There is a growing trend of handing cameras to people living in unjust conditions so they can tell their own stories through pictures. I’ve seen a number of such projects listed on Kickstarter (the most popular crowd-funding platform) and many of them are having great success with getting funded.
A couple examples of such projects that were very well received on Kickstarter are The Disposable Project in Tanzania which gave disposable cameras to children from low-income communities and Caught in Nepal, where an author handed over cameras to Tibetan refugees living in Nepal to document their daily lives, both these projects are about raising awareness through first person reporting. Another such initiative 100cameras, provides cameras to poor children from around the world to document their lives and then uses the photo narratives to raise awareness and fundraise for their community. The photo prints from 100cameras are available online for purchase.
In India, Aawaaz-e-Niswaan, a nonprofit working with marginalized Muslim women is also experimenting with this new social trend. They have handed digital cameras to 16 Muslim women who have been victims of violence as a means for self expression and empowerment. Many of these women have never held a camera in their hands before. In addition to giving them basic point and shoot cameras, they’ve also invested in two Nikon DSLR cameras and got in a professional photographer, Girish Menon to teach them the basics of photography.
The women, mostly in their late teens or early twenties took to photography with great ease and are using it to tell more than just their stories. They’ve used the camera to capture the unhygienic living conditions of their neighborhood and through the pictures brought the community together to tackle these problems. They are also traveling across the country (for the first time stepping outside their homes) to meet other marginalized women in order to understand and capture their experiences. They’ve photographed women waste pickers, women in rural areas, activists and few other women going about their daily lives in difficult circumstances.
The work of these girls has been exhibited at Mumbai’s prestigious Kala Ghoda Arts Festival and the nonprofit is currently in the process of publishing their work online. Some of the photos and profiles of these women are available at this website.
The following quote from Girish Menon helps one understand how quickly the women got comfortable with the camera and picked up photography, “I didn’t intend to get into manual exposure etc. until the 3rd session. But on the morning of the first session, I decided to take a chance and taught them nothing but manual exposure. Honestly, I didn’t expect them to understand much of it but I decided to go through with it anyway. I was pleasantly surprised to find that by the end of the day, all of them were able to manually set the exposure of the camera and think about the film-speed, shutter speed etc.!”, Girish Menon, Professional Photographer