Tag Archive: india

Photojournalist gang-raped in Mumbai, India

The latest in a series of high-profile rapes in India occurred yesterday while a 22-year-old female photojournalism intern was on assignment photographing abandoned buildings for an English-language Mumbai magazine. Five men attacked the woman and her male companion, asking what they were doing in the Shakti Mills. The attackers then gang-raped the woman. The woman survived the attack but suffered both internal and external injuries. Protesters have been demonstrating and holding vigils in Mumbai after the attack. The New York Times reports that a suspect has been arrested in the case, and the Guardian says that five have been arrested.

After the December 2012 Delhi gang-rape incident, the BBC published an interesting series of articles on the epidemic of rape and treatment of women in India:

  • Delhi rape: India looks within itself for answers
  • The rapes that India forgot
  • Viewpoints: What next after outcry over Delhi rape?
  • How India treats its women
  • Valentino Bellini’s BIT ROT Project

    Valentino Bellini wrote to us recently to share his new project BIT ROT, about the troubling issue of electronic waste worldwide that results from “rampant consumerism” and products that are “designed for the dump”. We really enjoyed the photographs and the story he was revealing to us, so we asked him to answer a few questions about the project. His responses were fascinating and we are happy to share his work.

    Bellini is looking for more support to continue his project, and you can donate through the BIT ROT Project’s Support page on the project’s dedicated Tumblr.

    Dvafoto: Where are you from? How did you come to photograph this project?

    Bellini: I became interested in photography about 4 years ago when I moved from Palermo, my hometown, to Milan, where I attended a course at the annual CFP R. Bauer (a public photography school). Immediately after I graduated I started working at the LINKE. lab which offers various services for photography including fine art printing, post production, mounting and realization of photographic exhibitions.

    During the first two years of my stay in Milan, during times when I could go back down in Palermo I started working on a photographic project about the Ghanaian community of Ballarò, a neighborhood in the historic center of the city. I’ve known several young Ghanaians with whom I have a great relationship now, this was probably the main reason that push me to visit Ghana in April 2012. Once in Ghana, among other issues, I had the opportunity to visit and photograph the e-waste dump of Agbobloshie, where I discovered the terrible world regarding the trafficking and disposal of e-waste in developing countries. (Ghana is probably the African country, along with Nigeria, where the flow of electronic waste is the growing fastest).

    How are you doing the research for this work? Where are you traveling to to make the photographs?

    I’ve got the opportunity to work with some guys from a Ghanaian NGO that works to improve the living conditions of Ghanaian children. After our first visit we jointly launched special projects addressed at all those young boys who work in Agbobloshie e-waste dump. From that experience, from the contact with those people, I felt the need to investigate this issue and to develop the project in other countries and on different levels of investigation. Then I continued in the last months, visiting Pakistan and India.

    The project is now at a very important stage. Very soon I will visit China, the country with the highest numbers for import of e-waste from abroad, and also for domestic production (China is second only to the United States for the production of electrical and electronic equipment, and of course, this also increases the amount of electronic waste produced and disposed of). The project will then continue investigating other methods of waste disposal and recycling, including more green and sustainable methods implemented by world leaders industries in developed countries in Europe and the United States (in this series there are already images produced in two facilities of companies that do this kind of work, authorized by the government and in a clearly legal way, in Tamil Nadu, India).

    I will focus also on those places that represent the cathedrals of the consumerism world, the places where the “induced” need is generated, the places that are fathers of all the problems mentioned above.

    Are you being supported by any grant or other funding to work on this? What is your goal for how to present this work, where will it be seen?

    This project was started by a very personal experience, and is currently funded, with many difficulties, all by myself. At the moment I’m in contact with several international magazines trying to get this first part of the work published, in order to collect funds to continue the project.

    In parallel with the classical editorial channels, I also launched a website dedicated to the project, through which I have implemented a funding campaign, hoping that this will help to raise funds that will enable me to move forward in production. In addition to thinking about photographic exhibitions in the international photography circuit, one of my primary goals would be to be able to bring the work with some exhibitions, in very rough shape, in the same places where the photos were taken, inside the dumps, in the districts in which the disposal takes place. It would be a way to give back the work to those who are directly protagonist, as well as to try to sensitize the communities themselves who inhabit those places, which, much to my surprise, they are often not even aware of the problems that this kind of processes can create for human health and for the environment. For this I’m working with the guys at Ghanaian NGO and with other realities that slowly I also met in other countries I have visited.

