Making Deep Connections in New Delhi

nandini-e1529358453897.jpgNandini Mazumder

Nandini Mazumder’s interest in GivePhotos was motivated by her social justice work. She has a Masters in Sociology from Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. Nandini lives in Delhi and works for a feminist human rights organization called CREA. You can find her on Instagram at @nandini_1720 

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. 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 GivePhotos 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.

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“We met three children walking around in Sundar Nursery in search of water. They were children of the migrant workers in the complex. As they were returning from filling their bottles, I asked to take their photos and they happily posed for me. The photo here is of me and the three children. They were elated to see their photos and hold them in their hands and what followed afterwards was a whole lot of fun! They showed the photos to their mothers and then I had a whole bunch of mothers requesting photographs with their children!” – Nandini Mazumder

Can you share some memorable stories with us of your experience giving 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 in her village. In an agrarian country, such as India, seasonal migration in search of a livelihood and income is rather common. Millions of women like Phoolwati 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 given 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 school, their love and pride for their children was 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. 

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“The blazing May afternoon in Delhi, India is not to be taken lightly and even the most daring try to avoid the scorching mid-afternoon sun as much as possible. Yet we ventured out to Sunder Nursery and found ourselves among a handful of people in the beautiful yet barren complex. Apart from the workers who were doing renovations, there were only two other groups of visitors around. One was a family and the other was a group of teenage girls. The group of young girls looked interesting to me and I asked them if I could photograph them, to which they readily agreed! I found out they had just completed their class 12 exams and were waiting for the results. They had come out in that scorching heat to celebrate one of the girls’ birthdays. It made me feel happy to see them celebrating, enjoying their freedom  because many girls in India still struggle for such opportunities. Many girls are not allowed to roam around without purpose or without a guardian (who is often a male family member). These are the chains that Indian society puts on girls. Clicking their photos and sharing copies with them felt good because even though phones are common in India, according to reports most Indian women and girls either don’t own phones or have to navigate through restrictions to access one. The photos that I gave them will ultimately help them remember this hot day in May, when they were young, free and happy!” – Nandini Mazumder

 

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 agreed. There was a real visible difference in them when I gave them the photo —– they lit up with happiness and willingly opened up with their stories. They talked to me quite frankly and I too tried to be as sensitive as possible. I asked them if they had any other immediate needs and tried to break the ice by helping. One time I bought some corn for a lady, another time I bought rice. However, in the last outing for Give Photos where I mostly photographed laborer mothers and their children, nobody asked for anything 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.

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“Many of the workers I met at Sundar Nursery in Delhi were women who had migrated in search of a livelihood, leaving behind homes in other states, traveling long distances. While walking around I noticed one of the children who I had photographed earlier, was showing-off the photo to his mother who was busy working on a landscape project. I stopped to talk to the mother who despite being busy, made time to smile back and talk to me. I found out that we both belonged to the Eastern Indian state of West Bengal, and so started speaking to each other in Bangla. But apart from having both migrated to this place our realities could not have been more different.  After seeing the photos of their children, many of the mothers asked to be photographed with their children. I clicked their photos and gave each mother her own copy, and requested my husband Austin to click this photo with three of the mothers, their children and me.” – Nandini Mazumder

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.

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Sundar Nursery Complex, New Delhi, India. (Photo by Austin David Mobley)

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 who you 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 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. Cherish the experience and be happy because you are spreading some joy and even if it seems small, it is significant!

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“The guards at Sundar Nursery got curious and came to look at what we were up to. It was closing time and we thought they must be getting ready to ask us to leave. We were happily clicking photos and giving them away to the migrant-laborer mothers and their children. When the guards came over and found out that we were only giving away instant photos to people who otherwise have no photo-documentation of their lives, they too asked for photos! I was running out of film so I clicked one and gave them a copy to share. They were evidently very happy as they did not ask us to leave and we stayed a good 30 minutes extra after closing time!” – Nandini Mazumder

Would you do it again?

I think once you become a part of the GivePhotos project 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.  I will definitely do it again and continue to do it as long as possible!

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