Sunday, 11 October 2009

August 20, 2009 (Session 7)

It had been one week since the participants had a camera around their necks and had found a new way to seeing things they often saw and show what their eyes captured, through their camera. Each camera had the chance to capture images seen by two women, and after a short period of downloading the photographs in the Awaz-E-Niswaan office, it was time for the participants to talk about what it meant to actually have a camera with them.

Ravi Shekhar wanted to know the experiences of the women when they were armed with the camera and moved around their known and unknown spaces in the city, to capture the various moments. He acknowledged the fact that people are usually afraid of the camera – it is like a mirror to them which shows them their true colour, and they are scared that their true colours will actually be revealed. He also spoke of the necessity to be smart while wielding the camera so that the person taking the photographs do not come in the line of fire or ire.

“I had once seen a documentary film on a secluded factory where dolphins were fished out and were being cut by huge saws that were operated by machines. It was a highly restricted area, so obviously it was impossible for a camera to be let in. But the filmmaker somehow managed to get his camera in there and film what goes on inside the factory. That requires courage and smartness. The camera has the power to draw instant attention and so it is necessary to be swift and smart,” he explained.

It was not the time for the participants to talk about why they captured in their camera, what they captured. So while some photographs were still being downloaded, and after a lot of contemplation on who would come up first to share their personal camera experience, Raheema decided to bow down to pressure and talk about what she saw. “It was during one Ramzan evening that I decided to take my camera out and capture the mood, few minutes before the people could end the fast for the day. It was nice to see the area decorated with lights and people standing near food hawkers. As I was busy clicking photographs, I noticed one particular man who approached towards me and insisted that I take his picture. When he did not stop pestering me, I finally decided to take his photograph too. Besides, since I was very happy to have the camera in my hand, I also took photographs on my family and household, when they were busy with their mundane lives,” she explained.

Raziya that a madaari performing acts with a child and a monkey had caught her eye, and it was humbling to see the child holding his hand out to the forelimb of the monkey. “I took about three photographs of them and then moved a little ahead on my street to see a man working on Ganpati idols. It was overwhelmed to see how the artist had painted every minute detail of the idol with patience. There is also a bakery shop quite close to my house from where I purchase my daily bread. I was intrigued to learn how was bread made, so I went to the shop and began to take photographs, as well as a video, of the different processes involved in making bread, beginning with putting the flour into a machine to make the dough. I also learnt that different processes are employed to make pao and naan. Further, I also took photographs of a shop where supari or betelnut is cut. Also, I saw some labourers who would come to the city for work from their villages and they would hardly get their pay on time because of the ruthless contractors,” she explained.

As the week that passed by also celebrated India's 62nd Independence Day, Paigumberi decided to mingle among celebrating crowd to take photographs. She said that although crowds made her nervous, she found it all the more annoying that the general public stares at others who decide to do some work on the road. “I hated it when everyone was staring at me when I was taking photographs. Eunuchs proclaim that all three sexes are united and they are no different from males or females, yet they are the noisiest lot – they were overreacting when they saw me with the camera. On the other hand, when I was trying to take photographs of my mohalla, the people began to mock at me. They said, 'Suddenly the milk vendor wants to become a crorepati, just with a camera in her hand.' I chose not to reply back at them, but some of them went and complained to my mother about what I was doing. They did not dare approach me themselves. Even my uncle said that it would be best if I had a press card with me so that I did not have to bother about my security,” Paigumberi said with an angry tone.

Paigumberi wondered how could one tackle the issue of crowds and unwanted stares. “I also went for the gay pride march, and was literally just an ant among the swarm of photojournalists. I wanted to take the photograph of Celina Jaitely by there were huge men who were doing their job of being her bodyguard rather too well,” she cited.

Fatima, on the other hand, had to face a strange dilemma – her younger brother had too many questions to ask her about the camera, and he was adamant at not letting himself be photographed. “In the beginning, whenever I had to take any photograph and would begin to focus my camera on the subject, my hands would shiver. Plus, the opposition that my brother was putting up unnecessarily was annoying. I thought to myself, if I am having to face so much trouble in my own home, how am I supposed to go and work out in the more mean world? So I decided to document the interactions between my children and my nephews,” she said, happy at having found a solution to her problem.

While some participants had to come to terms to their own fears and apprehensions, someone like Rubina knew how to tackle any menace. “When I went to the market area to take photographs, everyone was staring at me. I was aware that I was attracting a lot of attention, but I decided to ignore it all. When I was travelling by taxi near Byculla church, I saw a cow sitting in the middle of the road very quietly and elegantly. I took a photograph of that cow while the taxi was still in motion. The shopkeepers in the market were wondering what a woman wearing a naqaab was doing with a camera, in the middle of the street. Some of them even asked me what was I doing, to which I replied that I am sending my photographs to Dubai! They asked me if I had the permission to take photographs, but when I retorted back angrily as to why should I need permission and whose permission should I take to keep them quiet, they all went mum and got back to doing their own work. This whole episode reinstated my self confidence,” she said with a bright smile as she recollected her tryst with her camera.

