Pic­ture Per­fect

Five women who are telling sto­ries through pho­to­graphs

India Today - - CONTENTS - Anushree FAd­nAvis, 29 Train Diaries, MuM­bai By Aditi Pai AnushA YA­dAv, 44 in­Dian MeM­ory ProjecT, MuM­bai By Moeena Halim

“Doc­u­ment­ing life sen­si­tises you”

Tat­toos, quirky shoes, make-up ses­sions on-the­move, pals don­ning iden­ti­cal clothes, an acid at­tack vic­tim hid­ing her scars, cat fights and fes­tiv­i­ties—these fa­mil­iar sights on Mum­bai lo­cal ladies com­part­ment are what Anushree Fad­navis picked for her se­ries of pho­to­graphs on In­sta­gram. Ti­tled Train

Diaries, her pho­to­graphs cap­ture the pulse of Mum­bai, a city that fa­mously calls the rail­ways its life­line. With 96,000 fol­low­ers on her In­sta­gram page and 700 im­ages clicked on her phone, Fad­navis finds in­ter­est­ing sto­ries and forges friend­ships aboard the lo­cal train. “The ladies com­part­ment is a melt­ing pot of sto­ries and emo­tions; a sec­ond home for most where they make friends, cry their heart out, gos­sip, chop veg­eta­bles, fin­ish work, cel­e­brate fes­ti­vals and even do their make-up,” says the pho­to­jour­nal­ist who works with a news agency in Mum­bai.

Like most chil­dren grow­ing up in Mum­bai, trains have been an in­sep­a­ra­ble part of Fad­navis’ life—she re­mem­bers fear­fully board­ing a packed com­part­ment of the Bori­vali lo­cal with her mother to visit rel­a­tives in Dadar and San­tacruz. She’s seen her par­ents rush against time to catch the train to work ev­ery morn­ing and waited long hours when the trains stopped dur­ing heavy rains. So,

when she started trav­el­ling to work in 2013, she picked up her cam­era to doc­u­ment life on the Mum­bai lo­cal. “It was meant to be a per­sonal mem­oir where I could re­mem­ber peo­ple I met on the train,” she says. Soon her evoca­tive pic­tures and the sto­ries they tell struck a chord with fel­low In­sta­gram­mers and Fad­navis con­tin­ues to add to the col­lec­tion.

“I en­gage peo­ple in a con­ver­sa­tion be­cause ev­ery pic­ture has a story,” says Fad­navis. She’s clicked a young girl who wears clothes with vi­brant im­ages of cup­cakes and ice creams, chat­ted with a teenager suf­fer­ing from Al­binism, a con­gen­i­tal dis­or­der, who sits in a cor­ner of the com­part­ment and made friends with a trans­gen­der who hap­pily poses for pic­tures in her favourite saris. “Every­one has a story. Each time I pho­to­graph these women and talk to them, it helps me put things into per­spec­tive. I’ve learnt to em­pathise with peo­ple and be thank­ful for what I have. Doc­u­ment­ing life sen­si­tises you,” she says.

I“Pho­to­graphs play the role of the cul­tural po­lice”

n 2010, de­signer and pho­tog­ra­pher Anusha Ya­dav set up the world’s first pub­lic vis­ual archive of the In­dian sub-con­ti­nent, The In­dian Mem­ory Project

(IMP), which doc­u­ments his­tory and cul­ture through pho­to­graphs. The web­site now has 175 en­tries sent in from peo­ple across the world telling of life in the sub-con­ti­nent be­fore 1990. “Pho­tog­ra­phers play the role of the cul­tural po­lice,” says Ya­dav. Ev­ery pho­tog­ra­pher is in a sense doc­u­ment­ing some­thing and al­though pho­to­graphs on her web­site are al­ways ac­com­pa­nied by es­says, the im­ages are re­veal­ing in their own way. “Sta­tus, power, beauty, van­ity, rep­re­sen­ta­tion, iden­tity—so much is re­vealed through a pho­to­graph,” she says. Ya­dav has been deeply in­ter­ested and in­volved in doc­u­ment­ing cul­ture both through her cu­ra­tion of pho­to­graphs and sto­ries of per­sonal his­to­ries as well as through her own pho­to­graphic en­deav­ours. Her se­ries of self-por­traits sees her as dress­ing up iconic women of the past from Nur Ja­han to Mata Hari. When she first started IMP, she was try­ing to con­vince com­pa­nies and brands to archive their ma­te­ri­als. The project was meant as a way to prove that her the­ory could be put into prac­tice. “I thought 50 peo­ple would love it, but didn’t ex­pect five mil­lion vis­i­tors,” she says. Seven years down the line, the project is used as an aca­demic re­source. Her re­search for IMP has led her to nu­mer­ous other pro­jects. In March this year, she ex­hib­ited ‘The Pho­to­graph is Proof ’, a col­lec­tion of pho­to­graphs that throw light on a few crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions in In­dia. In July, just be­fore the 70th In­dep-en­dence Day cel­e­bra­tions kick off across the coun­try, she will com­mem­o­rate the oc­ca­sion—through a repos­i­tory of pho­to­graphic bi­ogra­phies of peo­ple in the In­dian film in­dus­try be­fore the 1950s.

