In a brief interview with the Tasveer Journal, Modgil notes: “Initially, convincing the people to be photographed was very difficult. They were quite suspicious of me and thought that I was somebody from the ‘inspection authority’ collecting data in order to get them evicted from the slum. However, with time, I was able to convince them. I kept going back to the slum with prints and that certainly helped.”
Of her motivations, she explains: “I felt compelled to work with these migrants because right in the heart of Delhi, is this slum where this community of migrant workers live and nobody knows about them. They live in make – shift illegal homes and the Government does not provide them with any recognition or the slum with any basic amenities. This is the initial idea with which I started out… it became clear to me early on that I was not just going to ‘take’ images. I was rather, going to ‘make’ images. That is why I chose to make the portraits the way I did… Since I was making formal portraits, the image making process was interactive and quite participatory. At times they were posing on their own and at times I was suggesting.”
THE CAR WALAHS
Living in the secure confines of Princess Park in Lutyens Delhi, I was intrigued by the ruckus often created in the lanes behind my house. A cacophony of loud voices and laughter regularly interrupted my sleep making me increasingly disturbed. When the whirring noises accompanying the voices were particularly loud one night, I mustered up the courage to explore the lanes behind my home. To my surprise, I discovered a slum inhabited by young boys and men from Bihar. I also discovered the source of the loud whirring sounds – their remote toy cars.
By interacting with the owners of these toy cars, I learned that they were migrants who had moved to Delhi in search of a better life. Unfortunately, their struggles in the Capital have dampened their dreams of making it big. With their toy cars in tow, they rush out of their dwellings each evening to provide joy rides to children and families visiting India Gate. After tirelessly haggling with customers and competing with each other to maximise their earnings, they are chased away by the Police. It is the sound of them rushing back to disappear into their tightly packed homes that has woken me up night after night.
I have focused my camera on these Car Walahs with the intent of disregarding their environs. By adding a studio backdrop I was able to isolate them from their environment. This also allowed the process of my image making to slow down, which in return made my engagement and interaction with them profound. Use of the studio backdrop lent a certain formality to the entire exercise, and gave their occupation a semblance of dignity and recognition. These unknown faces would otherwise be lost in the sea of people that throng India Gate.
Neeti Modgil is a New Delhi based documentary photographer. Thanks to being the daughter of Defence personnel, she had the opportunity to travel across the country and experience diverse cultures, which in turn kindled her interest in photography. After graduating in Political Science from Delhi University therefore, she completed a Diploma in Creative Photography at Sri Aurobindo Centre for Arts and Communication. Particularly interested in portraiture and architectural photography, she currently freelances and assists well known editorial photographer, Jasmer Singh, seeking to gain a better understanding of the profession’s commercial aspect.