From victims of sexual abuse to little girls from a village in Meghalaya where women rule, four photographers have captured people in their most telling moments. Smita Sharma, NayanTara Gurung Kashapati, Bonnie Chiu and Karolin Klüppel have entirely different ways of viewing the world through the lens of their cameras. But women form a major part of their work. Speaking at the Chennai Photo Biennale’s all-women symposium ‘Beyond Boundaries’, the photographers shared stories from the worlds they explore with their cameras.
Here’s our takeaway from the symposium:
Disillusioned after five years of working for a national newspaper, Smita left for New York.
She saw India from a new perspective. Back at home, she was surrounded by colours. But it was only when she was away did she appreciate it. Colours fill her photos, and Smita says she cannot imagine working with black-and-white. She travels to the remotest villages to photograph victims of sexual abuse and rape. “I have been threatened and chased,” says Smita. But she continues to tell stories that other media doesn’t.
NayanTara Gurung Kashapati
The Nepal-based photographer says that she always ends up looking through the gender lens “consciously or unconsciously”. She feels that as a woman photographer, “You are understood more and trusted more” by the subjects. It’s with this hope that she got cameras for less-privileged women, who worked as entertainers in pubs in a certain section of Kathmandu. Nayantara taught them to take photos; she wanted to do her bit as a photographer to change their lives. But the experiment somehow “fell flat on its face”, she recalls. She realised that chances for the women to make a living as photographers in Kathmandu were “very slim”. True, the cameras didn’t equip the women with new skills; but Nayantara saw that it gave them the excitement of learning something new.
Karolin’s series ‘Kingdom of Girls’ has defined her work as a photographer. The series features girls of the Khasi tribe from a village in Meghalaya. “I initially went there with the intention of staying for two or three weeks, but ended up staying six months,” recalls Karolin. Her photos capture the Khasi culture in which women rule the roost.
She does not comment on their lives or the politics of the land. Her photos simply show the girls in their everyday environment, leaving the interpretation to the viewers.
For Bonnie, the camera is her tool, as the pen is to a writer and the brush to an artist. The Hong Kong-based photographer says that she uses her camera to “talk about cultures that are important and under-represented”. Photography enabled her to gain diversity in understanding various cultures. She believes that photography is a means for change.