Pho­tog­ra­pher, writer and film­maker Tu­nali Mukher­jee was a re­luc­tant In­sta­gram­mer two years ago. She soon found her­self en­cour­aged to see the world within the app’s square frame and the trees of Mum­bai be­came her big­gest in­spi­ra­tion. Walk­ing around the city, she re­alised that the trees were fight­ing bat­tles of their own and be­gan to doc­u­ment their fight with ur­ban­i­sa­tion. “It seemed like a silent war be­tween the city and the trees. Peo­ple would build walls around the trees, or lay down roads or sheets of ce­ment on top of their roots, but the roots and branches would fight their way out. Mus­cle mem­ory taught me to skip over the roots when I walked down the foot­paths, and I re­alised I’d been tak­ing these trees for granted for so long,” says Mukher­jee.

Over the years, she has taken over 50 pho­tos which she quite un­in­ten­tion­ally be­gan ar­chiv­ing un­der the hash­tag ‘Bom­bay Trunks’. The South Mum­bai res­i­dent deeply trou­bled by the con­struc­tion of the Mum­bai Metro and their de­ci­sion to chop down more than 5,000 trees around Co­laba as well as Aarey Milk Colony, aims at a more con­certed ef­fort now that at least

“Trees have been fight­ing bat­tles of their own with ur­ban­i­sa­tion”

three of the trees she has pho­tographed in the past are no longer where they once stood. “We have al­ready lost 200 trees and ex­pect to lose more. Some of these were planted sev­eral decades ago and others are cen­turies old,” she says. Mukher­jee, by self­ad­mis­sion, has be­come “treeob­sessed” ever since MMRCL (Mum­bai Metro Rail Cor­po­ra­tion Lim­ited) chain­saws knocked down three trees in her lane. “It’s a scary sit­u­a­tion for tree lovers in the city right now. It’s dev­as­tat­ing,” she says. She hopes that the hastag and the archive will en­cour­age peo­ple to “stop and look” and also col­lab­o­rate and con­trib­ute pho­tos. Al­though her project has largely been lim­ited to South Mum­bai, she aims to cover the rest of the city too.

From trac­ing the life story of a French baker from Ma­ha­rash­tra to tak­ing a peek into the lives of women do­mes­tic work­ers, Nupur Nanal uses her cam­era to tell sto­ries that evoke emo­tion. “I don’t tell sad sto­ries. I tell sto­ries of re­silience,” she says. The Pune-based pho­tog­ra­pher spends six months shoot­ing wed­dings and the rest of the year trav­el­ling and doc­u­ment­ing sto­ries of peo­ple and com­mu­ni­ties. In 2015, she trav­elled across Europe to meet Ma­ha­rash­tri­ans who mi­grated from the state and set­tled into varied pro­fes­sions and lives. The pic­tures were ex­hib­ited at a show at the Bri­tish Coun­cil, Delhi, and Nanal fol­lowed that up with a project, The Do­mes­tic Help, for the Goethe In­sti­tute on por­traits of women do­mes­tic work­ers. She gave them a point-and-shoot cam­era and asked them to doc­u­ment their daily lives. The out­come was a story of 10 women who have spent their lives look­ing af­ter their em­ploy­ers’ homes, leav­ing be­hind their own fam­i­lies. “They build an emo­tional bond with the em­ployer’s fam­ily but their own emo­tions, as­pi­ra­tions and fam­i­lies are al­ways hid­den. I shot dig­ni­fied por­traits that bring out their in­ner beauty,” she says. It’s an on­go­ing se­ries and Nanal now plans to take her project to other cities to doc­u­ment more women in the same oc­cu­pa­tion.

I“The cam­era is my medium to tell sto­ries of re­silience” “I want to cre­ate a space where peo­ple talk to share sto­ries, and not just for the likes”

f a sin­gle per­son lis­tens to my story, my life will be worth it,” says a woman in a vil­lage in Bi­har who has been called Ja­nard­han bahu all her life. It was a turn­ing point for Vat­sala Shri­vas­tava, Founder, Bindi Bot­toms—rep­re­sen­ta­tive of women from top to bot­tom—who had set out to gather sto­ries of tran­si­tion in the lives of In­dian women. “I wanted to tell sto­ries of many Ja­nard­han bahus,” she says. Once a jour­nal­ist, Shri­vas­tava spent four years in the US where she met other women like her, in tran­si­tion, be­tween two dif­fer­ent worlds. On her re­turn in 2015, she no­ticed that In­dia was on the cusp of change in a sub­tle man­ner through ev­ery­day choices made by women. So came the idea of Bindi Bot­toms that chron­i­cles their sto­ries from around the coun­try. “They are sto­ries of free­dom, of choice and of a par­tic­u­lar mo­ment when the per­son is a win­ner,” she says. Though the sto­ries have been col­lected in au­dio, video and text for­mats, they are avail­able on the web­site as text only. Af­ter ev­ery 100-150 sto­ries, she is­sues a re­port with her ob­ser­va­tions. She has glob­alised the plat­form by invit­ing women to con­trib­ute their sto­ries, lo­calised it through geo­tag­ging and democra­tised it by let­ting peo­ple up­load them.

Pho­to­graph by MAn­DAr De­oD­hAr Anushree Fad­navis cap­tures life aboard Mum­bai lo­cal trains through her pho­to­graphs

(left) Chameli Devi jain and Phool Chand jain af­ter their mar­riage in 1923, contributed by Sreeni­vasan jain for the In­dian Mem­ory Project; (be­low) im­per­son­ation of Mehr-un-nissa from self-por­trait se­ries

Pho­to­graph by DANESH jASSAWAlA

Tu­nali Mukher­jee is cre­at­ing aware­ness about silent death of the trees

Nupur Nanal chron­i­cles sto­ries of peo­ple and com­mu­ni­ties Pho­to­graph by MiliND SHElTE

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