    What have you learned about electronic waste and its relationship with the culture of consumers of electronic products?

    Concerning the flow of electronic waste and their disposal, it is definitely a very complex phenomenon that is constantly changing and very, very quickly. It is important to emphasize that the issue of waste disposal in some countries in the developing world (see Pakistan or Ghana) has two different aspects. Employment shortage and continuous internal migration stream which can be observed for several years now, especially among the younger population ranges, from rural areas to urban centers, makes an occupation such as the disposal of electronic waste particularly desirable, as it ensure at least the possibility to earn a little amount money, just enough for daily survival, condition, however, still difficult to reach among the poorest segments of the population.

    On the other hand, the import, though often illegal, of electrical and electronic waste from Europe and the United States, has contributed in some way to improve access to certain types of technologies by those same poor people. In Pakistan, for instance, until a decade ago, for the vast majority of the population was almost impossible to buy even a television, let alone a computer. In this sense this illegal flow, it is always good to remember, gave to some people a new access to different forms of culture (like internet) that were not remotely conceivable a few years ago. The production of electronic waste today is the fastest growing waste stream in the world, UNEP (United Nations Environmental Program) estimated that in the coming years could grow up to 500%, especially in those countries where the domestic electronics industry (countries like China or India) is experiencing a period of exponential growth.

    What is sure is that this issue is caused by a system. The Western system (whose differences with other cultures such as those of Asian or African countries are decreasing) increasingly is dominated by rampant consumerism. A system in which the value is not intrinsic in the object we buy, as in the possibility of being able to display it. This is also reflected in the project guidelines adopted by production houses of electrical and electronic components. The term “designed for the dump” expresses this concept very well. Producers prefer to build products that will have a short life and will be difficult to repair, so as to impose on consumers a continuous supply of these tools, producing huge amounts of waste that regularly end up on the other side of the globe illegally, and which is disposed of in a harmful way. Probably the way to try to break down the problem is to make the producers responsible, forcing them to implement more sustainable production lines (and consider that some electronic components release harmful substances, although in small amounts, throughout their life cycle). For sure we must rethink the legislation, both locally and supranational, to preserve tools like the Basel convention, one of the few mechanisms to control the international movement of toxic waste, including from electronics. For example, these rules are continuously circumvented by exporting second-hand items to developing countries, as a way to reduce the so-called digital divide.

    A big job of responsibility will also need to exist in these communities disposing of the waste, to make it clear that this work is destroying human health as well as the surrounding environment.

    Prasiit Sthapit: Change of Course

    Prasiit Sthapit is a photographer based in Kathmandu, Nepal. I was introduced to his work by Sohrab Hura recently as he wanted to share some of the work of photographers he had met and tutored at a workshop in Kathmandu last fall. Sthapit’s project “Change of Course”, presented as an multimedia piece, immediately impressed me. Striking pictures mixed well with gorgeous music and documentary audio; it is evocative storytelling for such a hard to illustrate political and climate change story.

    The story is also presented simply as photographs and text on his website, and you can get a chance to admire the quiet, intimate photographs themselves. Sthapit also describes the project as a work in progress, and that we will see more family photographs and found objects along with the photos of the place.

    Change of Course

    “We fought a lot for Susta, we suffered a lot in Susta. We didn’t know when we would be killed. Even after all that, we survived. But in the end, Gangaji swept us away,” Rajkumari Rana (Muwa), reminisces. I met Muwa, 79 years old and blind, at her house in Keulani,Triveni. She was one of the first settlers of Susta. Having come here from Kathmandu with her daughter and a small bag of belongings in 1967, she worked as a schoolteacher, headmistress, local leader and also as night patrol. She remembers times when even women had to patrol at night, with sticks in hand as protection against dacoits from Bihar. There had been numerous clashes in the past, which had wounded many and killed some.

    Susta was once perched firmly on the west bank of the Narayani River, which has long been considered the border between Nepal and India. But with the river changing course, and cutting persistently into Nepali territory, the village today finds itself on the east of the Narayani. India maintains the new course of the river as the boundary while Nepal disagrees, making Susta a small, contested portion of Nepal within India, surrounded on three sides by Indian land, and on the fourth by the Narayani. The original settlers now express anger at the fact that they have been sidelined by both India and Nepal.

