I do not know if everyone has read or remembers my earlier blog on the same topic. Those who have not or need to be refreshed can read it here - Model Releases in Poverty - 1
. Recently I encountered a new experience in my usual foray into getting model releases from poor people. It was a huge fight, a lot of strategy, problems and what not, but finally I could overcome the obstacles and get it done.
Recently I was continuously observing this group of poor people whose job is to either labor for a day's work at some construction site or make and sell handmade toys for children. I never approached them for a long long time even though I had approached their neighbours quite early for photographing them. The only reason, I thought they are illiterate. But this is the reason why I am writing another blog about how to get model releases from poor people. The most important thing I came to know this time was that never to take things for granted. I considered that they are illiterate and never asked them, this was a mistake that caused a huge delay in getting their pictures.
Anywayz, getting back to the whole episode. I was coming back from a meeting and dunno why I stopped by these people. All of them suddenly looking at me at the same time made me wonder.... Whom should I talk to? I thought it would be obvious that some gesture would make the smartest person among them, who is kind of their head, a leader would get up to talk to me. I just made a gesture by my hand to the whole crowd... kinda... 'come here i wanna talk to you'. To my surprise 2 men got up hastily and started coming towards me excitedly. This confused me. One was very old and one was very young, so my obvious reaction was that the older one must be their leader and the younger one must be handling their business because of knowing a little bit of reading and writing. But again... the same lesson... never take things for granted. The younger one was those kinda enthu guys who wants to be in spotlight he didn't know about reading or writing at all. The old man on the other hand did have some basic education so he could read and write, more fortunately he was also the head of that whole huge group.
In front of me I saw 20 poor sick children. Their faces smudged with dust and mucus dropping from their nose. A few females around doing some household chores and these men having a break from their work. I immediately told the leader that I am a photographer and I would love to click the children. I told him as usual (Read my earlier blog on Model Releases in Poverty - 1
to get some reference) about me paying him some money for allowing me to click and sell the pictures of the children. He was too kind of a person. He said to me, "Sir. You can just click them and do whatever you want. I will sign the documents you need me to sign. We do not want money, it will be a good change for us and our children from our daily routine". I was touched by the simplicity of his words. But I explained him that if I made money out of the poor faces of the children maybe I will get sick one day. I had to fire some more philosophy to convince him that getting paid for something someone else is earning from is not a crime. Finally he was ok with it. As usual I fixed up the time and the rate of Rs. 50 ($1) per person. I told him I will come back at a certain time and he should be present with everyone else. More importantly I told him, not to clean up or do anything unusual. I want to click the children as they are now. He was fine.
I needed to collect a good amount of 1000 Rupees ($20 sounds less in dollars but still its a good amount) considering that I had to click some 20 children. I also needed a witness who would be a creative assistance in such a shoot. Thankfully my old friend was available. I had hurriedly had lunch packed the camera and rushed to the spot. The gang was all ready and excited. But then suddenly something technical popped into my head that made me worry. This was a huge gang. How could this single man sign model releases as a guardian or parent for them all. I suddenly realised that I will have to cut down the number of models to whatever was his family. There was no other person in that whole scene who was literate. Fortunately I was in luck. After preliminary enquiries I understood that he was not the head of the group, but this was one huge family. HE was the grandfather. He had 4 children, and these kids were all his grandchildren. Wow!!!!! I was happy again. He was legally a guardian and I was safe. After signing the model releases I took a step ahead this time in keeping myself legally safe. I also got a document signed from him saying that he has been paid 1000 rupees as the legal guardian of the 20 children. I got it signed in front of the parents and children so there were no issues of money distribution amongst them later. I explained the parents that they were supposed to get 50 rupees for each of their child who was clicked. Formalities done.
Had a great time shooting the kids who were in less awe of the camera and more happy to see their pictures on the LCD. While going to the place I had taken a handful of candies with me to give the children after the shoot was over. Because the cash would eventually be used by parents and the children would have nothing apart from a different experience of being clicked. Some of them were crying in between the shoots... at that time.. the candy helped. The candy also helped to catch the expression of the non-crying children who thought that the crying children were luckier as they got chocolates for crying. Two of them joined the game of crying thinking that its the only way to get chocolates..hehe. But finally we distributed them to all. The other guy who had got up when I first met them assisted well in the whole shoot. I paid him 50 rupees seperately for helping me. When we were about to leave, my friend suddenly spotted a watermelon stall on the other side of the road and said it would be great to give them watermelon to eat. I asked myself.. why not click them eating watermelon. So the shoot continued. These were the best shots that came up. Kids with their mouths digging in the watermelon slices. Those pictures are to be uploaded and approved yet, so keep a check on my portfolio to check them out. I will remind about them in my next blog as well.
I hope this blog has helped other contributors well for understanding how to get model releases from the worst situations. The bottomline from all this story was - Don't assume... Open your mouth and talk. Ask people... if they say no... thats fine.. but dont let go a treasure just taking things for granted!
Photo credits: Nikhil Gangavane.