pictures,” said Glenn, about five minutes into us being there. “Let’s go and let’em be.”
We did leave. I didn’t take a direct picture of anybody who made it clear they didn’t want a picture taken; at least I don’t think I did. I’m not in the business of jeopardizing souls when I can help it.