Good photographs are basically of two kinds: those that stand out for their technical virtuosity, and those that appeal to emotions.
An exhibition — Melae Vaanam Keelae Bhoomi — conducted by World Vision in Chennai was a bit of both. There were landscapes and silhouettes, portraits and perspectives, colours and hues, hope and despair, joy and sorrow. But most important, the photographs were of street children by street children.
The initiative was made possible by R. Srinivasan, professional photographer and director of Oho Productions, who taught the children how to shoot pictures. When the 20 children, aged 11 to 16, were given a 14-megapixel DSLR (digital single lens reflex camera) and a five-day window, they did what came naturally to them: they captured the only world they were familiar with, in black and white, warts and all.
With the sky for a roof, pavement for home, and the streets for a playground, their world is both finite and unbounded. Not for them the luxury of clean sheets, mosquito-free nights, water on tap and three meals a day; they bathe in not-so-clean water, dry their clothes on the railway tracks, live amidst garbage and study under the streetlamps.
Their photographs, which portrayed all of this and more were on display at an exhibition in Chennai for two days this week; they have now been compiled into a book and released.
The children are a proud lot. Latif, a student of class XI, living on the platform at Egmore railway station, said his favourite shot was of colourful clothes being dried on railway tracks. “I want to be a dancer like Prabhu Deva. But I will pursue photography as a hobby,” he said. For Rabisha of class IX, who wanted to capture the bright side of her life, the shot of her baby brother trying on make-up was her favourite.
Suganya, of class VIII, was eager to capture the reality of her life. “I wanted to draw the government’s attention to our problems, our conditions, the lack of water and our struggle to even submit proof address.” Her brother is a school topper, but could not get a scholarship, as they did not have a ration card; the irony is they do have a voter ID card.
Srinivasan said the workshop was an attempt to bring out the innate talents of street children, whose skills often go unnoticed.
“The children are enthusiastic, creative and mature beyond their age,” Srinivasan said. So good were the shots that the photos needed little editing before going on display, he said.
Federick Melwin, child development co-ordinator, World Vision, an organisation that works with street children, said, “Upliftment of one child can do wonders for the community.” He says that after their intervention, many street children have started going to school.