Mumbai: American photographer launches crowd-sourced Aarey Forest Image Bank

Updated: 18 February, 2018 10:49 IST | Benita Fernando | Mumbai

A Mumbai-based American photographer launches a crowd-sourced image bank to save vignettes of the endangered forest space

Selections from Aarey Forest Image Bank highlight the natural beauty and the lives of residents in Aarey Milk Colony
Selections from Aarey Forest Image Bank highlight the natural beauty and the lives of residents in Aarey Milk Colony

Save AareyOn an ordinary walk through Aarey Milk Colony, Craig Boehman, 47, couldn't get past the obvious. "On one side, were slogans announcing that work for the Metro 3 corridor is underway, such as Connecting the Unconnected and Mumbai is Upgrading, while across the road were houses of its residents, mainly adivasis," says the Malad resident.

Aarey Forest

Boehman, an independent photographer, is the man behind Aarey Forest Image Bank. The database, which can be found on Instagram, Facebook and mainly Flickr, is meant as a crowd-sourced pool of photographs that offers vignettes of life in Aarey Milk Colony, which has become the heavily contested site between the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRC) and, those on the other side of the debate, such as environmentalists and the adivasis.

Aarey Forest

The Flickr site currently hosts 55 photographs, all of which can be used freely by anyone, including publishing media. People can contribute by joining the Flickr group. "Through this database, I wanted to put the spotlight on the immediate life of the people who live here," he says.

Craig Boehman

A peaceful activism

Boehman is an American who has been living in Mumbai for the last five years. He moved here soon after he married his Indian wife. He had been a screenwriter for a while, but turned to his old love for photography two years ago. Having heard a lot about the ecologically destructive metro work at Aarey, he ventured to the area on a Sunday morning in January this year. Over time, with some help from a charitable organisation named We Will Help, Boehman documented the people who live in the various padas in Aarey.

"I wanted to put a human face to the cause. It is important to state concerns like the impact on air quality, but there is also the element of human struggle, and not just for the people living there, but also for those wandering through Aarey," he says. What is interesting about the online database is that it exists as a form of peaceful yet creative activism. "The image bank is not directly confrontational. It also corresponds with my passion for photography," he says. It exists alongside more vocal activists who are concerned about Aarey's dark fate. For instance, about 70 tribals from Prajapurpada, who are set to be displaced from their village in Aarey, plan to approach the Bombay High Court. While the current stock of photographs are all Boehman's own, he hopes that it will find users from international news publications, thereby bringing more visibility to the ecological crisis.

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First Published: 18 February, 2018 10:40 IST

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