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Bhopal, 31 years on

Revisit the Bhopal gas tragedy through the POV of a UK-based photographer at a week-long exhibition

On the night of December 2, 1984, half a million people of Bhopal were exposed to 27 tonnes of deadly methyl isocyanate, leaked from a Union Carbide plant, leading to one of the world’s worst industrial disasters. Till date, more than 1,20,000 people suffer ailments caused by the accident and the subsequent pollution at the plant site, according to Bhopal.org.

A cross section of the Union Carbide wall that surrounds the disaster site. Pics courtesy/Francesca Moore
A cross section of the Union Carbide wall that surrounds the disaster site. Pics courtesy/Francesca Moore

UK-based documentary photographer Francesca Moore revisits the site and its survivors in her exhibition, Bhopal: Facing 30, that premieres in India at Jehangir Art Gallery, starting today. A few survivors will be present with the photographer at the gallery tomorrow. Funded by the Arts Council England and in partnership with The Bhopal Medical Appeal (Brighton, UK), Sambhavna Trust Clinic in Bhopal and Photofusion (London), the exhibition was showcased in the UK and Europe last year to commemorate the disaster’s thirtieth anniversary.

Celebrating survivors
Divided in two parts, the first includes a photo installation of the entire boundary wall of the disaster site presented in a continuum format. The images expose the level of the wall’s degradation, which allow easy access to toxins. “Capturing the wall was an innate reaction; more needed to see it,” shares Moore who photographed it during her visit to Bhopal in 2013. The second part features a series of formal portraits of families, still affected by the disaster. 208 families were photographed, and 20 frames are part of this exhibition. Set in the traditional Indian Studio Portraiture style, each frame includes three generation of a family, seated in a studio, draped in a red cloth with zardozi needlework, king-sized chairs and carpets.

A family portrait with 100-year old Sharifan Bi (second from left),  the oldest member to be photographed, as part of the project
A family portrait with 100-year old Sharifan Bi (second from left), the oldest member to be photographed, as part of the project

“The portraits were taken in a tin hut, usually used as a community health clinic, in the slums outside the Union Carbide wall. Red is the colour of celebration while the chairs and carpets are symbols of affluence. People were asked to come in their best. My intention was to give the families the opportunity to represent themselves to the world with the dignity that they deserve,” informs Moore. Though she wasn’t keen to know any family’s health details, she was told about them. “Many suffer due to gas exposure and secondary water contamination. There are cancers and third-generation birth defects,” she shares.

Francesca Moore. Pic courtesy/ George Brooks
Francesca Moore. Pic courtesy/George Brooks

Behind the scenes
Moore captured the frames during a month-long visit to the city in early 2014. With a translator, she spent a week explaining her project to residents. “They were accommodating to my pigeon-Hindi. The experience was tough but rewarding and enjoyable. The oldest person was 100 years, while the youngest was 25 days. Once, we photographed 46 families in a day. I gave every family that came for a photograph, an 8 x 12 inch print to keep,” she recalls.

Till:December 8, 11 am to 7 pm
At: Jehangir Art Gallery, Kala Ghoda.
Call: 22843989

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