    The flood of 1980 shifted the land to the east, displacing the whole village in the process. Muwa was among the displaced. The government gave each family a small plot of land in nearby villages of Triveni Susta VDC for temporary settlement, but this generosity was limited to those with Nepali citizenship. There were quite a few who were originally from India, and others needing a place to hide.
    After the floodwaters receded, the people who were not given land parcels started returning to Susta, although it was now nothing but sand and rocks. They worked in these barren conditions, trying to get whatever little they could out of the land. Meanwhile, the Border Security Force of India was gradually preparing to encroach on Susta. It is estimated that 14,860 hectares have been appropriated through Indian encroachment thus far.

    Dva: How did you come to produce “Change of Course”?

    Sthapit: This project was first conceived for an exchange programme between Oslo University College, Norway, Pathshala, Bangladesh, Drik India and photo.circle, Nepal. I had already thought of it as a long term project and later on while the project was ongoing, Sohrab was also very much involved with the editing and the look of the project. (we had a workshop with Sohrab on September, 2012). He also gave me a lot of insights on how to continue the project further. By the end of the workshop with Sohrab we had to come up with somesort of a presentation and he suggested I do a projection.

    How did you decide on the format of this video, with sound and audio and stills-as-motion? Are you showing it any other way, such as an exhibition of single photographs or some other medium?

    While I was out photographing the place, I didn’t have anything concrete in my mind (I wanted the experience there to guide me along the way) so I collected everything that caught my interest. I recorded interviews with the people because even though I try to share my own experiences with the people there, I want them to speak for themselves. Sound is also a very important element in the whole story, if not the most important one. The family photographs also do the same. Photographs in the villages are prized possessions, they cherish these pictures. This is the way they want to be portrayed. The story is currently being exhibited as a print exhibition in Kathmandu International Art Festival, Kathmandu which also includes sound installation. The sound used in this is different than the one in the video.

    Can you tell me about the music you chose?

    The song that goes as the background is by a Nepali neo-folk band called ‘Night’. The song talks about the flood that waged havoc in Nepal in the river Koshi a few years back. I thought it would be appropriate for the piece and the music felt just right. As it doesn’t over power the piece with overwhelming sadness. I felt the sounds, the voice and the music gave a sense of community, a village.

    About Sthapit

    Prasiit Sthapit is a Kathmandu-based visual storyteller whose work deals with societies at the borderline, both literally and figuratively. Through photography, he chooses to show the experiences he has shared with the people he has met, and what they mean to him. He graduated from Manipal Institute of Communication, India with a Bachelors in Arts (Journalism and Communication) and was the recipient of the Dr. TMA Pai Gold Medal for Best Outgoing Student, 2010. He is associated with Photo.Circle, an organization working towards building a strong community of visual storytellers in Nepal, and Fuzz Factory Productions, a multimedia collective.

    You can follow Sthapit on his new website prasiitsthapit.com.np, and can look at another great project of his: The New Silk Road. Thanks Prasiit and Sohrab for sharing this work.

    I’ll Die For You – an interview with Laura El-Tantawy

    I’m not sure what first got me to look at Laura El-Tantawy‘s I’ll Die For You, but I’m glad I did. It’s an ambitious attempt to photograph and tell the story of farmer suicides in India. The situation is staggering. From El-Tantawy’s statement about the project:

    Over the past 15 years, more than 250,000 farmers have committed suicide in India. Many had borrowed money through government lending schemes or private lenders to plant more efficient crops, but could not pay off their debts. Because of the extremely fast transition has undergone — from a rural to an industrial, urban economy with an open market — farmers have been confronted by immense social and economic problems.

    To tell this story, El-Tantawy uses archival materials, strong portraiture of the women left behind, and a visual examination of the land and place. It’s a refreshing approach to something so difficult to photograph, and it’s a departure from much of her other work (which you should check out while you’re at it). I thought I’d ask her a few questions about the project and her approach. Our conversation is below:

    What got you started on the project? What drew you to the issue? How did you begin work for the project (such as identifying potential subjects, approaching subjects for the piece)?

