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Illiterate Models & Obscure Locales: model release?

I’m travelling and shooting in super remote areas of South Asia – rural villages in India, Nepal, Tibet & the Himalayas. Anyone have experience or advice on how (or if it’s necessary still) to obtain model releases when your models neither have addresses, contact details or are even unable to write or sign their name?

Please advise. I need help here.

Thank you,


by Christina at 2008-01-29 18:42:57 UTC (ed. Mar 12 2008 ) Varanasi , India | Bookmark | | Report spam→

Depends on what you want to do with the images, who would publish them, rules of the stockhouse, etc.

by [former member] | 29 Jan 2008 18:01 | New York, United States | | Report spam→
Is it for stock or editorial – big difference? Legally speaking as Preston says if stock, depends on stockhouse. Have worked in similar situation, you need to find a local leader/aid worker/NGO etc. and have him/her/it explain the process to the people, then an image of person, thumbprint, geographic location and name makes the contract, you could also videotape the agreement. Thing is would they understand the concept of usage, you owning their image, publishing photos, selling as stock, and what that means, I took examples: newspapers, books & magazines – but given the huge cultural rifts and possible misinterpretations I do not sell any of the photos, despite the contracts, as stock, only editorial. For me it’s a question of ethics first rather than legalities.

by Angela Cumberbirch | 30 Jan 2008 13:01 | Manhattan, New York, United States | | Report spam→
Hi Angela,

I have one doubt. Given the educational background and cultural difference the poor people in remote places may misinterpret our intension if we ask them to give thumb impression on some paper. Haven’t you faced such a situation?



by [former member] | 30 Jan 2008 18:01 | Kolkata, India | | Report spam→
deja vu. Literally. On PSC. lol

by Con O'Donoghue | 30 Jan 2008 18:01 | Barcelona, Spain | | Report spam→
The best way to deal with this is to bring along a voice-grade recorder and record your translator reading them a release in their language (prepared in advance) and their consent. This is needed when you think there is a chance the shot will be used for non-editorial purposes. Bear in ind, also, that minors cannot consent, only theor parent or legal representative.

In any event the local laws are often different from the Anglo-American systems . So it’s a crap shoot, though it can substantially reduce the aready slight possibility of problems.

by [former member] | 30 Jan 2008 18:01 | New Orleans, United States | | Report spam→
Christina, before you devise some elaborate model release structure, figure out who you are working for and why. If you are shooting for a stockhouse, they will tell you exactly what type of release you need. If you are shooting with the hopes of selling your photos to a stockhouse, query a few of them and find out exactly what their requirements are.

If you are an editorial photographer, working on your own documentary project or as a freelance journalist, you don’t need a model release.

You raise good points about the validity of a model release from someone who speaks but can’t read Bengali, let alone English, and has no access to the media in which his picture might appear.

Keep in mind that 99% of the photography you love and appreciate was secured without a model release, including that of the entire collective careers of everyone who has ever shot for National Geographic.

by [former member] | 30 Jan 2008 20:01 | New York, United States | | Report spam→
Great advice. For now I’ll keep my work limited to editorial only. I’ve only just started the move to independent professional, and I can see that I’m going to learn the rules of this game like I do everything else: experientially.

Thanks for the creative ideas and leads on where to start. As a new member of LS, I really appreciate the guidance; especially the emphasis on ethics. So thank you.


by Christina | 30 Jan 2008 21:01 | Varanasi, India | | Report spam→
Hello Santanu, I would use an approach which would be specific to the community I was working with, agree thumbprints, even a document or a request, could be misinterpreted in some places. Depends on the situation really – and how much one understands of the history and politics of the people and the abuse they might have encountered with authorities or others using same kind of approach, and what kind of relationship one has with them.

I haven’t encountered any problems, the people I worked with weren’t poor but Indigenous Forest Dwelling People who were an autonomous society who had relatively recently come into contact with outsiders though political violence on their lands, they had learnt to use thumbprints for other (edit: contracts overseen by indigenous lawyers and videotaped) so it was not a problem, and I had spent time building up a trusting relationship.

My point was really directed at “commercial stock sales” many Indigenous/remote people would be upset to find their face on say a yogurt, a religious phamplet, or promotion of goods that were destroying their land/livelihood which, would could well happen if the photos were available through a stock agency – I have personally had requests for all three usages.

But it really is up to the photographer everyone has to make their own decisions on how to approach this, my ethics are just mine, other people have their own – there is no right or wrong just considered decisions and doing what is right for yourself and those involved.

P.S. Con what does PSC. mean

by Angela Cumberbirch | 30 Jan 2008 22:01 (ed. Jan 30 2008) | Manhattan, New York, United States | | Report spam→
Thanks Angela for your reply!!

Yup am also curious about that PSC, what does it mean anyway??

by [former member] | 31 Jan 2008 10:01 | Kolkata, India | | Report spam→
If you’re shooting for advertising, commercial, stock or premium stock (especially) you need a written release. You might not think so, but remember that native person you’re photographing may have a cousin who’s an attorney in New Jersey. Good luck.
Oh, Eugene Richards has written releases for much of what he’s shot for books. Yes, Cocaine Blue/True is fully model released.

by John Robert Fulton Jr. | 31 Jan 2008 13:01 | Fort Worth, Texas, United States | | Report spam→
PSC stands for the Photo Shelter Collection (http://psc.photoshelter.com/) where I posted the same question (and received more valuable insights) in their community forums:


by Christina | 31 Jan 2008 22:01 (ed. Jan 31 2008) | Varanasi, India | | Report spam→
I’ve done a lot of model released portraits in Cambodia. Getting a signed release is no problem, but the real issue is “informed consent”. I always have my moto-driver/fixer guy explain the possible usages and get a photo of the subject with the release.

by Ian Taylor | 01 Feb 2008 02:02 | Hong Kong, China | | Report spam→

Better safe than sorry – even a short model release is better than no release at all, especially for hospital patients.
Not too long ago, in some European banks, they had an ink pad handy for those unable to write or sign their name on the withdrawl slips.
For adults – A thumb print on a hand-printed model release will be valid (take along also some hand wipes, and maybe some small gifts too! )

Or as they do for TV, you can even take along a small camcorder and tape them while your translator/guide/fixer asks them if they grant permission to be photographed.

Good luck

by Roberto Louzan | 01 Feb 2008 13:02 | Galicia, Spain | | Report spam→
If you are dealing with poor people in India, I would avoid thumbprints—it will seem like voting in an election, and elections in India, especially among the poor, are highly sensitive, often violent affairs. Voter rolls are dangerous documents in India, since they identify people by caste and community. Asking someone for a thumbprint in order to snap a photo is going to be met by deep suspicion.

by [former member] | 01 Feb 2008 14:02 | New York, United States | | Report spam→

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Christina, Pilgrim Christina
Kathmandu , Nepal
Angela Cumberbirch, Photographer Angela Cumberbirch
New York , United States
Con O'Donoghue, Photographer Con O'Donoghue
Dublin , Ireland
John Robert Fulton Jr., Photographs John Robert Fulton Jr.
Spring Lake, Michigan , United States
Ian Taylor, Photographer Ian Taylor
Bangkok , Thailand
Roberto Louzan, Photographer Roberto Louzan
Galicia , Spain ( SCQ )


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