The Gwangju Kimchi Festival is coming up next week, and I'm sort of obligated to attend. I'm not looking forward to it, mostly because I know I'll have cameras all up in my face as professional and amateur photographers alike will want to get some shots of goofy foreigners elbow-deep in kimchi. It's a kimchi festival, why is it so remarkable that we're eating kimchi? This past weekend I met a woman who was photographed shoving kimchi into another foreigner's mouth and doing other goofy things, and the photo was circulated around the news sites, and even turned up in my festival preview. When you search for "광주김치축제" on Naver her photo turns up at the top of the page. Out of all the thousands of pictures at kimchi festivals gone by, they chose that one. So I guess now you know who I'm talking about.
Although some enjoy the attention and consider it harmless, I know many foreigners despise having to ham it up for the cameras. I've written before about people and places using foreigners to add legitimacy and sophisitication (lol), whether it's white women in bikinis or big-nosed backpackers fawning over whichever old cultural material made in 2001 is on display at that particular event. I remember at last year's Chungjangno Festival a young man kept getting within a few feet of my face as I was looking at the photo gallery on display. Each time I turned to the side he moved, and when I looked back at the wall, he returned. I chased him a little bit and he told me it was for a school project. jafwauf38qj823. Many of us have stories like this. I was going to do something about this for the Korea Times, especially as it concerns privacy issues related to photographers and those who appear in photographs, but I couldn't link everything together coherently. Sound familiar? Other bloggers have touched on this a little more, and can better explain why the privacy rights don't extend to foreigners here, and why someone can unwittingly have themselves the face of a major tourist attraction.
Maybe I'm a mean guy, but I don't care to play the token foreigner in photo galleries, and don't oblige interviewers who try to take my picture without permission or who force themselves into my space. Who knows, maybe once in a blue moon a foreigner is photographed out in public not looking like a complete ass, or like a goofy muppet, but I don't like my chances.
Roboseyo also reminded me of a good point in his comment to this post: photographing random foreigners for the sake of photographing random foreigners. For example, a woman in Mokpo I know was on the ferry to Jeju and woke up to find a woman taking a photo of her sleeping. It's irritating, but I can't get too bent out of shape over that, because how many times have we all photographed a Korean doing something interesting, or strange, or wearing a ridiculous shirt?
On Dave's ESL Cafe today we've got another reason why it's good to just say no to being used for publicity. You never know where the photo will end up. I know several of my former coworkers have had their photos used on our hagwon's website. An old neighbor had his photo stuck on flyers for his hagwon and sent all through town. And I remember reading about one woman who walked into a subway station to find her face looking at her from a billboard advertising her school. Combine the need to use foreign faces to validate local products with the ubiquity of shoddy journalism, and the results can be awful:
I work at a small private University in Seoul. A few weeks ago, one of my former students came to me and asked if she could take photos of me in class. My gut feeling was to say "no". She said it was for the campus English rag, and that I would get to see it before it went to press. She was one of my better students, so I said "yes". Big mistake.
Fast forward to today. I pick up a copy of the rag, and there I am, sharing the cover with Christopher Paul Neil. They are implicitly comparing me to a pedophile in the mass media. The issue is all about migrant workers and visa issues. There is a hatchet job of a story on the inside about the CPN case, and some random interviews with my coworkers.
I complained to my department, so they hauled in the student editor of the paper. She apologized profusely and promised to withdraw all of the issues. When I left at 8 PM, students were still recollecting copies all over campus.
Anyway, the moral of the story is always say "no". Say no to anything in which you lose control of the process because there is an excellent chance you will be used to forward someone else's agenda. Even if you think it is no big deal, say no to ingrain the habit.
Disgusting. Apologies and withdrawls shouldn't cut it, as the student and the editor knew what they were doing, and I hope the guy follows up . . . somehow. I know from personal experience there's no interest in cases dealing with character defamation of foreigners, and nobody really willing to help, but I'd hate to see him just let this slide.