Can you trust strangers to snap your photo? Maybe

By Keith Pereña

After a recent trip, a colleague came up and asked me how I was able to have photos of myself taken. I responded in a tone that would be best described as enthusiasm laced with a little bit of “everybody does this, right?” I simply told him that I asked passers-by to snap my photo and devote at least five minutes of their time to some stranger from another land. The reply I got was of shock. “But what if they ran off with your phone?”

Good question. It indeed coursed through my head as I asked a Russian man to take a photo from behind my back as I faced the main façade of the VDNKh Park in Moscow.

As I turned my back to my phone, my head was filled with every desire to ruin my vision of an image just so I could check that the guy hasn’t ran off with my device yet. Contrary to what my mind was saying, he in fact took a photo of me so good and true to my vision that I posted it on my Instagram handle.

But enough story time, travelling alone — while being extremely rewarding — also presents a couple of logistical problems. On top of all the translating and getting lost and finding a landmark, you are now faced with the problem of how you are going to have your photo taken from certain spots.

There’s always, the ‘just take a selfie’ route but for some travellers, we don’t want our faces to occupy roughly 80 per cent of the screen. A selfie is just that — a photo of yourself. You are the main focus, not the place you spent hours finding on a map written in a language you don’t understand. The other route is of course asking a stranger to do it for you. With Google Translate handy, you approach a stranger that you have selected, show them your translation of “can you take my photo” and put two forms of trust on them: One, that they will take a great shot of you, and, two, that they don’t run off with your phone/camera.

In my experience, this act showcases the seeming lack of trust we have for strangers. After all, our parents once told us not to talk to them, right? But when you’re travelling, that rule doesn’t really stick. Dare I say, travelling is one big test of trust and how much of it we could give to someone who is ‘different’ from us. During my trip, I realised that we humans are eager to help one another — you just have to ask nicely. Bonus points if you can make the request in the local language.

Sometimes the photo isn’t exactly what we wanted but despite not getting the snap, what we do get is the opportunity to interact with people. It is a novelty that is lost in our days of technology. Asking a stranger to take a photo of you gives you a chance to converse with them, even for a little bit. And maybe even return the favour if they switch the tables and ask you to snap their picture.

So, should you ask strangers to take your photo? I’d say yes, but remember that it is a trust process. It’s a calculated risk and there is no way around the seeping paranoia that they may run away. The best we can do is weather the thought and believe in the human capability of kindness. We must also remember that not everyone is out to mess with us. Sure, there are some undesirable characters but that rings true for every community — even our very own. Instead of fearing what is unknown, we must embrace it and try to understand it. Who knows? You might make a new friend and even have a nice, Instagram-worthy photo to boot.

Keith is more comfortable being behind the camera rather than in front of it

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