The Hindu Photojournalism Awards
Suhani Lakhotia shines a spotlight on the truth by showcasing the winning photographs of the first edition of The Hindu Photojournalism Awards.
Today, the universality of photography makes it quite accessible for anyone with a camera in their hands to narrate a story. But, to tell a tale that is extraordinary, that delves on societal issues and more importantly, is a depiction of hard hitting facts, is what distinguishes photojournalism from habitual photography.
The Hindu Photojournalism Awards brings forth imagemakers from across the country, who have sought out difficult and complex stories from places near or away from home. The awards was organised by Chennai Photo Biennale, in association with Casagrand, and Oppo Mobile. During the initiation of the awards, Mukund Padmanabhan, Editor of The Hindu, had said, “While we have a plethora of media awards, there is no exclusive awards for photojournalism. As a newspaper, we deal with photographs everyday. This is something integral to what we do. We thought we should recognise and celebrate photography.”
“In 2017, there was an international outrage on the number of deaths caused by manholes in India. Two years later, how much has changed?”
I made this photograph at Rajnagar in Ghaziabad, in the wee hours of the morning, making do with whatever lighting was available from the broken torches belonging to the sewage workers. These coming-of-age men are regularly subjected to inhuman working conditions, with no provisions for protection or hygiene. This photograph also represents a social stigma, as only a certain section of people, belonging to a specific caste, are expected to take up such jobs. It’s deplorable that even with the technological developments and facilities available today, individuals continue to be subjected to such brutal and often, life-threatening conditions.
“People lay scattered everywhere. A few had fainted from heat and dehydration, while others were sobbing uncontrollably. Several resorted to scavenging… Anything that they could get their hands on.”
In October 2017, I was on assignment at the Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh. On one particular day, sometime in the afternoon, I received news that a boat carrying Rohingya refugees had arrived the night before. Immediately, I set off towards the location. On reaching the spot, I was overwhelmed at the sight of exhaustion and the very emancipated conditions of the people in front of me. Amidst the chaos, my gaze fell upon a wailing father, who was holding his deceased son in his arms. Later, I learned that the group had been waiting across the border, on the Myanmar side, looking for an opportunity to sneak into Bangladesh. When they boarded the boat, the child was ill with fever. Since there
was no way to treat him, he succumbed to the sickness.
“There was no dearth of patients at the clinics and hospitals that I visited. They were struggling to breathe.”
In the last few years, Delhi’s pollution levels has witnessed an alarming growth. Today, it is one of the most polluted cities in the world, with its civilians suffering from a variety of health issues. This image was made at a local chest clinic.
“Mumbai, the city of dreams, is also a city looming with threat and uncertainty, from man and nature alike.”
It was raining particularly hard on the day that I made this picture, in Bandra, Mumbai. The tide came gushing into the tiny slum settlement, located close to the sea, and almost dragged a man away. Fortunately, the local fishermen came in at the right time and rescued him.
“I chose to photograph the couple in natural light to show their sense of affection towards each other without any hindrance of the surroundings.”
I was commissioned by The New Indian Express to photograph acid attack survivors in Noida. One of them was Pramodini Roul, or Rani, as her friends and family fondly call her. When I first got to know about Roul, I was confronted by the facts surrounding the heinous crime. However, seeing her positivity and her steadfast approach to life was uplifting. I hope that this photograph furthers the cause of raising awareness about acid attacks, and strengthens the resolve of those seeking justice.
“Photographing women who recuperated despite being shunned away for not adhering to norms, led me to reflect on the privilege that we often take for granted.”
The women in these photographs radiate strength and bravery. One of them (the first image) worked as a sex slave and is a survivor of gang rape, and the other (the second image) is a young mother, who was looked down upon because of early pregnancy. They are prime examples of how hope and a strong will can help overcome adversity.
“When I saw the sand surround her, I quickly positioned myself right in the front to capture the powerful and relentless emotions in action.”
The raw and earnest sense of determination on the student’s face, when she jumped on her turn to play, exuberated her conviction towards the sport and the number of hours she had put in practicing and perfecting it. There’s a lot that can be taken away from the image, of what tenacity and hardwork can achieve. This photograph was made at the National School Meet organised by the School Game Federation of India (SGFI) in Gujarat.
“I try to bring a sense of gratification in my photographs. All the other aspects of photography come in second.”
Wayanad, a district in Kerala, is one of the most exquisite places circling hills, forests, and paddies. Here, people are closer to the agrarian way of life. They can never be separated from the soil, evident in this photograph depicting mudfootball.
“Photographing a world-class footballer, honing his skills beside a seemingly carefree couple, was akin to capturing two different worlds in a single frame.”
In India, footballers are unfortunately not as recognised as cricketers. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to shadow 23-year-old Akshay Yadav, who represented India at the World Football Freestyle Championship, in Prague, in August 2018.
“500 to 600 merciless villagers surrounded the tiger with sticks and stones. It was horrifying to see the tiger lying down defenseless near a cow shed, with its crumpled skin, shrunken belly and wounds all over.”
India is home to 2200 of the last 4000 surviving tigers on Earth. The sanctuaries that house the tigers are surrounded by numerous villages that are terrified of the animal, as it threatens their safety and agrarian livelihoods. When I received information that the Anamalai Tiger Reserve in Tamil Nadu were trying to tranquilise a tiger that had entered Periyar Nagar, a nearby village, I rushed to photograph the scene. The moments that I witnessed, shattered whatever childhood imagination and aura I had built up of the majestic animal. The helplessness of the situation provoked me to devote my life towards raising awareness about tigers.
“As children, we were introduced to conflict through the pain and misery mirrored on the faces of our mothers and grandmothers. In Kashmir, a woman’s face is the most prominent symbol of suffering.”
Growing up in Kashmir, I spectated deaths, gunfights and search operations on a daily basis, even at school. My photo essay, The Endless Wait, is a depiction of women whose sons and husbands were subjected to enforced disappearances, over the last three decades in Kashmir. The women frequently visit graveyards, jails, police stations and torture centers for any information of their loved ones. I watched my mother await the arrival of my brother, who crossed the Line of Control for arms training, in March 1990. The unresolved grief on her face shaped my identity, and the way I perceived the world around me. Two years after his departure, we were informed that he had passed away.
“Photography, for me, is a conduit, not so much to say something, but to be able to hear that which is not very audible.”
Difficult Loves is a long-term project that I have been photographing since the last nine years. It is my gaze towards my family, and through it, a look at a world that is slowly disappearing. These photographs are a remnant of my lived experience, of growing up in a joint family, where the joints are a little rusted, but not broken. My family’s reaction to the camera has changed over time, from treating it like an important guest who they have to dress up for, to it being an uninvited relative whose presence they aren’t happy with, to finally, happy acceptance, to knowing that this is a part of me, and consequently, a part of us.