So it wasn't a surprise either that Rubina's testimony was followed by a loud applaud by the rest of the participants. Next in line was the reticent Yasmin, who admitted that she was confused about what photographs she could take. “I was travelling by train and I remembered the photographs taken by Jyotika Jain. I decided to take the pictures of the hawkers trying to make a living by selling various articles on the train, but they became very conscious of my camera. After a few photographs, I was compelled to put my camera back into my bag. This week there were also magnificent celebrations of Janmasthami, so I took pictures of the human pyramids that were being formed,” she said.

Nilofer, on the other hand, said that it was with much struggle and personal determination that she was able to take some photographs. “I didn't have the courage to go alone and take photographs. I had called up Gazala but she ditched me in the last moment. I asked in my family if anyone would accompany me, but I ended up fighting with them. I took a neighbour's kid along but had to bribe him with sweets. Finally, I went to the slums in Wadala and took photographs of the way people live in such small areas. One vegetable vendor saw me taking photographs and almost began to fight with me. I was determined that I would surely take her photo. So I stood between two cars so that she could not see me, and then I clicked on,” Nilofer remembered.

Nilofer had also gone to the gay pride march along with her friends Yasmin and Gazala, and the trio had an experience of a lifetime. “We were busy taking photographs of anything that caught our eye, including eunuchs. One eunuch got really angry when I was taking her photo, and almost began to get into an argument with us. We apologised to them and they offered their hand to make peace. My hands began to shiver when I had to shake my hands with them! But we did not begin our photography journey without taking off our burqa, which we did, behind a truck. We then immediately wore some colourful masks to hide our identity, especially since there were a lot of media around. Many photographers thought us to be lesbians and wanted us three to stand together and pose near banners which shouted aloud about supporting same sex relationships. But we would walk away each time,” recounted Nilofer, as the other participants only laughed as she narrated every detail.

Nilofer added that after the march, they went to Girgaum Chowpatty where they continued taking photographs. “There the people thought that we were professional photographers and hence they did not bother us, and let us do our work,” she concluded.

Gazala, too, had tales about her first experience as a 'photographer'. “After having taken the obvious photographs of my family, I wanted to take the photograph of a handicapped woman who would come in our area to beg for alms. She was a stiff woman but somehow she allowed me to take her photograph. I was convinced that I had to take her photograph anyhow, because I could very easily relate to handicapped people. Later, when we went to the gay pride march, it was really nice to hear everyone talk in smattering English. I tried to converse too in English and one person wanted to take my photograph too, but I denied. He was kind enough to respect my denial,” said Gazala.

She added that on her route to her house, there was a BMC school and adjoining it is a slum. “I wanted to take their photographs and they began to look at me with questioning eyes. They asked me who I was, and I replied with pride that I was a photographer. They were glad to have a photographer among them and they welcomed me happily to talk to them and photograph them,” she said with confidence.

Shabeena wanted to take photographs of anything that she liked – be it the ice cream she ate, or the innocent eyes of a boy who was administered with glucose in a hospital. “I somehow convinced the kid and his grandmother to let me take their photograph, and they obliged.”

With a mother who is apprehensive about how her daughter would take photographs, Naheeda had to resort to utter some lies to be able to take photographs. “I work at a beauty parlour and so I had told them that I needed to go to the medical shop. But instead, I roamed for a bit and took photographs of vegetable vendors, the vendors selling fish, and anything else that seemed interesting in a market landscape. But then my battery died so I had to walk back to the beauty parlour. One day I had to go to Santacruz station and was quite agitated to see the slow pace of the work of the skywalk, which was in turn causing much trouble to the traffic situation. There was no place to walk in peace, and hence I took a couple of photographs there. Some vegetable hawkers who saw me taking photographs insisted that I take their pictures too, I obliged, and with many photographs to show my mother, she too let her guard down. She allowed me to take her photograph too. Now I am more confident of taking photographs anywhere,” she said with a radiant smile.

Another person to have found new confidence in herself through the camera was Tabassum. After having taken photographs of her family, she was able to shed any fear that could be hidden within her. “Now I want to take more photographs with a larger and more professional camera. Usually when I am walking on the road, nobody bother to look at me. But now, as I walk on the road with my camera in hand and taking photographs, they all notice me and do not mess with me. I have also learnt to take more time to compose my photographic frame so that I do not take any random photographs,” she said.

For Badrunissa, trying to get her daughter safely home from school became the subject of her first experience with the camera. “There is a slum near the BMC school at Agripada where my daughter studies. There have been many attempts to remove those slums – there was a murder there, and even Raj Thackeray had paid a visit. But the slums are still there and it is a nuisance because young girls like my daughter fall prey to eve teasing by the men. So I took photographs of that area,” she said.

Badrunissa also had been to Vashi during the week and was privy to a funny spectacle – a kid riding astride a dog. “I also had taken photographs of the wall paintings at Vashi railway station, followed by some photographs of some cops trying to catch some sleep. They saw me and I was afraid that they would confiscate the camera. They approached me but I was smart enough to convince them that I was only taking photographs of the wall paintings. After that trip to Vashi, I felt that I was more at ease to take photographs in my locale,” she narrated.

