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When Photography Becomes Dangerous

Posted by Marco Antonio Mendoza Wednesday, August 11, 2010

In the process of capturing great photos often the photographer will place himself in dangerous and compromising situations where common sense usually takes the back seat.  The more I continue to develop and improve my photography the stronger I feel a need to push myself and my work.  Each outing that I take here in Lima is another opportunity for me to evolve and at the same time I can't help but feel that this need is what will eventually lead to the lose/theft of my camera. 

Lima is a wonderful city full of life and diversity that is often unseen by those who travel here (not to mention many who have lived here all their lives), however like many large cities Lima can be a dangerous city for those who aren't careful.  Awareness is the name of the game when it comes to survival in this city that never sleeps and a shiny new DSLR can draw up a lot of attention if carelessly flaunted in the wrong neighborhood or street.  Just writing this I can't begin to tell you how many times I have barely escaped becoming another victim of the street, which was usually because I got caught up in the moment and in the desire to capture an image that is out of the ordinary.  Being aware of your surroundings is often more than enough to keep out of troublesome scenarios, but other times there are places within a city that an outsider just shouldn't venture into (a lesson I have yet to learn myself).  It's true that if you want to capture a photo that tells a strong and visually graphic story you often have to place yourself in harms way (this isn't true %100 of the time). 

When we visit a foreign city or country we often know the risks involved yet we tend to conduct our own form of risk analysis (usually one the spot) to determine whether or not the shot is worth the possible lose of our personal belongings, and physical well-being.  Many times we are able to get in, take the photo, and get out without too much trouble, but other times fate plays against us and we find ourselves in a situation that we can't bail out of.  I believe that the risk no matter where you decide to take photos will always be there and it's something inevitable that must be accepted in order to carry one. 

The buddy system doesn't just work in military squad formations, it can also be useful in urban and travel photography as well.  In certain situations the photography of a particular area is to risky or dangerous that another set of eyes is necessary to evade the several other pairs that seem to follow your every movement waiting for an opportunity to gather and strike.  I found myself in a highly risky situation not too long ago when I decided to go for a photowalk through the old forgotten district of Rímac (a district that is located just across from the city center, and separated by the Rímac river).  I was with Zdenka and we had been at the Plaza de Armas for the National Day of Pisco when we decided to go and visit Chabuca Grande and Puente Trujillo (just behind the Palacio de Gobierno).  While on the Trujillo bridge I got the idea to cross into Rímac since there was a street fair on the other side.  Once there we visited the many stands and stalls all while taking in the rustic and historic scenery of the Lima's original city center.  A district that once shined brightly now slowly wasting away in the cities ever-constant push forward into the 21st century.  As we continued to walk further along the street the itch to take photos was strong, even with Zdenka urging me not to.  A quick survey of the area confirmed that I was clear to take a fast sequence of photos (I should have taken a second look).  While walking back towards the bridge Zdenka pointed out that two separate men had be eyeballing us and in a flash decision we took refuge within a local supermarket.  Once inside we looked out at the band of thieves who had congregated in front of the only entrance (5 men in total).  Like a pack of wolves waiting for their prey to fall into their clutches we took the only action available to us and hired the assistance of an off-duty cop who was moonlighting as a security guard.  As we walked past the hungry band and into the security of a taxi cab a sigh of relief was felt by both of us as we just barely managed to escape what can only be speculated as a number of bad endings.  I can easily say that Zdenka was not happy but she managed to overlook her anger and take comfort in our successful evasion. 

While that moment still sends shivers down my spine it hasn't kept me from picking up my camera and heading out onto the streets, yet these days I try to be more aware of my surroundings. 


  1. Devan Says:
  2. As sad as this is, it is hardly surprising. The streets of Lima are pretty much as tough as it gets. I, too, had a close call when out photographing in the city, around the area flanking the Calle Capón.

  3. GeekStars Says:
  4. I have to say this was an fascinating read. I love Lima and its quirks but I needed to read your article as its bought me back down to reality.

    I just stumbled across your site whilst planning a second trip to Peru to set up a small film summer camp in the outskirts of Lima. Working with youth living in shanty-towns.

    I will look at your site in further detail at a later date. However if your interested in my project please contact me.

    Kind Regards

  5. Hi Devan,
    Lima can be a pretty unforgiving city, which is why I am always on guard when I take photos in the city.

    Thanks for the comments, I found it interesting to read about your film project. Are you in college/film & arts school or is this just an independent project?

    I am actually really interested and would like to know more about it. My email is


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