The 7th National Photography Awards
Suhani Lakhotia celebrates the photographers and their winning images for the seventh National Photography Awards.
From the earliest of times, photography has gone beyond its craft and aided change for a better world. It has become a medium to voice thoughts and is a very significant tool for awareness.
Under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Photo Division is the largest repository and archive in India for still photographs, since its inception in 1959. Today, it is responsible for all forms of photographic documentation by the government of India. It established the National Photography Awards in 2010. These awards are the government’s most significant recognition of photographs and photographers. This year, in its 7th edition, the National Photography Awards by Photo Division awarded 13 photographers, in honour of their art; a Lifetime Achievement Award, Photographer of the Year and five Special Mention awards, each in the Professional and the Amateur category.
The 7th edition of the awards that observed Fairs and Festivals in India as the theme of the Amateur category and Women Led Development in the Professional category. While the former theme exhibited the cultural diversity, the latter gave insight of perhaps, the most under-reported section of our society.
“My objective behind photographing the Himalayas has always leaned on a simple truth… To present its beauty to those who are unable to experience its magnanimity. In my experience, nothing comes close to the grandiose that it extends to our country.”
Photographers often have this misconception about finding stories in places that are a long way from home. In 1979, when I began photographing the Himalayas, it was because of how accessible it was for me to travel from New Delhi. And since then, I’ve been visiting it like an old lover, immersing myself in its solitude. India is filled with many such pristine landscapes. Just look around in your own state or city.
“Women are the backbone of our society. Without them, where would we really be?”
Having grown up in an orphanage, I had witnessed women taking care of the children, and assisting in daily chores. It was a job for which they received no appreciation. It was the futility of the situation that never left me. I have always been a firm believer of the role of women in the all-round development of communities, thereby eventually making a difference in the progress of the nation. Two years ago, I set out to show just this by photographing working women in various professions. I travelled to several areas in Mumbai, where men were usually the dominant workforce, only to find women at the forefront of these professions.
“Not too long ago, women were chided when they expressed their desire to work. Today, they are breaking those archaic rules.”
Belonging to a small town in Madhya Pradesh, I grew up observing families restrain women from taking up paid jobs. But over the last 25 years, I’ve seen some drastic changes on this front. There was a time when the sight of a woman driving would have everyone roll their eyes. Today, that’s not the case. I remember seeing a woman driving a tempo in Indore. She was transporting electronic voting machines to a nearby village. The pictures in this series is an attestation to the progress made in the state of Madhya Pradesh.
“Patience is the biggest challenge when teaching differently-abled children. The women (teachers) did an exceptional and effortless job.”
Until the age of 23, I was under the poverty line, and did menial jobs to sustain myself. I belonged to a strata that hardly received any attention. Recently, when I was invited to a function held at a school for the disabled, I saw students working as any other child would, and the teachers helping them through. This warmed my heart. I was also filled with a bittersweet feeling, of having missed out such an opportunity while I was growing up. I made it a point to visit the school again, and document it.
“Women have never been the weaker sex. It was society who gave them that label.”
During pregnancy and lactation, women are susceptible to poor nutrition. Statistics show that the dietary intake of rural pregnant women was much lower than the recommended level, which subsequently resulted in the birth of low weight infants. When the National Health Care Mission by the government of India helped several such women in a rural town of West Bengal, I was there to document the process.
“The first all-female air force crew in India is an outstanding example of the achievement of women in the country.”
The girl child is often seen as a liability by her family. Being the father of two daughters, I want these photographs to reinstate the idea that anything is achievable, and that your gender has nothing to do with it.
“What I saw in the eyes of these women was only undeterred dedication towards their job.”
Last year, I had the opportunity to visit a textile industry in Tiruppur, a city in Tamil Nadu. I watched several hundred women knitting in unison. I had no prior knowledge that the textile industry, at least in Tamil Nadu, constituted a large number of women workers. With these photographs, I hope to make people aware of the contribution of women, in the industrial sector of the country.
“After he was caught hiding, the young boy let out an unbridled laugh that uplifted my spirit.”
In India, festivals are a time when people, from various walks of life, drop their inhibitions and embrace the warmth of the festivities. The vibrant colours of one such Holi celebration in Nandgaon, Barsana, held multiple heartwarming stories in them.
“For a few days in a year, women in the Telangana region abandon their routine, and dress up in their best attire to celebrate the festival of flowers.”
When I first began shooting, I focused mainly on photographing my children. With this, I realised the power of the tool with regards to documentation. Soon enough, I shifted my attention towards Bathukamma, an underreported festival in the Telangana region.
“Hundreds of strangers gather to bid goodbye to their idol, hoping to prolong the parting, even for just a moment.”
Chhath Puja is a very unique festival because of the different ways in which it is celebrated across India, with each state adding its own flavour and traditions to it. This opened my eyes to the cultural diversity in the country. Being privy to energetic moments, one such scene involving a fierce-looking radiating ferocity and power, while being surrounded by a large group of spectators, provided the impetus I needed to create these photographs.
“I saw people wait for just a glimpse of the palkhi, even as the day turned to night.”
Since my childhood, I have been a part of the Palkhi festival. In my hometown, in Pune, it is considered to be one of the biggest celebrations. Each of the 22 days of the festival are different from the other. Since 2013, when I received my first camera, I have been a voracious documenter of this beautiful, yet aggressive festival. In the process, I have learned to see emotions in a new way. This has given me a fresh perspective on the subject of devotion and beliefs in India.
“When there is a man walking on hot coals, right in front of you, it is quite challenging to focus on the photographing the moment.”
Delhi is a hub for various festivals. Be it Durga Puja or Pongal, people just need an excuse to celebrate. Months prior to my submission to the National Photography Awards, I was extensively involved in the documentation of these festivities. When I found out that Fairs and Festivals was one of the themes for the National Photography Awards, I knew exactly what to submit.
“Once every 12 years, Jains from all over the world come to Shravanabelagola, to honour the Bahubali statue.”
I visited Shravanabelagola, a Jain pilgrimage site near Bengaluru, to photograph the Mahamastakabhisheka. I photographed numerous devotees, dressed in their traditional white ensemble, praying to the magnanimous statue of Bahubali. Through my photographs, I have attempted to portray the simplistic, yet stratified beliefs in Jainism.