In a private clinic Teja Singh is seen holding a new-born boy and with his granddaughter beside him. With the deep-rooted preference for boys who carry on the family line and inherit wealth, the birth of a boy is always greeted with joy. Jagraon, Punjab, India. January 14, 2010 © Walter Astrada / Reportage by Getty Images for the Alexia Foundation.
For a photographer, access is everything, and for Walter Astrada, a photojournalist must work like a fisherman – throw as many fishing lines as possible to get just one fish, or in his case, the right picture. “It’s very difficult,” he tells BJP’s news editor Olivier Laurent, at this year’s Visa Pour l’Image photojournalism festival. “I spent a lot of time just trying to gain access. But I had some people helping me. I had a list of the things that I thought were really important to have in this story and, so, like a fisherman, I threw many lines to get one fish. I never knew what would come, but in the end, some lines caught what I was looking for. Basically, I was asking 10 people to reach just one person or to get one picture.”
Astrada, who worked with Agence France Presse but is now represented by Reportage by Getty Images, has, for the second year running, been selected by Jean-François Leroy, the festival’s director, as one of the 20+ photographers to be exhibited in Perpignan (he was selected last year for his work in Madagascar). Astrada’s project – Violence Against Women in India – is part three of an ongoing work started in Guatemala four years ago and continued in Congo more recently. The focus is the same – violence against women. But, in contrast to Guatemala, which has the second highest rate of women’s murders in the world, India tends to be host of a more pervasive and psychological violence. But, that’s not to say that physical violence isn’t present, says Astrada, on the contrary. In fact, millions of girls have been eliminated since the early 1980s through infanticide and widespread use of sex-selection via ultrasound tests and abortion, he explains.
“It’s a complicated issue because, as you see in the exhibition, it’s not just about the abortion of girls, but it’s also about violence against women that are older, much older,” he tells BJP. “If you look at the entire exhibition, you start to understand why they don’t like women, because after they are born, nobody wants them. There is no equality between men and women.”
He continues: “I think the main violence is psychological. It’s very tough for these women to get away from that violence.”
And, Astrada adds, the ramifications can reach beyond India’s borders as the shortage of women means that men don’t have eligible brides, forcing them to find some in other countries. “Marriage is the basis of society. A lot of Indian have to get married with people they might not know or want to marry. And you have some guys that are buying their wives from other countries – from Bangladesh or Nepal. So you have couples where the husband and wife don’t know each other and can’t speak to each other. It’s crazy.”
While Astrada feels that after spending four months in India shooting he is ready to move to the next step in his ongoing, overall project, he’s been working with Brian Storm in New York to present a multimedia presentation of his Visa Pour l’Image exhibition. The presentation will be shown at the festival on Friday 03 September.
Next, he will look for funds to start the following chapter, this time in a European country. But “without grants, it’s impossible to shoot these projects, because it’s even more difficult in Europe to gain access to the people I want to shoot.”
In the meantime, he will continue to shoot hard news stories Getty. He’s bound, after Visa Pour l’Image, to go to Haiti to cover the upcoming presidential elections – a work that could bring him back to Perpignan next year. You never know!
For more on Walter Astrada's work, visit his website at www.walterastrada.com.
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