What motivated you to do the GivePhotos project?
I read about GivePhotos and found the initiative unique. I wanted to be part of it because GivePhotos seemed to strike that perfect balance between photography and humanity, between the photographer and the photographed. There is a shared ownership of the photograph that is filled with nostalgia.
I felt the initiative appreciated and acknowledged that giving away a photo wasn’t like building a hospital or a school but it was still significant. People living in poverty lack the privilege of photography that we take for granted. When some lives get documented very well, and others remain undocumented, we can raise important questions of who can create and own memories. Do the poor have the right to their memories through photographs of an important day? Do they have the right to leave behind their stories, their legacy however briefly? I think they do and the Give Photo initiative recognizes these rights and tries to fulfill them in its own way. By combining bygone technology with the warmth of human connection, the project revives the practice of listening and sharing stories that would otherwise go unheard. I wanted to be part of this amazing initiative.
Can you share some memorable stories with us of your experience giving photos?
Every interaction so far has been memorable, especially the joy you see on someone’s face each time you give them their photos.
Each time I photographed someone, I listened to their story and I learned something new about life. The first person I interacted with for GivePhotos was Phoolwati from Rajasthan who comes to Delhi occasionally. This was her fifth or sixth visit to the city. She belongs to the Bauria community which is a nomadic community ranked low in the South Asian social-stratification system called caste. She had two sons, daughter-in-laws and grandchildren back home. She did not have a phone.
Phoolwati had come to Delhi to earn some money because there was not enough rainfall and it became hard to get by in her village. In an agrarian country, such as India, seasonal migration in search of a livelihood and income is rather common. While we search for icons of courage in people who make it big in this world, one must remember and acknowledge Phoolwati’s courage and grit. Millions of women like her fight everyday against all odds, overcoming the challenges of patriarchy, community and poverty, and make it to another day. They are the true face of courage.
Another memory that will stand out is the hot summer afternoon in Sundar Nursery complex in Nizamuddin. The complex had many workers and many of them were women. They toiled away under the hot May sun as their children roamed about. I clicked some of the children and gave them their photographs and one of them was showing it off to his mother. The mother loved the photograph and decided to take a break from her hectic schedule to get herself photographed with her children; several mothers followed suit, and I must have clicked and gave away some 10 or 15 photographs that day. The next day was Mother’s Day and the whole interaction stood out because even though these working mothers don’t earn enough to live in comfort or send their children to schools, their love and pride for their children is no less valuable. They will not be featured in any Mother’s Day ads but I will always remember their joy when they saw the photographs and how happily they went away with a memory of a day that would be cherished for a long time.
Another brief yet happy memory involved a reluctant child who was crying and did not want to be photographed. She looked at the photographs of the other mothers and children and she stopped crying and came enthusiastically requesting for her photograph.
How did people react? Did the experience change your outlook on people in any way?
People were very accommodating, interested and enthusiastic. Once I explained to them why I was taking the pictures and that I would give them a copy, they usually readily agreed. There was a real visible difference in them when I gave them the photo —– they lit up with happiness at receiving the photograph and willingly opened up with their stories. They talked to me quite frankly and I too tried to be as sensitive as possible – I often asked them if they had any other immediate needs and tried to break the ice by meeting that need. One time I bought some corn for a lady, another time I bought rice and helped in a small way. However, in the last outing for Give Photos where I mostly photographed laborer mothers and their children, nobody asked for anything else and they were truly happy to be photographed. That was really one of the nicest experiences I had. Another interesting experience was that because India is a very conservative society, I mostly focused on women and children, but in my last outing, many men and boys, mostly, guards and laborers came to me requesting photographs.
What photography equipment do you usually use?
I have use mixed methods and sometimes taken the photographs myself and at other times requested my husband, Austin to take the photos. We used a DSLR – NIKON D3200 with a NIKOR 16-85mm lens.
Do you have any suggestions for people who would like to give photos?
The GivePhotos initiative is a great way to break the ice with people we would otherwise not interact with, to listen and share stories and document what goes unseen and unheard. I would suggest everyone who wants to be part of this initiative to be mindful of the power dynamics and hierarchies that exist between the photographer and the photographed and approach it with utmost sensitivity. One must be honest with the person they want to photograph, and explain to them how the photographs will be used. Be prepared to go beyond photographing people and connect and help them in whatever small ways possible. Finally, be confused because it will mostly seem insignificant in the face of what most people’s realities are, be uncomfortable because that is the world we live in, but cherish the experience and be happy because you are spreading some joy and even if it seems small, it is significant!
Would you do it again?
I think once you become a part of the GivePhotos initiative and experience it, you can never stop being a part of it. It is a deeply enriching experience to give away instant photos and see the joy on people’s faces when they see themselves in those photos and listen to their stories. These are faces and stories that would otherwise be unseen and unheard. I will definitely do it again and continue to do it as long as possible!