The use of photography as a tool for social documentation has a long history – however, a distinction may be made between photographs as evidentiary documents and photography meant to expose social evils. The latter, understood as social documentary photography, gained momentum in the twentieth century and may be seen as an engaged study of certain social circumstances; therefore different from photojournalism or reportage which deals with the instantaneous.
Sutirtha Chatterjee’s The Sixth Sense and Zhazo Miachieo’s Cycle of Street Life, winners of the 2017 TFA-Tasveer Emerging Photographer Awards, share many similarities including the form of the social documentary. Both ongoing projects deal with the darker realities of our world and are made particularly poignant through their focus on children; Chatterjee employs light and shadow, composition and saturation to make manifest the darkness of the blind children’s worlds, while Miachieo’s graphic high-contrast monochromatic images reflect the starkness of the world that his young substance abusers inhabit. The sensitivity that both photographers display toward their subjects produce poignant, heart-rendering windows into these young lives.
The Sixth Sense | Sutirtha Chatterjee
India is now home to the world’s largest number of blind people. In addition, nearly 30,000 blind people are added every year. Cataract is the primary reason for blindness in India. Every year approximately 3 million people develop cataract in India but the worst part is that almost half of these cases are curable which when left unattended translates to complete or partial blindness. Meanwhile there is an acute shortage of donated eyes in India and nearly 60% of the eyes donated are wasted or left unused. The third important and most neglected part is education amongst blind children. It is estimated that a meager 5% of the total population of blind children of our country receives education. Blind schools are important institutions in imparting education amongst the blind children in India.
Over the years, studies in child development, sociology, and special education have led to the conclusion that blind children grow, flourish, and achieve greater self and social fulfillment by being nurtured in the least restrictive environment. Through local education, supported by well prepared specialists in education of the blind, these children can enjoy everyday common experiences essential to the development of a keen awareness of the world around them.
The way ahead lays with the blind school- the institution that allows for the hope filled possibility of education and rehabilitation for children. It is the only place where we can enable them to blend into an everyday life of dignity and self sufficiency.
This is a series of portraits of the visually impaired students from a blind school in Kolkata. The photographs were made during a workshop conducted by Goethe Institute Kolkata under the mentorship of Yana Wernicke. I am interested in how the portraits work both individually, and as a series. The work is not an attempt to reveal the “truth” of the sitters but more a contemplation of them being in the moment.
Cycle of Street Life | Zhazo Miachieo
A dark, dangerous and disturbing activity has been slinking through the veiled underbelly of Delhi where the young and the very restless have taken to substance abuse and inevitably to criminal offences including murder. There are about 1.5-2 lakhs kids in the streets of the capital indulging in substance abuse; and according to a study conducted by the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights on Substance Abuse by Children, the average age of these children is 13.7 years. Another alarming point highlighted by the same study is that the highest number of children consuming drugs are school dropouts. Most of these street kids take on the job of rag picking where they collect wastes like empty water bottles and tin scraps and sell them at junk stores. This earns them about RS 150- 200 daily and the money is then the used to procure drugs from peddlers. Apart from the imminent criminal activities, the vulnerability to diseases like AIDS, through needle sharing for instance, is hauntingly high for these young substance abusers.