Land grabs, forced displacement, Maoist rebels, state executions… Central India’s 50-year conflict is virtually unknown outside the Subcontinent, and Poulomi Basu’s investigation of this hidden war defies an easy reading
“Assume the form of a golden deer and lure Rama away. Meanwhile I will run away with Sita,” commands Ravana, the ten-headed King of Lanka, to one of his demon slaves in the ancient Indian epic poem, the Ramayana. Ravana’s plan is to entice Sita, the beautiful goddess, and steal her away from Prince Rama. While the golden deer distracts the prince, Ravana disguises himself as a holy man begging for money; and when Sita reaches out to offer him food, he catches her and carries her away to his kingdom. This scene marks a pivotal point in the Ramayana, a story believed to have been written over 2000 years ago by Valmiki, a celebrated poet in Sanskrit literature. It is the narrative that Vasantha Yogananthan is following in his ambitious seven-part photographic project, A Myth of Two Souls, which is now on its fourth chapter, Dandaka. He’s found a different way to convey the story in each chapter, and for this one, wanted to push himself further out of his comfort zone. For previous books he …
Shot along the banks of India’s largest river, cast in the pink glow of a low sun, Giulio Di Sturco’s images are calming and hazy. In one of them, a worker from Delhi hoses down piles of white foam, so much of it that at first glance the image is rather surreal. But as with all of his photographs, hidden under this dream-like filter is a devastating story, about the effects of climate change and pollution on the country’s holiest river. The foam is in fact toxic chemical waste, dumped by factories along the river’s tributaries. The Ganges provides water to around 40 percent of India’s population, and bathing in it is said to purify the soul – an important part of Hindu pilgrimage. But now, rising pollution levels from industrial waste and sewage are threatening not only this holy tradition, but the lives of 500 million people who rely on the river as a life source. Di Sturco, a trained photojournalist, started photographing the Ganges 10 years ago, when he was on assignment in north …
When Derek Bishton, John Reardon, and Brian Homer set up a photography and design agency in the late 1970s in Handsworth, a multicultural, inner-city district of Birmingham, they were viewed with suspicion. “I lived in Handsworth and walked to work with my camera, and I felt people were looking at me as if to say ’Who is this white guy, is he working for the police?’” says Bishton. “As I started to take photographs I was aware of this problem.”
Their agency, Sidelines, had been set up to work with community groups on issues such as social justice housing, unemployment and immigration though, so the photographers were keen to win the locals’ trust. Discussing it in their office, a converted terraced house on a busy shopping street in Handsworth, Bishton happened to find a photograph in Camerawork Magazine, showing a Ukranian woman who had photographed herself in a portrait studio set up by American photographer David Attie. It was, he realised, the perfect solution – and one which their office was seemingly built for.
The World Press Photo Foundation has announced the six talents from Asia in its ongoing 6×6 Global Talent Program. Aimed at picking out under-recognised visual story-tellers from around the world, the 6×6 programme is now on its sixth and final region in its first cycle. The photographers picked out this time are: Amira Al-Sharif, Yemen; Azin Anvar Haghighi, Iran; Saumya Khandelwal, India; Senthil Kumaran Rajendran, India; Shahria Sharmin, Bangladesh; and Yan Cong, China.
The image-makers were recommended by an international group of over 100 nominators, and selected by a jury comprised of: Ammar Abd Rabbo (Syria), photographer and journalist; NayanTara Gurung Kakshapati (Nepal), photographer and curator; Claudia Hinterseer (Netherlands), senior video producer South China Morning Post; and Kazuma Obara (Japan), photographer.
“For me, photography was more of a need, because I was going through a personal crisis. I had lost a friend, and I had to find a way of living again.” At the beginning of last year Debmalya Roy Choudhuri travelled to Rishikesh, a city in northern India, at the foot of the Himalayas, known as the “yoga capital of the world”.
He wanted to remove himself from the urban chaos and violence in his hometown, Kolkata, and challenge the idea of home as defined by four walls. “I had a very difficult childhood where I had to confront a lot of darkness,” says Choudhuri, who was sick for a long time. “I grew up in a very confined space. My parents went through a lot of problems and my family fell apart.”
Poulomi Basu’s Centralia is no easy read. The situation it unravels − a protracted fight for land and resources in central India − is not only complex, but also largely unheard of, especially in mainstream Western media. And Basu, reflecting on contemporary documentary practices, refuses to simplify it into a readily digestible format. Instead, she wishes to reflect the bewildering atmosphere that reigns in the region. “The adage ‘The first victim of any conflict is the truth’, is particularly apt here,” she says. “The conflict, with its many actors all occupying opaque roles, has created a space with its own internal logic and landscape.” Thus, she hopes to take the audience “on a journey to a place where truth and lies, reality and fiction have become blurred”.
Indian photographer Arko Datto (b.1986) completed two masters degrees in theoretical physics and mathematics before deciding to take a “leap of faith into photography”. After studying photography at the Danish School of Journalism in Aarhus, his long-term projects have since been published in leading international publications, such as TIME and National Geographic. For PIK-NIK, Datto spent the last five winter seasons photographing picnic spots across eastern India, primarily in West Bengal but also in Jharkhand and Orissa. Here, families and colleagues converge for a day of food, drink and revelry before departing at sunset, leaving piles of rubbish in their wake. “Vats of freshly slaughtered chicken, sacks of vegetables and an arsenal of pots, pans and gas cylinders are lugged along, taking cooking en plein air to a whole new level,” says Datto.
Launched on 11 December, a brand new biannual, Clove, has a refreshing take on art and culture. Founded by London-based, British-Indian journalist Debika Ray, the magazine focuses on creative work from South Asia and its global diaspora. “My impression was always that, in Western media, there was a narrow frame of reference when it came to covering parts of the world beyond North America and Europe,” says Ray, who until recently was senior editor at the architecture and design magazine Icon. “Stories from South Asia or the Middle East are often handled in a distant way, focusing on problems or crises and how people battle against odds to overcome things. I wanted to tell stories from those parts of the world in a way that were instead built on their own merit.”
When New York-based photographer Marc Ohrem-Leclef first travelled to India eight years ago he was struck by the “small, shared moments of intimacy” that he saw men displaying towards one another in public – admiring the openness with which they made what he assumed were public displays of romantic love. “As a gay man, I was quite excited by what I thought was romantic freedom,” he says. “Men would be holding hands or leaning against each other in public. There was a connectivity that I thought was really beautiful.” He quickly learnt that things were not as he had first thought, that the men he saw were not necessarily romantically involved at all and were often just expressing friendship.