Part 1: Lesson in humility, learned on a photo shoot
My Peruvian driver had pulled over to indulge my irresistible urge to photograph the near-vertical gardens of Andean farmers in the shadow of El Huascarán. Lost behind my viewfinder, the sound of hooves bearing down on me gave me just enough time to step precariously near the road’s cliff-side edge making way for a family of mountain people on donkeys.
They drove their little herd of goats to pasture past our high-tech, low-emissions automobile on the freshly paved asphalt road. I was caught for a moment in a time warp, past superimposed on present. Instinctively snapping off a few shots, I lowered the camera, seized with guilt for presenting myself as some tourist. These were people, not landscapes, not objects. I hastily recapped my lens and lowered the camera behind me to my side, nodding at men in ponchos and limp, wide-brimmed hats.
I haven’t deleted the files, though. One of them in particular is my private reminder of the lesson. In spite of striking cultural differences, we are the same: doing our jobs, sustaining private lives. Against the backdrop of the majestic Andes Mountains and wearing the traditional knit-cap chullo of the mountain people with tasseled ear coverings, a young boy on a donkey is leading his father and uncles toward me, smiling for the camera, looking straight into my viewfinder. Behind him his father on his donkey is also looking straight into my eyes—not smiling. It shames me to see his scowl even today, rekindling my sensitivity.
I had at first thought the juxtaposition I encountered that day was something I had to go to a different country to see. Not so, as shortly thereafter, while driving across Minnesota to cover a story in Wisconsin, I saw a Mennonite buggy driven by a bonneted woman clop across the overpass of Interstate 90 I was about to pass under. It brought a wide smile to my face: We have our own overlapping cultures living side by side. I did not take her picture.
My awareness of our shared humanity doesn’t extend just to strikingly different cultures. None of us is ever merely an object to be captured and framed, posted around the Web to amuse someone’s friends. These are real people, doing real jobs, supporting real families, many of them carrying on a family line, a legacy, created and built upon by multiple generations.
I learned early in my tenure with Ellcom that the R in PR stands for “relationships”: our relationship with you, the relationships you have with your customers, and the relationships they have with the people they serve.
Every time I go into the field, is a practical application. I will get the job done, but respectfully, mindful of the carefully cultivated, continuously nurtured relationships that make it possible for me to be there in the first place.
Joe Bradfield is senior writer for Ellenbecker Communications.