Teenager Dwimalu Brahma took a photograph of a wedding, the first pictorial documentation of any wedding in the whole of Chirang district in Assam. Not one of the kids from any of the 10 Bodo and non-Bodo villages had ever held a camera before nature and civilisation photographer Bhaskar D Krishnamurthy came along to their hamlets. It's not a trend. Not yet. But if this isn't change, what is?
Seven months of planning, 39 cameras donated by Nikon, 10 Assamese villages and nine days of photography have gone into the Chirang project which, ironically, encourages change by preserving the past. Bengaluru-based award-winning photographer Bhaskar D Krishnamurthy says it started off as an experiment, one that had refused to leave his imagination for a while. Presenting rural kids with a novel opportunity, is all he wanted. Not one child among the bunch of 14 to 18 year-olds selected from 10 Bodo and non-Bodo villages in Chirang district of Assam, had ever picked up a camera. "The nine-day workshop was not an attempt to churn out expert photographers. I just wanted the children to enjoy their cameras, have fun," says the one-time engineer who now shuttles between Bengaluru and Georgia, USA, where he founded the biennial Augusta Photo Festival, a community-wide celebration of photography involving workshops and exhibits.
The boys and girls were selected from neighbouring Bodo (tribal) and non-Bodo (Bengali-Muslim) villages of Dhalapra, Khamarpara, Dimapur, Simlabari and Odalguri among others. Jennifer Liang, co-founders of The Ant, a decade-old NGO that helped Krishnamurthy organise his project, says the workshop was a logistical nightmare.
"Very few villages of the 120 hamlets we work with have electricity and kerosene. Sourcing alkaline batteries was another challenge. It was a sort of treasure hunt. We searched all of Guwahati and Bongaigaon, the largest towns in the vicinity," she says.
Liang works with her husband at the NGO that strives to support Chirang's locals by providing training, arranging workshops and discussing issues of health, human rights, and women's empowerment. "There are government schools here but if you ask me what facilities they have, I'd say... they have teachers. That's it," she shrugs.
With a plan to conduct clone workshops in villages across Gujarat, Rajasthan, Himachal and Orissa, Krishnamurthy who introduced the kids to the basics of photography after which they were given a free hand to click religion and ritual, home and family, school-life and bazaars, hopes to compile the Assam collection into a book. Sale proceeds will be to pumped back into Chirang's villages. "It is their work, after all," smiles the man whose classroom was once a mud-patch under a tree in a Mysore village.
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Financial aid and assistance of any sort will be appreciated by The Ant. Volunteers could work with children on developing various skills. "If you have a skill, run a course for these children. It could be in the area of English, Math, sports or any creative art," says the NGO's managing trustee. Volunteers of course would be expected to stay back for a long stint.