    The start of the project coincided with me taking part in the prestigious Reflexions Masterclass. It’s a two-year photography seminar directed by Italian photographer Giorgia Fiorio and French Curator Gabrial Bauret. The workshop is based around developing a photographer’s visual language and story-telling capabilities by assigning a series of themes that participants use as inspiration to build on a new body of work or continue to develop an ongoing series. At the time the theme assigned was “faces”. I really struggled with this because all my immediate ideas were centered around portraiture, which I always considered as an area of weakness for me. I felt a strong portrait should convey an emotion and lend some insight into the subject’s character, frame of mind or emotional state – this I had never accomplished well. Meanwhile, as I am thinking about this, I come across an article about farmers committing suicide in India. Everything seemed to come together at that moment for me, in a way that I can honestly say I never reacted to anything else, subject or story. There was something different about this work from the start. So from the moment of its initiation, this project was very unique for me.

    I went to India with nothing but the intention to meet the families and photograph their faces. This was my main motivation. I wanted to understand why they were committing suicide, such a brutal act and one with finite consequences. Having been in India before, I always saw India as a country where people really work hard to live in order to avert death. It was the country of vibrant colors, crowded streets – a country where life is seen at its best and sometimes worst, but life and living dominate. Death was not associated with India in my mind, which is why I believe I reacted so instinctively and vigorously to the suicide of farmers, which ultimately led me to think about my own grandfather, who was a farmer all his life. Perhaps you can see there were just too many elements here that led me to pursue this story as passionately and seriously as I did.

    In India I landed with ideas, but I had nothing in hand that could translate my ideas into reality. I wanted to shoot the work on film (which I had never done before). I bought the film from a friend of mine living in India and borrowed his Mamiya. He also offered to send his studio assistant with me to meet the families and she became my team-mate at that stage in the project, doing what I consider half the work: translation.

    When we left Mumbai we had nothing but the determination to meet these families and hear their story. Once we arrived in the village we had identified as the starting point, we just asked around and things started to work out.

    We approached the families with total honesty explaining I had come from London and wanted to hear their story. At that moment the work as I had visualized it only centered around documenting the female survivors and making an archive of photographs of the men who died. The idea of “Man and Land” came later and after much searching for a visual approach to show the strong bond between the people and the land they inhabit, which I believed was ultimately the cause of these suicides.

    What was your strategy for telling this story visually? I imagine it was a difficult piece to develop, photographically–the events happened well in the past and the causes of these suicides are abstract economic and psychological notions that don’t present themselves in a straightforward visual way.

    Intimacy – all I could think about was intimacy. Given the sensitivity of the issue in and of itself and the delicate nature of addressing issues related to life and death, I felt that I had to move slowly, but somehow give a sense of intimacy. It was imperative to me to attach a face to the suicides and not follow a conventional approach that would deprive the story of emotion or developing a relationship with the women survivors and the men who died. I wanted to focus on the faces to make the suicides real to myself and to viewers and not just portray this as something abstract that could happen anywhere to anyone. I felt the urge and the responsibility to anchor this in reality, or at least what I perceived as reality (we all have our different realities or interpretations of it). For me a more photojournalistic approach would not have told this story the way I felt it and instinctively reacted to it: the deep emotion, sorrow and absolute sense of anguish and deprivation these men must have felt at the time of the suicides, all feelings that were carried onto the women now surviving them. People died – thousands of them – and I chose to tell this story. I was responsible for what people would think and feel when they see the pictures. This was always at the back of my head.

    The suicides are continuing to happen, so this is not an old story, but very much an ongoing one. In the past 15 years, more than 250 thousand farmers have committed suicide and the numbers are still rising.

    How did you get the women to be part of the project? In parts of India I’ve visited, women tend to be hidden from the public and I imagine they initially did not want to be photographed. What about the issue of suicide? In some societies, suicide is a very shameful act. Was there a societal or cultural stigma that you had to overcome in order to get people to even talk about the suicides? How did you approach that issue with your subjects?

    A few things could account for me being able to gain access to the families. Perhaps the fact that I was a woman myself allowed the women to gain some sense of comfort around me, but I think ultimately the main reason I was able to talk to them is because they wanted someone to talk to – they wanted to be heard and in all cases helped (which I shamefully explained I was not in a position to do). They wanted their struggle to be acknowledged and the fact I had come from an entirely different country to meet them and understand their plight probably made them feel some sort of respect and seriousness towards me.

