Playing with light in the darkness

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By Ananya Dutta
The Hindu
Kolkata, November 15, 2011

No kidding: A visitor admires photographs taken by two amateur photographers from under-privileged backgrounds in Kolkata on Monday. - Photo: Sushanta Patronobish

Twenty-one-year-old Shankar Sarkar is both perturbed and fascinated by the surroundings he grew up in ? a red light area in the city. Shankar’s discomfort resulted in him dropping out of school but his enchantment led him to click a series of photographs of his mother, eventually enabling him to find a niche for himself in professional photography.
On the occasion of Children’s Day, a three-day exhibition of photographs taken by two children from the margins was inaugurated here on Monday.
?From the first time that I held a camera in my hand (a compact Yashica film camera that had to be shared by six boys from the slum), I have been taking pictures of my mother ? scenes from her daily life,? says Shankar, adding that in this manner he has been ?documenting? her life over the last ten years.
He says he would love to take pictures of others in the neighbourhood ? he has known them for years. But when he steps out with his camera, ?it invariably leads to a fight?. Sometimes he visits other red light areas in the city, for instance Sonagachi.

?They do not know me there, so I’m not interrupted, but the photographs can never be as candid as at home,? he says. Some of these photographs of his mother titled ?facing one’s own? were shown at the Delhi Photo Festival last year.
Circumstances forced Firoza Khatoon to drop out of school and work as a domestic help. Five years ago she was introduced to photography during a nine-week workshop organised by an NGO, Save the Children. Her talent and enthusiasm were spotted and she was offered a chance to hone her skills at a leading photography agency in the city.
She was introduced to Henri Cartier Bresson, the master of candid photographs and a pioneer of street photography, and computers and Photoshop. Firoza, who was re-admitted to school and is presently studying in Class XI, wants to pursue her passion and become a professional photographer one day. ?I may become a photographer for a newspaper or work in an agency; I just know I want to become a photographer,? she says.
Shankar is already working at an agency ? he manages the photographic library, retouches pictures on Photoshop and is now learning graphic design at Drik India.
A nine-month internship in Bangladesh allowed him to save enough to buy his own professional camera. ?I had to scrounge a bit, but I managed the Rs. 60,000 for my Nikon D 90,? he beams.
Shankar Sarkar worked at Drik in Dhaka under the Fredskorpset exchange programme.

Author: Shahidul Alam

Time Magazine Person of the Year 2018. A photographer, writer, curator and activist, Shahidul Alam obtained a PhD in chemistry before switching to photography. His seminal work “The Struggle for Democracy” contributed to the removal of General Ershad. Former president of the Bangladesh Photographic Society, Alam set up the Drik agency, Chobi Mela festival and Pathshala, South Asian Media Institute, considered one of the finest schools of photography in the world. Shown in MOMA New York, Centre Georges Pompidou, Royal Albert Hall and Tate Modern, Alam has been guest curator of Whitechapel Gallery, Winterthur Gallery and Musee de Quai Branly. His awards include Mother Jones, Shilpakala Award and Lifetime Achievement Award at the Dali International Festival of Photography. Speaker at Harvard, Stanford, UCLA, Oxford and Cambridge universities, TEDx, POPTech and National Geographic, Alam chaired the international jury of the prestigious World Press Photo contest. Honorary Fellow of Royal Photographic Society, Alam is visiting professor of Sunderland University in UK and advisory board member of National Geographic Society. John Morris, the former picture editor of Life Magazine describes his book “My journey as a witness”, (listed in “Best Photo Books of 2011” by American Photo), as “The most important book ever written by a photographer.”

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