You whip your camera out.
Take a photo.
Looking at the camera – the photo looks fine!
But there’s a slight issue with it.
You take another just in case.
As you do, someone runs up to you yelling in Spanish…
“JOVEN!! JOVEN!!! NO SE PUEDE TOMAR FOTOS AQUÍ!!! SE COBRA 20 DOLARES!!!”
You are confused.
With no Spanish skills, you don’t understand the fat lady at 4 foot tall standing in front of you with a smirk on her face.
A smirk that yells “jejejejejeje un extranjero que me debe dineeeeeroooooo”
Her hands rubbing together with dollar signs in her eyes as she thinks to herself…
“GRINGO!!! GRINGO!! DAME DINERO GRINGO!!! MI CAJERO AUTOMATICO FAVORITO!!!”
Given your lack of Spanish though, you remain confused but choose to walk away from her with the photo in hand.
Given your 5 days of being in Latin America, you assume that she must be begging for money and leave her alone.
She quickly yells at you “JOVEN!! JOVEN!!” with a retard look on her face and shocked that her 72 IQ plan for a quick buck didn’t work.
A phone in hand with Google Translate ready if needed but useless now as the gringo continues on filming now with his iphone for his Youtube videos.
Title of his next video – “5 reasons why people in Bolivia are SO NICE.”
Little did the gringo know that someone was demanding money to take a photo.
And, in all seriousness, that’s not completely unusual in Latin America.
I’ve had that experience several times down here.
Not necessarily from folks demanding money but those who simply have issues with photos being taken at all.
It’s a small subject regarding life in Latin America but one you might want to know about.
As most foreigners down here eventually take photos of something, it might be the case that you find yourself in a situation where photo taking is frowned upon or seen as an opportunity to take money from a naïve foreigner new to Latin America like yourself.
Let’s break down some scenarios I have seen where photo taking can somehow be controversial in Latin America.
“GRINGO!!! GRINGO!! DAME DINERO GRINGO!!”
The first reason is already evident in the example above.
It’s a fake example in theory because I never had that specific example with those specific details happen to me.
But I have had situations that very much resembled the above.
The actual details being the following.
For one, I remember being in Guatemala doing a hike with a group of other gringos and a tour guide.
I decided to take a photo of some mountain way in the distance.
Immediately, some kid SPRINTED to be in front of the photo somewhere in the distance between me and the mountain.
Then the kid began yelling at me something to the effect of “HEY!! YOU TOOK A PHOTO OF ME!! GIVE ME MONEY FOR THE PHOTO!!”
I walked away ignoring the kid.
No money was given.
The kid stopped harassing me.
Similarly, I remember being in Bolivia on some island on Lake Titicaca where I took a photo of the lake below me.
Nobody was in the photo.
There was some alpaca in the photo beneath me.
Similarly, some fat middle aged lady yelled at me about how “YOU GOT TO GIVE MONEY TO TAKE PHOTOS!!!”
I took the photo anyway, ignored her and kept on walking.
Now, in my experience, I’ve noticed this behavior more commonly among rural indigenous folks in Latin America that lives in areas with tourists stopping by.
Be it Guatemala or Bolivia for example.
For some reason, folks in those areas tend to be more demanding of money for photos.
Even if the photos don’t involve them!
Like teaching your kid to sprint in front of photos to demand money.
Reminds me of poor parents in Latin America who rent out babies that don’t belong to them to help them earn more money begging in the streets as I wrote about here.
Just another example of folks down here using kids for cash.
Next, we have religious considerations.
This isn’t too common in Latin America to be an issue but it can happen.
Some gringo wondering around and decides to take a photo of something of religious importance.
A local takes issue.
Not because said local wants money but simply finds it disrespectful for a gringo to take a photo of something religious.
For example, when I lived closer to the Basilica of Mexico City, I saw someone try to take a photo of the inside of a church in that area.
Now plenty of people were taking photos of everything in the area!
It wasn’t prohibited.
I even took photos as you can see here.
Either way, some local got annoyed at another local (seemingly not a gringo) for whipping out the camera inside a church.
The annoyance coming from how “this place is sacred. Don’t take photos.”
So keep in mind that sometimes you might be offending the religious beliefs of someone by taking a photo.
No Flash Allowed
This is a simple one that you see in any part of the world.
Where you visit a museum or something and they tell you that taking photos is allowed but you can’t use flash.
For example, when I went to the Zoo of Bosque de Aragon in Mexico City as you can read here, I was told not to use flash when taking photos of the snakes.
And I didn’t use flash.
It’s an obvious point anyway regarding how taking photos can cause problems so let’s move on.