    Yes, there is a huge stigma attached to suicide. You must remember India is a predominantly Hindu country and suicide is not accepted within the Hindu belief. Surprisingly, this was not an issue that took much of the conversation I had with any of the families I met. It was about survival and for the men who had committed suicide, living had become an impossibility. Tradition among the conservative and modest farming communities dictates men are the main providers. Girls get married because their fathers can pay their dowry and are of a good reputation in the village, so once a man starts to sink below the expected status in the community, he starts to be overcome by shame. Status and community standing play a big role in the decision to commit suicide in these villages and I think they would in any village in the world. Farmers are a unique breed and their work and lifestyle are about modesty, pride and survival under the harshest of conditions. But I think if any of these elements start to shake, their whole existence comes into question.
    Read on »

    Asim Rafiqui’s Idea of India

    We’ve linked quite a few times to pieces written by photographer Asim Rafiqui, who posts regularly on his indispensable blog The Spinning Head. We unfortunately haven’t posted much about his work though. So when he wrote me this week with the great news that his project The Idea of India, which previously was awarded the Aftermath Project grant in 2009 and received Blue Earth Alliance support the same year, was just honored with a Fulbright Scholarship, I had to share here. Rafiqui will be based for a year in New Delhi, India with this support and will continue to produce new chapters for his ever expanding project. I went through a few of the essays and pulled out some of my favorite images. These pictures show the intensely rich and unsentimental texture of a nation so often photographed in cliche. I think this is a beautiful accomplishment and the essence of what makes this project and Rafiqui special.

    It is great and inspiring to see interesting and important projects getting the support they deserve. And it is at least one good sign that there are photographers and supporters (grants, programs, publications) out there willing to develop long term and less-than-obvious projects. One of the first pieces I read by Rafiqui that set me off into thought was his series “What Ails Photojournalism”, which I wrote about here on Dva in March 2009 in the post What Ails Us. Rafiqui is putting his time and energy where his mouth is, and is proving that there are some outlets, however hard to track down and gain the support of, for big idea and revolutionary projects. And thats terrific, I hope we see more.

    From the Mailbag: Trikaya Photos

    We welcome you to have a look at Indian photo agency Trikaya, who been in touch with us to display some fine work from the subcontinent. “Trikaya Photos was founded in the year 2007 in Chennai, India, as a platform for photographers to express their individual vision in a journalistic way. This agency functions like a cooperative. It’s an association of photographers who have the liberty of choosing their subjects and the way of approaching them.” (link)
    M. Scott asks a few questions and Nancy Boissel Cormier from Trikaya answers.

    dvafoto: What does the name Trikaya mean?

    TRIKAYA means three body or three dimension. We choose this name because the first idea was that the third dimension is the dimension of reality, which we try to catch through photography. It is also the union of three photographers who desire to create a cooperative in India.

    dvafoto: How did Trikaya start? Why did it start?

    Trikaya in an history of meeting between a French and two Indian photographers in 2005. They were travelling together to catch stories about Indian festivals of different faiths. They made an exhibition together in Chennai, and decided to formalize their work trough an agency. This project resulted in 2007. They decided to create this agency to show their work without any concession.

    dvafoto: What makes Trikaya different?

    Trikaya is the first cooperative of photographers which was created in India. Generally the Indian photographers are affiliated to magazines or are independents. It is the first structure in India which allows photographers to choose their subjects, without relying on the editorial line of the Indian press or international big agencies.
    The photographers of Trikaya are also able to show rare festivals and rituals which are disappearing in India and which were not previously photographed as we know. Trikaya is also the only author’s agency which is present in India and which can be contacted for assignments by the international press.

    dvafoto: Where is Trikaya’s work being published? Do you have any luck getting your work in front of editors in New York, etc.?

    This is the beginning of the story. Trikaya has being published for example in Ojodepez, and some on-line photo magazines like 100 Eyes. Trikaya made the bet to be published in the international press, but this takes time and Trikaya has experienced the crisis of the press like any other agency.

    dvafoto: Historically, international photography has been European and American photographers going out into the rest of the world. Lately, there’s been a shift toward local photographers, both for wire work (AP, Reuters) and for freelance work. Do you see that shift? Has Trikaya benefited from that shift?

    Trikaya hasn’t benefited from that shift yet, but this agency was also created in relation to this movement while retaining his own artistic integrity: magazines can contact the agency directly for orders in India, Bangladesh and Thailand as our photographers and structure are there.

    dvafoto: Are you able to get assignment fees and dayrates comparable to what foreign photographers get?

