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Paul Dymond / Alamy Stock Photo

Photographing Indigenous Culture

From television to corporate companies to the education sector, there is growing demand for authentic, honest content. Real people, doing real things, in real places.

Australia has recently started teaching their children more about Indigenous cultures. Children as young as nine are being taught about the thousands of First Australian people who live there – a topic that wouldn’t have been on the syllabus ten years ago. Because of this, there is a now demand for photos of these communities.

I spoke to our sales team in Australia who explained to me: “We have content on Alamy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, but the photos are taken from a tourist’s perspective which isn’t an honest representation of the culture, and not what our customers want.”

Publishers in the education sector are searching for photos which shows the true Australia. Photos which tell the honest story of Indigenous communities. Where they live. How they study. Their traditions.

If you’re planning to photograph Indigenous communities, you do need to be mindful and respectful when doing so. Furthermore, every community is different so you should check protocols first. To help with this, we’ve put together some guidance for you to consider and things you need to be aware of.

Be respectful

Honour the status of Elders and introduce yourself. It’s important to recognise Elders are highly respected within the community, so it’s courteous to speak to them first to ensure you’re not overstepping boundaries.

They may tell you about their culture and explain why you cannot take photos, or they may encourage you. It would also be respectful to ask how they would like to be referred to. Some terms that have been used in the past are now considered racist by the community.

Make time to get to know the people within the community and let them get to know you too. The elders will also help identify any sensitivities which you need to be aware of.

Be mindful of cultural laws

‘Sacred and secret’ refers to information and material that is restricted under cultural laws.

For example, in Anangu culture, it is considered degrading if images of their sacred sites are photographed, or if the Park is used to advertise products and services that do not promote the natural and cultural values of the Park.

Consider your location

You may find yourself in a location where you can’t take photos. If it’s a cultural site, check with the Land Council about gaining permission. There is a system in place designed to help protect the privacy of Indigenous communities, preserve their culture, safeguard the natural environment and cultural sites. Always check where you will be photographing in case you need a permit.

When photographing people from different backgrounds – whether it be religion, race, culture or gender – you need to be mindful of their feelings and beliefs, but also make sure you’re avoiding stereotypes when portraying them in photographs.

Challenge your own ideas of what you think someone is like, listen to their incredible stories and experiences, and learn from your encounter with them. Capture an authentic, honest representation encompassing exactly who they are.

We believe everyone deserves the right to be seen and their story heard, so if you’ve recently photographed or are planning to photograph any indigenous communities in Australia, we’d love to see the photos you’ve taken.

Shannon Dudley

Shannon graduated with a photography degree in 2017 and has since surrounded herself with all things creative. With a penchant for strong visuals and a powerful story, she aims to discover and talk to creative people in the community.

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