Don’t Piss Off the Feminists
As I wrote here, I stumbled across a feminist protest in Mexico City not too long ago.
I didn’t intend to witness the protest as I was only in the area looking to buy something but found the store I was looking for to be closed due to the mentioned protest.
So I decided to watch the protest in action.
As I was taking photos, some chick tried snatching the phone out of my hand.
I initially thought in the moment that she tried to steal my phone and I pushed her.
Had a cop warn me afterwards to not take photos as “it could cause violence” despite literally dozens of people taking photos.
Either way, feminists in Mexico City are VERY sensitive to photo taking.
For example, if you go to Metro Insurgentes, that area used to not be a feminist area when I began living here around 2017.
However, starting a few years ago, they got rid of some of the homeless folks camping in the area and a little feminist market is now outside the metro.
They have multiple warnings spray painted on the walls outside against taking photos.
Over my years here, I’ve actually noticed feminists taking up space in quite a few metro stations to have their own markets.
On top of my head, they exist in Metro El Rosario and Metro CU at the very least.
And, equally so, they hate photo taking.
From what I can imagine, it’s likely because they want to protect their privacy and not have their faces shown on social media.
Which is a bit odd because they seemingly permit women to take photos and post them on social media.
You can find photos of their behavior on social media like Twitter.
So they actually aren’t stopping anyone who is opposed to their movement from seeing their faces online.
Especially when you consider how mainstream media companies film these events also for millions to see.
Regardless, this reason against photo taking isn’t uncommon among left leaning social media types.
Left Leaning Social Activists Against Photos
I’m sure there are right wing leaning activists who hate photos also.
I can only say from experience that, at least in this article I wrote anyway, they seem more open to photos.
But I can’t speak for all activists on the right wing in Latin America.
It’s only been my limited experience that they have less fear of photo taking.
I’ll leave it at that for those to contemplate whatever the reasons are.
Nonetheless, I have noticed other social movements like those in the Zapatista movement in Chiapas to have issues with photos too.
I visited the movement as you can see here.
Among other social movements on the left.
Not much else to say though outside of, from my impression, activists (and especially those on the left) are simply concerned for their privacy and safety and hate photos.
So, in the case you are someone taking photos of life down here, just know you might run into trouble when taking photos of someone politically active.
“Poor People Are Like Zoo Animals”
I get why some folks might want to see life in the favelas of Rio.
Or some poor area of Latin America.
Just to see what it’s like.
Of course, there’s a certain degree of respect and caution that you need to give when visiting areas like that.
Caution when it comes to your security and not doing retarded shit.
And respect when it comes to not treating or portraying the locals in the area like zoo animals.
When I visited a favela in São Paulo of Brazil years ago as you can see here, there was another guy in the group with me that crossed a line with a local.
Some Canadian guy named John who took a photo of some random buildings.
In doing so, there was an old skinny dude who happened to walk in front of the photo some feet away and noticed that John took a photo of him.
The old man didn’t like that.
Now John wasn’t necessarily trying to paint the poor people in the area like zoo animals.
He was just taking a few photos.
Still, the old man didn’t want to be in the photo and demanded that he delete it.
The translator in the group (our guide) told John what the issue was and the photo was deleted without issue.
Funny enough, John said something soon after to the effect of “just taking photos to show life here.”
Being fair, John probably was slightly taken aback by how aggressive the old dude got very quickly but it wasn’t much of an issue as it was resolved quickly.
And that was that.
Still, while John wasn’t really being an ass that day purposefully, some folks can naturally be sensitive to photos being taken of them in any part of the world (intentionally or not).
And some Latin Americans are especially sensitive to whenever Youtube content creators post videos of favelas and poor area in Latin America as many might feel that “poverty tourism” and showing their areas to be like zoos is insensitive.
Videos like you can see here.
Personally, I don’t think all of these videos are bad.
Not even the one shown above is bad in my opinion.
But some folks in Latin America disagree and think aren't in good taste usually.
It just depends on how they are done though in my opinion.
Not all are done in bad taste.
So I’ll leave it at that.
Taking Photos of Crime Heavy Areas
This point kinda mixes in well with the last point and it's also obvious so I won't go into it much.
But for those gringos who like going to more dangerous areas, sometimes taking a photo can be tempting but you also might be accidentally taking a picture of gang members who are into selling drugs.
As I wrote here, I ended up taking a picture of some street in Mexico City where gang members hang to sell drugs and whatever else they do.
Suffice to say, they didn't like that.
I got to keep the photos though.
Still, it doesn't need more explanation than that.
