The Cabbie Photo

This is among a large number of posts I’ve moved from a now defunct livejournal account. It was written in the summer of 2007 when I lived in Egypt.

I have been thinking about this photo in a hundred different ways. What does it say for someone like me to take a picture of the guy driving my cab, with a camera that cost more than he probably made in a month… maybe even many months, maybe even a year.

He knew I was taking the picture, but the relationship between us was clearly not fair. I had paid him for the ride, and I had asked him for permission, but still, I was the customer, and he was server.

When I was in the cab, I knew I was going to write about the ride, about our conversation, about his cough, and it felt strange not to show him. I guess I thought if I included a photo, then he would be more real, and not as much of a bit player in my Cairo adventure. But of course, he is still a bit player. Now he just has a face.

And thinking about this post got me thinking about vacation snapshots – mine and everyone else’s. They’re always all trees and monuments. If people are in them, it is the person’s friends and families. The people who live where we travel tend not to make the photos. I think this is because of a lot of reasons. We are more interested in ourselves and our own experience is the obvious one, but there’s many more…

We don’t want to put anyone out, or make anyone perform for us.

Holding the camera is powerful. You’re putting your privilege right in someone’s face.

But holding the camera also makes you vulnerable. You’re putting your status as a outsider right there in someone’s face as well, and not only are you an outside (which in my case is obvious from the suit, and the American accent) but you are also identifying yourself as someone with expensive equipment that can easily be taken.

Even writing like this, and thinking like this is a privilege few people have. Odds are good my cabbie was illiterate. Most poor citizens of Cairo are. Am I just adding fucked-up-ness on top of fucked-up-ness by spending all this time navel gazing about it? I don’t know.

I wonder whether or not I should have taken this photo. One moment I think I should take more, of all the cabbies that drive me. Then I think that’s just another silly idea for rich kids with digital cameras. I don’t know, really, what to do.

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