Photographer's Note

Most travel photographers are likely to come across this dilemma sooner or later. Is it or is it not ethical to pay local people for photos…


Having taken this image, I went back to Lake Inle town, found a 10 dollar per night family guesthouse, left my bags and went exploring. And in the evening I did what all tourists do – I hired a boat with a driver and went on a tour around the lake.


Travel agent’s like using this type of photos in their advertising campaigns: a man sporting mustard-coloured trousers and a white shirt, holding a conical net and striking an improbable pose. Those images are so ubiquitous that we have been led to believe that this is what an average Burmese fisherman looks like.

In fact, Lake Inle fishermen present a much more humble look, not many of them own this type of nets and most of them are too busy earning their modest living to have time for acrobatics… However, there are three or four individuals who chose their trade to be posing for photos. They sit in their boats and wait for tourists to appear. Each of them is dressed in the same elegant way and holds the special props – not only the traditional net but also a dead fish or two (for those iconic portraits “fisherman and his catch of the day”). As soon as they spot the tour boats, they start posing and once the tourists have taken their photos the “fishermen” approach them for money.

I noticed that most tourists in other boats were as reluctant to pay as they had been, a few minutes earlier, eager to snap at these local actors. But I thought “why should a western reality TV star earn mega bucks for displaying their mediocre acting skills and these poor people get nothing for their skilful posing for most desired photos taken by these well-off visitors?”. And I reached for my purse…

…just to realise that I didn’t have any small change in the local currency…

So, to make the long story short… Following my (very modest indeed) generosity, I was invited to move to one of the “fisherman’s” boats and spent an enjoyable half an hour indulging in a one-to-one photo session, while the scrooge – I mean ethical – tourists in other boats looked on in envy, their lenses pointed at their feet…

So… to pay or not to pay? If the title of this upload made you think I’ll come up with an answer – please accept my apologies, I really don’t know. I shall leave it to your judgment – any opinions, criticism or approval, is, as always, welcome.

In WS a “real” Lake Inle fisherman going about his business.

Photo Information
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Additional Photos by Kasia Nowak (kasianowak) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 1692 W: 9 N: 3499] (17676)
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