Taking pictures of areas controlled by gangs involved in illegal shit might raise some eyebrows.
It's a "sensitive issue."
Which brings us to the next point.
Sensitive Issues to Document
This one I’ll keep simple because it’s obvious.
Sometimes a foreigner might find themselves taking a photo or documenting something sensitive in Latin America intentionally or unintentionally.
For example, there was a documentary I saw on Youtube months ago by some mainstream news company from the US about the drug war in Mexico.
The documentary touched on how it was very sensitive to take any documentation of the conflict and the danger surrounding their behavior.
If I can find the video, I’ll post it here.
You can find another video that shows the sensitivity of documenting the drug war here.
Which, as a side point, that video only shows the danger that exists for foreign journalists but not for local Mexican ones that actually get killed quite often in Mexico for doing their job.
On top of that, some gringos find themselves accidently filming or taking a photo of something that could be sensitive also.
Not necessarily drug related though.
For example, in the last few days, I’ve been looking for an apartment to move to in Mexico City.
I was in Pedregal de Santo Domingo checking out places there as I miss the area and have been thinking of moving back.
While looking for an apartment, I found myself lost and decided to take a photo to send to the landlord.
While I normally don’t have my phone on me outside in public nor any data, I did have my cheaper phone on me with some data.
As I took the photo to show the landlord where I was, I was confronted by someone.
Not aggressively though.
Long story short – there was some group of people doing some religious event some odd feet away from me and they thought I was taking a photo of their event.
I explained that I was simply lost and reaching out for help from the landlord.
They understood but wanted the photo deleted.
Photo was deleted without issue.
I took another photo without them in the background and moved on.
I guess you could argue also this is an example of “religious” issues with taking photos but also one where a gringo is taking a photo of something sensitive without realizing the context.
And that context could be many things – something related to drugs, crime, religious importance, etc.
No Documenting Corruption
Finally, there’s a funny video here of a Mexican documenting some armed security doing illegal shit in Mexico City.
And he was told “not to take photos or record” what was happening.
In the same way some cops might not like being recorded if they are doing illegal shit (though, to be fair, some of those who document cops are just trying to harass them for no reason).
Still, it’s something that is similar to the “sensitive” point above but I feel like making it a stand alone point.
It doesn’t need much explanation.
You are simply taking a photo of someone doing something illegal when they don’t want you documenting it.
The Youtube channel of the video above has other videos where people confront the guy for recording shit that folks shouldn’t be doing in Mexico City.
I haven’t had much experience with this personally given I don’t document illegal shit ever.
However, as I write for this blog, I have had one incident kinda like this.
As I wrote here, it’s not permitted in Mexico to “reserve” spaces in the street for parking by placing random objects on the side of the road to reserve said spaces.
Yet people do it.
Not too long ago about a month or so ago, I decided to take a photo of some large rocks placed in the side of the street for that purpose so I can document it on this blog.
I already documented it once before but felt like showing another example of this behavior you see across the city.
Consequently, some middle aged gentleman confronted me about it.
Asked why I was taking a photo.
I pretended to not speak Spanish.
Away I went.
So this could be an issue for you too but not likely if you don’t feel like documenting prohibited shit in Latin America.
No Photos in the Bar!
Ever since the Covid shit started, you’ve had random bars be forced to close in Mexico City for periods of time.
However, many bars and clubs have gone around that regulation by bribing authorities to let them stay open past certain hours.
As I wrote here, I spent my last birthday with a Mexican chick going to said bar and even took a photo inside.
However, from what I have been told, it’s frowned upon to do so.
For example, when I lived by Copilco area of Mexico City, there was a bar below me to the side of my apartment building that was always open during late hours.
They would take the phones of customers coming in during the “after hours” when they technically were not allowed to be open but were because they bribed the right folks.
Still, they didn’t want to take any risk of controversy so the rule was to leave the phones by the door to ensure that nothing went viral about them breaking regulations.
Not all bars – like the one I went to on my birthday – take those precautions.
But some have.
So if you are planning on going around the regulations of whatever in Latin America (covid related or not), obviously photo taking might be frowned upon.
Anything to Add?
Anyway, that’s all I got to say.
In most circumstances, it’s OK to take photos in Latin America.
It’s only on a few occasions where it might be an issue.
Another example that comes to mind but I don’t feel like making it a separate section is how, like in other parts of the world, a museum or any touristy spot might choose to have a separate cost for those wishing to take photos.
From what I know, supposedly the Frida Museum in Mexico City is like that.
Anyway, if you have any other examples or comments, drop them below in the comment section.
If anything comes to mind, I might add more to this article later.
And thanks for reading!
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