The Real Power of Travel Photography: A Photo Essay from Uganda


VIDEO: Uganda Village Project

Photos, video and text by Matt Payne who traveled with James at MJ Safaris

Photographers and travel are synonymous. There is the garden variety “Eiffel Tower selfie snapper” and the waterfall chaser. The lead-line architecture photographer and the guy that skips the five-course dinner (me) and heads out with a tripod looking for that elusive last light that turns any exotic landscapes into digital paintings. Photography, though, can play a deeper and more lasting role in how you commune with the people in the environments you visit. Particularly when traveling in developing nations.

The children that do go to school walk up to six miles to and from.

Perhaps you’ve seen it before. You stop in a small village and clock a handful of children watching you. At first, it is a dance. You feel compelled to take a photo of these charming little ones in their unique and unfamiliar environment- they kind of shy away, never losing eye contact. You don’t want to be intrusive. Perhaps their parents watch side-eyed with a hint of suspicion… To just whip out your camera- you feel- and take a photo, understandably might be little rude.

But here’s what you might not know.

Those kids, in many cases- especially if they are eyeing you and giggling- want you to take their picture! Depending where you are in the world, some of those kiddos might not have ever seen their photograph in their lives.

Let that sink in… In the age of selfies and self-obsession, there are millions across the world who have never seen their photo.

Each time I encounter this, I’m moved. I’m touched by their unbridled enthusiasm and troubled by my own ambivalence to the privilege in my own life. To these little ones- to quote a local guide I worked with recently in Uganda-  to see their photo on a screen is “magic.”

This young boy was the first not to have seen his photo.

Recently, in the Busoga Kingdom of Uganda, I spent an afternoon taking thousands of pictures of wonderful children excited to have their photo taken. As always, I was slightly self-conscious of the stoic village elders watching from a distance. After a particularly severe woman attempted to speak to me in an equally severe tone gesturing towards my camera. Slowly, I began to put my camera away. Our guide stopped me. “Do not put away your camera!”

I stopped, not sure what to do.

He grinned.  “She wants to see her picture too.”

This started with a photo of the little boy. His mother was eager to have her photo too.

The thin woman with venerable eyes adjusted herself as I approached. I took the photo and then showed here the screen. A small crowd of adults gathered. A tiny smile in the corners of her mouth. She said something–

“She says it’s a miracle,” said my guide. Within moments, I was surrounded by adults and the photos continued.


The kids in the village brought out playing cards to incorporate into their photos.

After another half hour, it occurred to me that this experience could be improved upon.

What if I let the village kids take the pictures?

It might be even more remarkable to put the “magic” in their hands.

A photo taken when the kids took the camera.


I gave them a point and shoot camera to play with and the word “magic” doesn’t really do justice to the outcome. The subsequent video- to me- is pure joy.


Continue with me on this brief journey into a world where a simple photo is still magic.

A parade of excited children performing for the camera.

VIDEO: Uganda Village Project

2 responses to “The Real Power of Travel Photography: A Photo Essay from Uganda

  1. These photos are amazing! So much life and joy displayed! Thank you for sharing a bit of their world with ours!

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