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Winter 2018

The Dignity They're Due: Respectfully Photographing Memorials of Tragedy

Visiting memorials is a meaningful part of travel for many people. While some of these memorials might seem like the perfect locations for cute Instagram or Facebook photos, remember that memorials require respect. Here are a few tips for taking interesting, respectful photographs with memorials of tragedy. 

  • Learn about the memorial’s history and significance so that you can develop the correct attitude towards it. If the memorial is celebrating life or recovery, photos or selfies of you smiling may be appropriate. If it is a memorial of tragedy, your mood should be more solemn or reflective. 
  • Most memorials allow photography, but some do not. If there is an information booth or tour guide available, ask before taking pictures.  
  • Focus on the memorial rather than on yourself. Consider taking pictures of the memorial without being in the frame yourself.
  • If you are in the picture, pose appropriately, such as reading the inscription, looking quietly at the memorial, or contemplatively resting your hand or head against it (if you are allowed to touch it). For group photos, consider having everyone join hands in a circle or line while looking up at the monument.
  • Be respectful of how you label the pictures you post. Statements like “Hanging with ma’ homies at Auschwitz!!” or “Backflips at the Vietnam wall!!” are extremely disrespectful, but “We had the chance to visit Ground Zero today; what a moving experience” is appropriate.

There are beautiful memorials all over the world waiting to be visited. When you take pictures with these priceless monuments to human life, remember the dignity that they are due and be respectful as you document your experiences on hallowed ground.

—Sharon Valentine