Indian Photo Festival 2023 in Hyderabad: The Global Ability Photography Challenge celebrates the abilities of the differently-abled

The participation of the physically-and mentally-challenged was the best part of the contest, says Youth4Jobs founder, Meera Shenoy

Published - December 07, 2023 03:56 pm IST

A  photograph by Gayatri Gupta

A photograph by Gayatri Gupta | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

A display at the ongoing India Photo Festival 2023 in Hyderabad aims at celebrating abilities and empowering the differently-abled. The exhibition has works of 20 finalists, including three winners of the second edition of the Global Ability Photography Challenge (GAPC), organised by Hyderabad-based Youth4Jobs in partnership with the Indian Photo Festival (IPF). While its first edition had a national representation, the second edition has global participation.

Youth4Jobs founder, Meera Shenoy, never dreamt about this kind of a response for the contest.’ “The best part was the participation of physically- and mentally-challenged people. The Right to Persons with Disabilities Act recognises 21 disabilities, of which 18 were represented here,” she says.

From across the globe

The 20 finalists were selected from 269 entries. The participants are from India, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Belgium, South Africa, Tuvalu and the US. Eight were chosen as winners and awarded cash prizes of ₹25,000 and ₹15,000 each at an event recently.

New York-based multidisciplinary photographer with disability Nolan Ryan Trower whose works are also being displayed was recently in Hyderabad for the award ceremony. “He was excited by the talent and told me it’s fascinating to see the works but also paradoxical that he should travel 6000 kilometres from the US to India to see a photography exhibition of people with disabilities, something he says, he rarely sees in the West,” says Meera.

To hone the skills

The Foundation had recently conducted photography camps in September and October in Rajasthan and Maharashtra. The vision is to develop the photography skills of people with disabilities in rural areas and help them learn to look at disability with a cheerful lens. “We tell them to take good pictures of what they see around them so that they look at the environment with special eyes and notice small things too. Our prize-winning photograph in the display has pictures of feet with disabilities but done creatively. This is a creative and fun way to look at disability rather than the sad manner in which society looks at it.”

A photograph by Deepanshi Sharma

A photograph by Deepanshi Sharma | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

This perspective change, Meera hopes will help one appreciate diversity. “The way we go ‘wow’ at seeing Nature and its different flowers and leaves, we learn to embrace a diverse community.”

Meera is happy with the response but feels much can be done. The award-winning pictures are also being displayed at an event at the Godrej Diversity and Inclusion Center in Mumbai on December 8. “The potential is tremendous; We hope this grows as a movement,” says Meera.

Three winners share their experiences

Magic in the ordinary

A photograph by Lavanujan Croos

A photograph by Lavanujan Croos | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Lavanujan Croos from Jaffna in Sri Lanka is a deaf photographer with a broad range of skills especially design and photography.  His first prize winning photograph titled ‘Young Girl’ has a little girl with a red flower gazing at a crowd during the chariot pulling festival in Nallur Kanthaswamy temple in Jaffna, Sri Lanka in August this year. “I framed the beauty of a young girl, dressed uniquely, her joy reflected as she gazed at the temple crowd. Guided by her father’s supportive hand, the photograph tells a story of happiness and connection,” says Lavanujan in an email. 

Lavanujan’s love for photography began in college. He  borrowed a friend’s camera and was fascinated to see the ‘way it froze moments in time’  His photography journey began after learning the basics of photography from Madras photoblogs Deaf photography and uses Canon EOS 700D but borrows lenses from relatives.

 “There’s magic in the ordinary; I want my photos to convey the stories that often go unnoticed,” says Lavanujan hoping to encourage aspiring photographers to embrace the journey and tell their stories. 

Capturing resilience 

By Akanksha Kamble

By Akanksha Kamble | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Akanksha Kamble, a hearing-impaired individual from Mumbai has diverse talents and passions. An artist, content creator and an interior designer specialising in architecture, she is an adept photographer and film director too.  Her black and white image taken with an iPhone at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus in 2022 shows a group of village folks at the station.  “Their ease and comfort while sitting on the ground inspired me, echoing the enduring soul of India’s rural communities. I coined the concept for this photograph with the quote ‘The soul of India lives in its villages,” she says. 

Thanks to her partner Ashwin Babu, a passionate photographer from Mumbai, she too developed an interest in photography in 2019.  Witnessing people from villages with traditional practices effortlessly adapting within the urban landscape has been a profound inspiration for her. 

Appreciating the cultural richness and simplicity of moments, she says, “It’s remarkable to observe the resilience and authenticity of village life thriving amidst the bustling heart of the city.”

Capturing emotions

The third prize winner Gayatri Gupta has Down syndrome. An artist and advocate, she has been at the forefront in the world of art and disability advocacy. Her photograph taken during the COVID time with Canon 700D shows her mother with the background of clouds and leaning against a glassdoor. Gayatri had to practice taking pictures of the clouds as the balcony was covered by a pigeon net.  She looked at the shot and said, ‘I caught you trapped between the buildings and Covid’.  

Her love for photography developed into a passion eight years ago in Bangalore  and is currently doing online courses with her mentor, Mohit Ahuja.  “ I love taking portraits of people and capturing their emotions in different environments. These strangers ‘talk’ to me through photography even after many years,” says Gayatri adding, “My challenge is ‘scepticism I face when I start taking photos. Most people don’t take me seriously.” Gayatri’s artistic journey boasts numerous accolades, including being selected among 25 artists for a Chitra Kala Parishad showcase in March 2023.

The top 20 finalists’ photographs and Nolan Ryan Trowe’s works are on display till January 7, 2024, at the State Art Gallery in Kavuri Hills, Hyderabad.

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