    As Trikaya is based in India, we are able to to get assignment fees and dayrates at a lower cost for magazines. It makes us competitive without breaking market prices

    dvafoto: How is the local market? Is there a culture of photojournalism and documentary work in the Indian market?

    The local market is changing because of the internet. As everything is being transformed we do not know what leads us for the rights and the survival of photographers. We are in a economy of globalisation and everything is standardized. But photographer’s profession remains extremely precarious in India.
    Of course, there is a culture of photo journalism in India even if it is recent, but the problem it is the support and the rights of the photographer. There is no structure (competition, scholarships, local agencies) to help them.
    There is also a new wave of talented photographers in Bangladesh and in India who appeared these last years.

    dvafoto: What other photographers/magazines/blogs/agencies/etc. from India should we know about, especially those producing and publishing great photography?

    The magazine Tehelka has a good editorial and a great quality and rigour in the writing and the stories. Some well known photographers like the Magnum correspondent in India Raghu Rai and the new generation of photographers as Sohrab Hura and Zishaan Latif that we like.

    dvafoto: What stories has Trikaya covered that the international media should be paying attention to?

    The story about Kashmir, and all the stories about the festivals which are put in danger of disappearance in modern India. At present Senthil Kumaran is making a work on the Tamil refugees of Sri Lanka in the South of India. Trikaya welcomes also these days Olivier Sarbil, based in Thailand, who makes a work about the Karen resistance in Burma, and who works at present on the insurgents in the South of Thailand.

    The new team of Trikaya Photos in 2010 consists in the team of 5 photographers :
    Yannick Cormier, India
    N. Jaisingh, India
    Senthil Kumaran, India
    Adnan Wahid, Bangladesh
    Olivier Sarbil, Thailand

    Interview: Rich-Joseph Facun – “Darshana Ganga”

    Rich-Joseph Facun - Moksha, Varanasi, India

    Rich-Joseph Facun - Moksha, Varanasi, India

    Rich-Joseph Facun is a favorite of mine. His essays come from unexpected angles and work subtly until they punch you in the gut. There’s always an undeniable energy to his work, but the quiet poetry shines through. Though we’ve never met in person, we’ve got a little bit of shared photo history in NYC and Chicagoland. After a few years shooting for the Virginian-Pilot, he picked up stakes and moved to Abu Dhabi as a staff photographer for the startup publication, The National. He’s been doing great work there, some of which can be seen on his website and blog. I was excited when he sent an email telling us here at dvafoto about a new project on the streets of Varansai, India, and the conversation grew to include Facun’s thoughts about the importance of personal work.

    Rich-Joseph Facun - Life on the ghats, Varanasi, India

    Rich-Joseph Facun - Life on the ghats, Varanasi, India

    When he first let us know about the project, the email started out: “I just returned from India and it was an amazing experience. Initially I went for a recharge but also to look into an idea I had for a book project. I ended up in Varanasi which is known as the Holy City to the Hindus. Each year millions of pilgrims travel from around India to bathe in the sacred river Ganga. Some travel to die in Varanasi in order to attain “moksha” which is essentially to be liberated from the cycle of reincarnation. It is believed by the Hindus that by being cremated at one of the burning ghats along the river will help them achieve this right. It was truly fascinating and beautiful…the trip has inspired me to work on an essay that will eventually take me from the birth of the river Ganga in the Himalayans 1500 miles south to the Bay of Bengal where the great river comes to rest. ”

    Rich-Joseph Facun - Bathing in the Ganga, Varanasi, India

    Rich-Joseph Facun - Bathing in the Ganga, Varanasi, India

    dvafoto: Was this work done on assignment for the National or any other publication?
    RJF: The work done in India was not done on assignment for The National or another publication. As I mentioned previously, this is a personal project. Working in the United Arab Emirates is very challenging for many reasons ranging from access to cultural differences. To say the least, it can deflate your passion and drive very quickly. Fortunately for me, my wife and muse Jasmine encouraged me to pick a country and go work on something personal. Rather than approach the work as a photojournalist she suggested that I get out and have fun by simply pursuing my first love with the camera, street photography.

    India seemed like the obvious choice as it is only a three hour flight from Abu Dhabi and I could visit it regularly if I found something that interested me. After some very minor research I decided to visit Varanasi. It seemed like a perfect fit. I’ve always had a fascination with religious studies and Varanasi being recognized by Hindus as their Holy City felt right. Not to mention the Ganges is also considered a sacred river and is worshipped by the Hindus as the goddess Ganga. It was a no brainer. As soon as I landed in Varansai it was only a matter of minutes that I knew I made the right choice.

