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One picture speaks a thousand words

ONE PICTURE SPEAKS A THOUSAND WORDS
A PHOTO-ESSAY ON THE MANY FACES OF THE INDIAN WOMAN THROUGH A DRIK-INDIA EXHIBITION

The camera today, holds greater significance and credibility than the written word because of its visual authenticity. It is therefore, not surprising to witness an exhibition of photographs documenting the journey of the Indian woman with the ‘roles revised.’ Does the proliferation of the image of the Indian woman enhance the status of women? By sheer dint of sharing feminine space, is any significant relationship between these two entities – the photographer and his subject, established? These questions and some more, arose when Shoma A. Chatterji visited an exhibition of photographs on Indian Women. Read on….

WORD-COUNT: 900
Photographs are no longer what they were meant to be - purely a recording instrument documenting faces and events. Creating a visual archive of nostalgia for birthdays, marriages, ritual ceremonies and family reunions that would find their place in the dog-eared pages of an album. Photography has journeyed a long way since the invention of the first plate camera in 1851. It is now used for documenting history, for strong political statements, making satiric comments and critique on the shape of things as they are and as they are likely to be.

Indian Women- The Roles Revised, is the name of a telling exhibition of photographs put up by Drik-India, (a photography and media agency based in Kolkata) during an International Conference on Women in Emerging Indian Economy – Silence to Voice held in Christ College, Bangalore, in the last week of November supported by Fredskorpset (fk) Norway. “She is today’s woman, with a mighty mind and a mightier heart; she is colourful, and she is global. She is the Indian woman,” was the bottom line. The exhibition was born out of several areas of enquiry – the many faces of the woman in India, shedding light on little-known facts, on the marginal woman in rural India, on a single woman of Kolkata, on the strong women of Manipur and so on.

“Life is very difficult for the human inhabitants of the Sundarbans, the largest estuarine delta in the world,” says award-winning photographer Nilayan Dutta, who has captured the lives of these people on camera, informing how Southern Health Improvement Samity (SHIS), an NGO, has brought a new ray of hope to the poverty stricken inhabitants of this place specially with the help of local women who are fighting against tuberculosis, the most predominant killer of these people. He does not have to say much. His photographs say it all.

Did you know that during a festival held at the Kottankulangara temple in Kerala in the month of Chaitra (mid-March to mid-April), thousands of men dress up as women and pray to the goddess Bhagavati? The ceremony is called Chamaya-vilakku. These cross-dressers wait for the procession of the Goddess to pass by, holding tall, lighted lamps in their hands. This unique festival is born of a legend surrounding the temple’s origin. Long long ago, a group of cowherd boys worshipped a stone assuming the mood of shy young girls. After some time, the Goddess Bhagavati appeared in front of them to accept their worship and became the stone. Saibal Das’s camera has captured slices of this strange but little-known practice on his camera for posterity and for the rest of India that does not know about this festival.

Gauri Gill, a dedicated photojournalist, took a month-long sabbatical from Outlook magazine to photograph village schools in Western Rajashtan. “I wished to show what it was like growing up in is isolated rural areas. Most people in India live in the countryside. But for many like us who live in the city, even for those whose parents and grandparents grew up in the village, the transition to the city has been swift and complete. We move in parallel worlds, and the images we have a stereotypical ones. We know villagers usually as victims of some calamity or other, or perhaps see the occasional smiling face in an aid pamphlet. I chose Rajasthan for various reasons – it is close to Delhi, I had travelled there often, I had seen a girl being beaten in the small village school. When I returned to Delhi, I proposed a photo-essay. But my boss wondered if enough of our urban audience would be interested in a story on village schools. So I decided to travel around on my own, randomly from school to school, from Jaipur to Jodhpur, Osiyan, Bikaner, Barmer, Phalodi and Baran. I got to know some of the kids in government schools, iin NGO-run schools, in Balika Shivirs, Marushalas and went home with them to their vollages. They asked me to return and eight years later, I am still here.” This is how Gill unfolds the story of her personal transition from being a successful photojournalist in a upmarket magazine in Delhi to become a village-based person trying to capture images in the only language she can, photographs and with the only tool she has – her camera.

Suvendu Chatterjee who heads Drik-India, documents through a series of photographs, the role of women in Manipur, North East India. This state perhaps throws up the strongest and most powerful image of the Indian woman – as victim, as combatant, as citizen fighting for her rights, as the head of a household, as war resisters and leaders at the local level trying to stop the ongoing conflict and state oppression. He portrays Naga and Manipuri women leading the peace-building process. The launch of the Mother Campaign that screamed out - shed no more blood’ when killings by the security forces and violence between rival factors of various insurgent groups reached a peak.

And so the journey goes on, essaying images of women as victims of state violence in Nandigram and Singur (Bijoy Chowdhury), Women in the Cosmopolitans (Swapan Nayak), Dalit women of rural India (Sudharak Olwe), women in traditional industry (Sohrab Hura), Divas of Tinsel Town (Fawzan Hussain), Micro-Credit and Women in Rural India (Dev Nayak.) This exhibition actually lived out what Edward Weston said way back in 1924. “The camera should be used for a recording of life, for rendering the very substance and quintessence of the thing itself whether it be polished steel or palpitating flesh.”

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

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