We as human beings have a habit of taking things for granted. Roof over our heads. Food on the table. The clothes on our backs. Simple things to the average person but as we all know, not everyone in all parts of the world have access or the luxury to these most basic of necessities let alone know anything about or have used any form of technology.
One such luxury is having your photograph taken and have a lasting souvenir of that moment so when Bipasha Shom along with her cinematographer husband and friend visited the impoverished communities of India and handed out photo prints of themselves for the first time, the experience had a powerful and lasting impact on the lives of these people.
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A native of Kolkata but grew up in New Jersey, Shom, 47, started giving out photographs to friend and family when she was visiting in her teens.
“It was something I knew how to do, so that is what I offered,” she said. “While photos were not high on the list of priorities, I felt that it was important for people to have a record of their lives. Imagine not having any photos of your wedding, your children, your parents.”
Shom returned to Kolkata last December, this time bringing along her husband, Chris Manley, a cinematographer and director of photography for the TV series Mad Men, their two children and a photographer friend, Julie Black Nichols. They spent four weeks giving away hundreds of photo prints in Kolkata and the coastal town of Puri. Shom photographed the people while Manley and Black captured her subject’s reaction as they were seeing their photos for the first time.
All of this was done through the use of ‘instant cameras’ similar to Polaroids that produced square printouts which made it possible for the subjects to see the end result on the spot.
“That moment when people see their image develop on a blank piece of film is priceless.”
“I had been taking pictures using a SLR camera, then getting prints made and returning to the community to hand them out,” she said. “The process became so much easier with an instant camera. We could have gotten a wireless printer and done it that way, but there is a magical element to instant photography that I love. That moment when people see their image develop on a blank piece of film is priceless.”
“It was incredible to see people’s reactions to the photos,” Shom said. “We’d approach people who looked pretty intimidating and then watch as their faces just melted into huge smiles as they watched the photos develop. Mothers would ask us to take group photos with their kids. People would run into their homes and pull out their elderly grandparents so we could capture their only image.”
Shom particularly enjoyed photographing children with the help of her daughter and son, Priya and Devan. “It was really powerful for them,” she said. “We take so much for granted in the US. We don’t realise how much we have and how luxurious our lives are.”
“It’s hard to know how these images will impact people’s lives but I think we’ve brought some small amount of happiness.”
Shom has founded a nonprofit, GivePhotos, and is raising money to buy cameras and film to ship to photographers in India and other interested countries. While she has found the project rewarding, Shom admits she sometimes questions the value of giving photos to those who have so little. But then she quickly pointed out that it’s often family photos that people grab when fleeing a house fire.
“We realise that giving a photo is not like building a school or a hospital or feeding the hungry, but I think a photo is something that feeds the soul,” she said. “It’s hard to know how these images will impact people’s lives but I think we’ve brought some small amount of happiness.”
This feature’s source came from BBC.