Ayesha had a long story to narrate about her manifold experiences with the camera. Choosing an idea to photograph had stuck in her mind ever since she left the workshop the previous week's evening. She was sure that one of the things that she would want to take photographs of was the market in Dongri where she spent her childhood, and the ladies who sold mogra flowers as gajra. "I was constantly aware that my hands were shivering when I was taking the photographs because I was afraid that the cops sitting at the nearby chowkie would snatch my camera, when they would notice a burqa-clad woman taking photographs. But somehow I managed to muster courage each time I took out the camera. Later, when I took photographs of the women selling gajra, some of them took off offence to it, while some others approached me and asked me to give them their photographs that i had taken. I also was quite intrigued by people who had made with the road – be it a drunken man who was swaying, or a woman who was selling vada pao along with another man, or some people who live on the footpath with just a tarpaulin sheet as their roof," Ayesha explained.

Ayesha is also trying her hand in business through Amway, and so she also took photographs at a seminar conducted by the company. She said that she remembered Sudharak's words that a place needs to be revisited many times so that its different aspects could be captured. "So I decided to minutely look at my daily route from my house to Sandhurst Road station. I also took photographs at the entrance of Haji Ali and when the vendors there asked me why was I taking their photographs, I told them that if my work was good, an exhibition could be put up. They then agreed to let me photograph them. I also tried to take my camera inside Atria Mall but I wasn't allowed to do so. One day, when I was travelling by train, I came across a South Indian eunuch who seemed upset that the train was empty, so she could not make any money. I asked her if I could take photograph her, to which she agreed and insisted that her photograph appear on the front page of a newspaper! Incidentally, I bumped into her again at the gay pride march later in the week," recollected Ayesha.

Reshma had an equally interesting journey while taking photographs. She had attended the gay pride march along with Ayesha and when she saw a fantastic photo opportunity, she climbed up a grill and worked through her camera. "Imagine a girl, all clad in burqa, climbing up some grills, to take photographs of the proceedings of a gay pride march -- the media there went berserk on seeing me that way and suddenly all professional lensmen turned towards me! The media wanted to know if I was attached to any organisation because of my participation. After that episode, I remembered that there was a girl in my neighbourhood who was strictly confined to her indoors. I requested her father's permission to let me take her photograph as it was needed for my photography examination. He told me to visit them the next day, but then he did not let me in later. I was dejected. Meanwhile, when I travelling by train just two days ago, I noticed that nobody would want a fisherwoman sit next to them. I decided that I wanted to their photograph," said Reshma.

She then told us about her arduous journey to document a single day in the life of a fisherwoman. Reshma reached Bhaucha Dhhakka the next day at 6.30 am to catch all the action. "I did not notice the signboard which said that cameras were not allowed. So although I took several photographs, one man finally noticed me and asked me politely to leave.He told me to take permission from the head office, which as shut at such an early hour. I went to the bridge where I saw fish being segregated and loaded onto vehicles to be sent across the city -- I was able to get their photographs. I learnt that they would also head to Dongri market and so I took a bus and reached there. I had to wait for two hours before the truck with the fish arrived. I took those photographs and also asked some fisherwomen if they would be okay if I took their photographs when they were heading home," Reshma explained.

She continued, "I was able to take photographs of the entire processes involved in the fish market. While some women agreed to being photographed, others were reluctant. One lady who was ready to let me take photographs, didn't let me take them finally after she was brainwashed by one of her colleagues. I managed to find out that the women do not go home with their basket, but I wasn't able to take photographs of the episode when they would return home. This entire experience – from 6.30 am to late at night – taught me not to be deterred by people's reactions," elaborated an already-professional Reshma, who had enthralled the audience with her narration of girt and determination.

Heena said that she wanted to take photographs of the Janmasthami celebrations, but the organisers did not allow her to do so. "They people in my mohalla were more interested where I got the camera from, if I had purchased it, what was I doing with it, etc. All those questions were annoying me. Then I shifted my focus to the vegetable vendor, the man who delivers gas cylinders, a child being taken to a doctor, and such observations that I had made in my locale. I saw a child in a dispensary and wanted to take his photograph, but he was afraid that I would print it in the newspaper. I was inspired by Sudharak's works on the conservancy workers of Mumbai and wanted to photograph something similar, but I had to put in a lot of efforts to convince people to let me photograph them," she said.

The narration of personal experiences drew to an end, and Ravi said that it was indeed necessary for everyone to admit that they were initially afraid to take photographs in public. But Mexy interrupted that it was evident from the photographs that the level of confidence among the women had surely increased. "But I think all of you would agree that the best photographs are those which were taken from a closer distance – the lack of distance from the subject is enough proof of the confidence in taking photographs," observed Ravi.

The confidence among the women was summed up best by the argument that Ayesha had to put forth during one of her interactions with a woman selling gajra. "The woman had told me that I would have to pay her Rs 20 if I wanted to photograph her. I told her that all I had was my camera and no money. She had no other option but to keep quiet. People were not bothered who was standing next to them when Celina Jaitely was up on the stage, but they were bothered when I was taking photographs. But this experience has showed me that I do not need to bother really what people have to say," she said.

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