    How was access during the shooting you’ve done so far? Easy to interact with people, get into their homes, the burning ghats, etc.?

    Most of the people I met in Varanasi spoke some level of English and those who didn’t, well I got the feeling that we both shared an equal interests in each other so we made do with the small amount of communication we could share. I’m heavily tattooed so quite often the pilgrims visiting Varanasi came from small villages in India and were always curious about my stained skin. It was often an icebreaker. Others often asked me if I was Indian and when I replied no, they reacted with surprise and would comment that some of my facial features looked Indian. Sometimes, while sitting alone on one of the many ghats, groups of people would approach me to ask about my tattoos and where I was from. This opened up a few doors for some images to be made in a more photo-j approach rather than street photography.

    The one place that I did face challenges was at the Manikarnika Ghat where cremations take place along the Ganga. You’re not allowed to take pictures at the burning ghats, it’s not unheard of, if you’re wiling to pay about 150-300 rupees a frame, roughly 3-6 USD a photograph. However, I found a local who introduced me to one of the untouchables who worked with the dead bodies and families at the ghat. Eventually I was allowed to take three photos but from a distance and at no charge. I could have shot more for a price but it just seemed forced and unnatural. This is something I’ll work on more when I return.

    Rich-Joseph Facun - Cremation at the Manikarnika Ghat, Varanasi, India

    Rich-Joseph Facun - Cremation at the Manikarnika Ghat, Varanasi, India

    Do you plan on shooting more with the project?
    I definitely plan on returning to India to further my work on this project, tentatively called Darshana Ganga. Roughly translated, “Darshana” comes from a verb meaning “to see,” and it conveys the understanding that any philosophy is one way of seeing a truth that can be viewed from different angles. “Ganga” is the Hindi word for the Ganges, the river, associated in myth and reality with the land and people of India. I hope that my work, when completed, will convey this title to some degree both literally and conceptually.

    In January I’m planning to head to Kolkata where the Ganga breaks into several deltas before it finds rests in the Bay of Bengal. In March I hope to trek north to the Himalayans where the river is born. At that point I will have shot the locations that are considered the beginning, middle and end of the rivers flow. Afterwards, I’ll determine where to head next along the banks of the Ganga. Ideally I’ll end up in an another area that offers diversity in subject matter. Currently, I have a few towns and rural villages in mind. I’m in no rush to finish, I’m only in a hurry to get back to India to start shooting more on this body of work.

    Why shoot this project now?

    I’m shooting this project now because I can. When else will I live close enough to India that I can fly there so frequently for such a fair price? I never know what opportunity is going to come knocking on my door next so I want to make sure that I take full advantage of what is available to me today. As I mentioned earlier, shooting in the Emirates is very challenging. Photography is something I don’t choose to do, it’s something I have to do or else I get extremely manic. Ask my wife. But in doing photography I have to be shooting something that moves me. Something I feel connected to. But to get down to it, I’ve fallen in love again and her name is India. Don’t tell the misses, she might get jealous.

    Rich-Joseph Facun - Rest, Varanasi, India

    Rich-Joseph Facun - Rest, Varanasi, India

    Any idea what the final project will look like?

    This project started very much in the same manner as a previous body of work of mine entitled “Rollin’ Revival.” In the beginning I was shooting the resurgence of roller derby as an outlet outside of my daily photojournalism work. Later my wife and a friend suggested I consider investing more time with the topic in order to produce a book.

    Well, three or four years later and I am finally working with the amazing former White House and National Geographic editor Mike Davis to finalize a selection of images for the book-in-progress. Point being, I didn’t know where I was going with the derby work, I didn’t have a purpose in the start, but in the end it is all coming together. I prefer the dynamics of this type of workflow.

    All things aside, I hope the final outcome of my India work will ideally become a book. It’s really way too early to tell. It’s like proposing after going out on the first date (wait…I did that with my wife), it’s really too soon to logically know. In the end, I think it’ll simply be a love story.

