Leaving Something Behind: Creating Community with Photos

Peter West Carey March 24, 2014 8

Giving back while traveling can be one of the most rewarding experiences any of us receive when getting off our couch and heading into the vast, exciting world. As a photographer, I look for ways in which my skill and trade can help benefit the world through which I travel, and that is why I have experimented with an idea that you might find helpful on your own travels.


The concept is simple. – I call it “giving a picture.” How many times have you asked, “May I take your picture?” Something about that phrase – one I have requested many, many times – bugged me until I realized it was the word ‘take’ that didn’t sit well with me. Here I am, a guest in another country and all I am doing is taking photos; of people, cities, mountains. Never giving.

I turned that around on a past trip to Nepal with the help of a portable printer. My printer was made by Polaroid (yes, they are still around) and was created with the traveler in mind. It would connect to any camera with a USB cable and came with instant ink (ZINK) paper that functions much the same as the classic Polaroid instant film from days of old. It has an internal battery to allow it to be used away from outlets.

The older model of the printer had some quirks (the battery life was horrid) but it worked well enough for me to snap and ‘give’ some photos while on the trail in the Nepali Himalayas. Checking updates for this post, I see Polaroid has a new model of an instant, portable printer called the GL-10 which creates a larger image (3″x4″) and works with Bluetooth devices (but not iPhones). More info on the printer can be found on Polaroid’s site. As a disclaimer, I have no connection with Polaroid and there are likely other printers on the market that are just as good.

Why go to the trouble of bringing along another electronic device while traveling? For me, it is about sharing the experience while meeting new people and places. How many of us carry pictures of loved ones or our home country when we travel so we can share who we are with the people we meet? This is an extension of that concept.

Also, to people in certain areas of the world, a photo is like gold. While camera phones are making inroads to the far-flung corners of the globe, physical photos are still cherished by an older generation. It’s something tangible that doesn’t need electricity to view. It’s always there – a reminder of loved ones while they may be away from home. It’s a moment in time that can bring a smile to the heart of the viewer. It’s also a gift, something that nearly any of us would be happy to receive in an age when less and less photos are being printed and handed to friends, families, and strangers. It’s a way of building bridges between locals and visitors, especially when there is a language barrier involved. Photography is the perfect medium to reach across that barrier and connect. And isn’t that why we travel – to connect with someone or something new?

The next time you travel with a camera, consider bringing along a portable printer. You will still take home the amazing photos you desire and you’ll leave behind many new smiles and new friends along the way.

Tips On Portable Printer Use

  • As mentioned, I have not used the newest version of the Polaroid printer but from reviews on Amazon.com, it seems like a big improvement over the old unit I have.
  • The unit is only one pound in weight but a little too big for a pocket it seems. If you have a purse or backpack, this shouldn’t be a problem.
  • Bring plenty of paper and test the unit before you leave.
  • Be patient. The prints take a minute to print out (but you don’t have to wait for them to expose, as you did the old Polaroid prints).
  • You can print directly from a point and shoot camera, mirrorless 4/3rds or DSLR, but you have to shoot in JPEG mode. Most cameras that shoot RAW allow for dual mode shooting and this is an excellent use of that feature.
  • The USB cable to connect directly to cameras is standard in case you forget/lose yours.
  • Put the date and maybe your contact info on the back of the print as a point of reference.

Is it important for you to give back while you are travelling, too? What have you done or experienced while out on the road? Share your stories in the comments below!


  1. Christine March 31, 2014 at 8:43 am - Reply

    Hey there! Read your post today and I just had to write… You see, I purchased a pogo printer several years ago and have used it extensively on many trips. Although it generated some strange buzz (and envious looks from fellow travelers) it has opened doors of communication that I would not have had otherwise. The concept of sharing the photography experience with the subject is a profound one and when I leave behind that tiny picture, smiles are also follow.
    Most photographers “take” images, sometimes publish, get paid and get on with their lives not taking into consideration that they have in fact “taken” from their subjects without giving back. Thanks for posting an important message about sharing, consideration and respect. We’re lucky to be able to travel as we do- giving back is the least we can do.

  2. Jenna April 4, 2014 at 1:00 am - Reply

    I love this idea and may try it out when I’m in Brazil this summer. Thanks for sharing, Peter!

  3. Sarah April 23, 2014 at 11:29 pm - Reply

    That is fabulous. You are so right we do take too much when we travel to these remote places, we take photos we take people’s time we take endlessly and don’t ever seem to give back. These pictures will be precious to these people. Great idea, I’ll get myself sorted for my next trip! Thanks for all the details.

  4. JODYxBUFFY April 27, 2014 at 6:24 pm - Reply

    During a trip to Tibet, I came across a family of pilgrims who had been walking for several weeks on their way to Lhasa. They saw my camera and asked me for a photo, as they had never had one taken. I took 20 photos and headed to a nearby Internet café. The café had a very good color printer, and I was able to print out the photos. The family was tearfully gracious to receive them. I have since repeated this method during my backpacking trips around the world.

  5. Carolyn Lane April 27, 2014 at 7:18 pm - Reply

    Hi Peter….precisely said. My son Austin Lane and I founded a nonprofit (www.dogmeetsworld.org) in 2008 to encourage a simple way to connect cultures through the power of photography. We developed a mascot, a little stuffed dog named FOTO that “fetches” photos for the world’s kids in need. The mascot also serves as a posing buddy, unites the children, brands the photos as part of a intentional project and helps break the ice with language barriers. It’s been taken by travelers of all sorts, including a few professional photographers (see Tibet and Nepal).

    All phoDOGraphers are volunteers. Little Foto has been taken to over 40 countries. I have shared the concept with G-Adventures and they even designed a co-branded postcard and asked for my story for the inspiring book project on the advise of Bruce Poon Tip. It was especially rewarding to have my fellow G-Adventure travelers participate with the Masai while on safari in Tanzania in 2012. Many heartwarming stories on Foto’s Blog on the website.

    Would love to share more with you…here is our basic ethos:

    Dog Meets World is about human dignity and the power of one. The intention is that the photograph fulfills a basic human need for acknowledgment and recognition.

    The mission of Dog Meets World (DMW) is to give children/families in need in developing countries personal photographs, often for the first time. DMW seeks to change the way people see others and rather than simply taking pictures, to give them as well. Merely take along a digital camera, a portable printer and the stuffed ambassador Foto dog to photograph children and practice Take & Give Photography! DMW is simple, affordable and fun, essentially ground level photo diplomacy for all.

    DMW believes that each single shared photograph
    creates a cultural connection and an indelible affirmation that is left behind as a personal artifact and a tiny seed of peace.

    I actually much prefer the slightly larger but reliable Canon Selphy (die-sub) portable, battery-operated printers.

    Yes, a wonderful way to connect while traveling in the world of need by practicing TAKE & Gi’VE photography!

  6. Erica Hurtt April 30, 2014 at 10:02 am - Reply

    Dog Meets World has been the pioneer in this exact thing! It really is a wonderful way to connect and give back on your travels. I have had the pleasure of being involved with the organization and recommend checking it out

  7. MACH May 12, 2014 at 12:37 pm - Reply

    Great idea Peter. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Sumon Zaman June 15, 2014 at 3:59 am - Reply

    Awesome idea Peter. I appreciate your thinking.

    I did the same while been in a camping and trip to Nepal 2 years ago.

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