If anyone goes through my portfolio, the most important thing you will notice is the poor side of India. My portfolio has less people who are of the higher class and more about people who are less civilized and simpler in their lifestyle. You will see beggars, monks, saints and many children who live a life below the poverty line. They have no makeup on them, they are untidy & maybe without a bath for days. All these factors seem negligible when you look into the pictures more deeply and carefully. Am I clicking their pictures to show the poverty in the world or India or is it something else? Even when I click a beggar its for a reason and its definitely something else.
I have grown up in a middle-class family in India. Interaction with the rich has been as frequent as the interaction with the poor people around. I have been a very notorious child in the school which made be get close to people described as worst in the society. From gangsters to beggars, I have seen them all very closely since my childhood. I used to bunk my school and cycle more than 15 kms to get to a dam where I could spend my day and get back home. Many times I used to get tired on my way and spend time with some streetside urchin or a monk maybe. Being a child, I never understood at that time the difference between classes based on their income.
To this day I can claim that the most genuine people I met in life were these people which I met like I did in school days. I make it a point even today to talk to the most ignored and hated person in the society because I know that they have a lot to tell and have a lot of honesty in their expressions which always reflects on their face. Their eyes can express more than a person grown in a protected world can at the same time they are stronger than ours to see the worst phases of life and yet take it easy. They can be very harsh with you when you talk with them initially. Generally they try to shoo you off thinking you are a social worker showering some sympathy or just trying to make fun of them. If you have enough patience, they take you into a world where you cannot possibly go alone.
When a comfortable conversation is struck, you have a chance to click emotions that you may never get from the best actor or a model. There is nothing fake, everything is very simple, yet beautiful and mainly genuine. Clicking them can be very difficult as well. They can get conscious when you are clicking them and might just try to hide their faces or laugh with that shy smile. But its very easy to make them comfortable as well. Especially if you pay them for clicking them they really feel happy about what is happening. But the idea is to tell them that they have to talk and not just allow us to sell pictures. We should talk to them like a journalist or like a stranger in the town who feels very close to heart. This really helps because in this question answer sessions they give the best expressions without actually knowing about it.
If there is a group of people around, like this family here, it helps a lot more. Basically putting them all into a debate, or telling them a joke can give excellent results. Asking a child or a teenager some serious question can put them into a tear jerking situation or just a confused expression that can make the stupidest person envy their faces. If one of them cracks a joke, you can add some one-liner to that joke, if you are enough witty and make a participation in all that scenario. A family portrait can be rare because all the family is working all day long due to their helpless situation in life. In groups situations can get bad if these people get into a fight. Family rivalries are very typical and an issue of pride in this class, so many times you might end up being abused by one of the families who suddenly walk out of a shooting session and let others continue.
In earlier blog, I told about giving chocolates to the children in such locations or maybe even notebooks or pens for them to use in the school. It helps them in a big way. Many times, they asked me for used clothes. I already donate my clothes to the poor once a year, but many times when these people ask me I run out of them, so I ask my friends and students to donate on such occasion and pass them on. Things can be done in a very easy way in life without much of an effort. What ‘used clothes’ means to us, means a lot more to these poor friends of mine who can tout a branded shirt in front of their mates even if it’s a used one. They don’t have any ego about new, used or even torn clothes. What matters to them is something they get to use, which they never had or would have in future. Their life is more about hopes and less about plans.
It can be difficult for everyone to get into the ghetto and strike a heartwarming conversation with the people especially knowing their manners and outlook about the richer class. Also many times you might worry about someone spotting you sharing a coffee with them. Things can get really messy for a person with a great status in the society. I think each one of us, whether a photographer or not should ignore all this and just see the beauty in their simple faces. Emotions that are hardly seen in the elite world. Even with the situation they are in they are in they seem to be very happy and content people. Something that will be very hard to find amongst us. If you are lucky enough to strike a good friendship with them, you will end up understanding many good things in life and will start treasuring things you easily get. If you want to understand the deeper meaning on life, you will find it in the depth of the eyes of such people.
Photo credits: , Nikhil Gangavane.