    Worth a look: Jörg Brüggemann’s “Same Same But Different”

    Jörg Brüggemann / Same Same But Different

    Jörg Brüggemann / Same Same But Different

    Within the last decade backpacking has literally become a global youth movement. Every year millions of young people from first world countries travel the planet taking with them nothing more then their backpacks. They are hoping to find freedom, cultural exchanges and a lot of fun. It has become a tourist industry on its own that has developed its very own touristic infrastructure. In some places like Ko Pha-Ngan in Thailand, Arambol in Goa or Vang Vieng in Laos individual or alternative travel is no longer existing. It has been transfered into a different kind of packaged tour.”

                  -Jörg Brüggemann / Same Same But Different

    Jörg Brüggemann‘s “Same Same But Different” tackles a subject I’ve never seen photographed before. Sure, Martin Parr’s covered tourism and others have covered the effects of travel in local communities, but this treatment of backpacking and its many idiosyncrasies feels like new ground. The viewer is presented with a world not in its natural state, but instead created, produced, for consumption by wealthy, overwhelmingly white travelers looking to experience the third world or The Orient. Phrases such as “third world” and “The Orient” seem particularly apt, both because of the baggage they entail and the sense of separation they impart. Truly, the travelers in these pictures are entirely out of place, and yet they’re surrounded by all the comforts of home. The “foreign” has been rendered familiar. A guest house in India might as well be one in Thailand or Laos; the experience remains the same.

    I won’t lie and say these pictures don’t hit close to home. As an American transplanted to China, the scenes in Brüggemann’s essay are all too familiar. I’d hesitate to condemn the travelers as much as The Spinning Head, or perhaps even Brüggemann, but I understand the queasiness. Travel by itself isn’t necessarily suspect. If it were, there’d be moral concerns with leaving our apartments or houses. Confronting the unfamiliar is a necessary and vital component of daily life, and travel is an extension of that. But, the complete destruction of communities and traditions in order to cater to such a widespread phenomenon of travel as backpacking is deserving of criticism and investigation (especially as most backpackers espouse some variant of a wish for spiritual discovery when traipsing around foreign climes).

    A great story confronting difficult questions.

    (via Asim Rafiqui)

    (And my bet is that the title comes from a particularly common piece of so-called “Tinglish,” which I’ve heard, despite having never been to Thailand.)

    The Bombay Flying Club: “Hell Hole”

    Another site that is producing a surge of great writing, pictures and video in the past couple of weeks is Dispatches Magazine. Starting with their video series on War and Photography they are now featuring an illuminating multimedia piece “Hell Hole: Living on Jharia’s Fiery Mines” produced by a (new to me) outfit in India called Bombay Flying Club as part of their current issue, “Out of Poverty”. The piece is about the illegal and dangerous coal mining taking place by the poor at the Jharia mine. Harrowing, Dante-inspired scenes.


    Bombay Flying Club’s website says they produce “online journalism as it could be” and are formed by two Danish photojournalists and a Canadian: Poul Madsen, Henrik Kastenskov and Brent Foster. (Madsen and Foster were credited with the photos and videos in “Hell Hole”).

    Judging from a few of the multimedia pieces on their site (I particularly liked “Bucharest Below Ground”, sorry no direct link available) they are doing a good job with interesting and powerful stories. They’ll be a good reference point as more of these productions are made widely available, through magazines and websites like Dispatches.

    Upcoming: Amongst the Poor by Gary Knight

    From Amongst the Poor by Gary Knight

    From Amongst the Poor by Gary Knight

    Dispatches (which I’ve never held in my hands, but which I know in print has to be even better than the incomparable essays and photojournalism on the magazine’s site) never ceases to amaze. Amber, one of the dynamos behind the scenes of the operation, just emailed to let us know about a couple of events coinciding with the release of the 4th issue, “Out of Poverty.” I’m jealous I can’t be there for the talk and also to see the VII offices and gallery, which is a big step up from the tiny 2.5-desk office on the campus of the Fashion Institute of Technology when I was there…

    First, Thursday, May 21, at 7p.m. at the VII Gallery in DUMBO, Brooklyn (28 Jay Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201), Gary Knight will present a slideshow and discuss the images published in “Out of Poverty.” The work presented will come from his recent work on poverty in India, which does not disappoint. Members of the public are invited to bring images of poverty on USB devices to print and hang on one wall of the gallery.

    The next night, Friday, May 22, at 6:30pm at the VII Gallery, Gary Knight, World Press winner Tim Hetherington, and VII agency director Stephen Mayes, will “discuss war photography and representations of conflict.”