Appropriately on Valentine’s Day, the New York Times carries a piece today about the changing landscape of romance and especially kissing in Indian society. During my project about documenting Delhi’s green spaces, I photographed many couples seeking intimacy in public places unable to do so at home. Here are a couple of images from the series Public Spaces, Private Lives. A fuller set ran on the Camera Obscura blogin 2009 with a little interview about the work.
I’m delighted to announce that my exhibition – The Art of Getting By – will open the 8th Jersey Amnesty International Human Rights Festival where I’ll be doing some teaching and workshops.
The French, as always have a word for it. Débrouillardise. The art of getting by – resourcefulness – surviving and laughing. I heard it first in French Africa in the ‘90s and I realised that I have been trying over the last two decades (even before I really knew the word) to make it a motif in the reportage that I made in even the most difficult circumstances. It is no less than the human condition – why shouldn’t the poor, the maimed, the brutalised somehow steal a smile, fall in love? A determination to live. To be normal. To be just like us.
These images are not romantic – although I hope that some are beautiful – rather they reflect the everyday struggles of common people. They also aren’t meant as rosy depictions of poverty from an outsider and they aren’t meant to patronise. I have worked consistently in the Developing World for most of my career and that was a choice made from the low horizons of my own childhood and the desire to escape the grey landscape of a Hackney past.
I consciously sought difference but found similarity and common ground.
These images are taken from stories from many countries. They show people touched by war and poverty living as best they can. They are small stories from larger narratives and by and large show small lives but they are no less important for that.
For me, this is a kind of retrospective: photographs of what I have tried to see – sometimes forced myself to see – to remember that the world is not dark, dangerous and other, but that it is beautiful and full of life.
According to a piece in the Guardian, it seems that authorities in Delhi are piloting a project to tackle the city’s enormous waste problem but the solution may affect those whose livelihood depends on it. Currently, waste is sorted manually by an informal army of men, women and children and then passed on to middle-men to sell or recycle. Three new plants (one at Ghazipur) will, it is hoped, sort the 8000 tonnes of Delhi’s daily waste automatically. It is estimated that more than 50,000 people work in this informal sector (known as ‘rag-pickers’) in and around the capital. The work is terrible and dangerous but for a significant section of the transient population of one of the world’s fastest growing cities, it is at least a living.
Over the years, I’ve photographed and written about many of the city’s rag pickers who exist in a twilight, Dickensian world ignored by almost everyone, quietly making the city function in a most human but terrible way.
As Delhi labours under relentless 45 degree heat, the availability of water is as ever, a battleground. According to India Today (quoting an investigation by The Mail) reporters have uncovered a nexus of corrupt Delhi Jal Board (the local authority that looks after water in the city) employees and private tanker operators offering water for sale at inflated prices. Delhi, like many Developing World cities has a particularly rickety infrastructure when in comes to water supply. Illegal drilling of underground aquifers and horrendous pollution mean that at the best of times water supply is erratic. Add in seemingly endless low-level corruption and you have a perfect storm. I made a film about Delhi’s water wars a couple of years ago for Channel 4. You can see it here. As I said at the time, for the middle classes, access to water is an expensive and miserable inconvenience but to the poor and the slum dwellers, it is literally a daily fight. As my images show…
No, I don’t know how to say it either but this Russian magazine that commissioned me were utterly charming, paid well – before time – and were a pleasure to work with… My thanks to Olga, Evegeny and Natalia.
I visited the Dickens exhibition at the Museum of London yesterday – a really powerful evocation of the writer and his times.
What always struck me about Dickens was his ability to convey the despair and misery that the city around him housed: no stranger to debt, his past was marked by the fear of slipping back into poverty. I think that the exhibition gave me a very apt adjective to describe the dark underside of a city that I have worked in so much, namely Delhi. Perhaps all societies lurching through such painful Capitalist development are like this – but certainly Delhi is Dickensian in its mercilessness and its cruelty. The lack of a safety net and not-so-subtle machinations of caste mean that the people who produce the city’s wealth by selling their labour are completely at the mercy of the vagaries of the Market and the violence of the street. In a similar fashion to Dickens’ time they must struggle against a whole moral code that tells them they are nothing if they have no status. I’ve mentioned here before a slim volume of reportage and writing from those at the bottom of the dark underbelly of this metropolis called Trickster City and the more that I looked at the exhibition yesterday, the more I thought of Delhi.
Dickens’ “slime and ooze of the Thames” is the realm of the boy who picks bits of detritus out of the poisoned Yamuna River on a pathetic raft of polystyrene and rags. Budi Lal, pouring through other people’s filth and rubbish and ignored by all except the snarling dogs and his debtors is Boffin, the Rag Picker from Our Mutual Friend. The men burning plastic bags could be from the slum in Bleak House; Tom-All-Alone’s.