Thursday, April 10, 2014

Refugee + Camp, Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh, India, December of 2013

Face after face walked over to the space in front of my camera. The honor of being given this chance to photograph each and every one of them cannot be described fully here. Sure my camera has been places and photographed thousands of people, yet it has never dismissed the privilege attached to such a task on behalf of every single individual.

From Delhi the camps are perhaps a little over three hours away. The first two hours are quite easy relatively speaking, but the last hour or so made our drivers quite uneasy… even more so in the dark since this rural area is filled with tractors carrying enormous piles of hay.

On two of our trips we arrived at night never knowing to which home we were going. We would pick up men on the way and be taken usually to a mosque for evening prayers. Then we would be fed the best of meals, then taken to our rooms to rest for the night prior to the photography in the morning. Never once did I ever see a woman in any of these homes, yet the meals and our rooms were all prepared by the women of these households.

When morning arrived all were prepared to arrive at the camps before sunrise so as to begin the photography as the sun appeared. Less than five minutes after our arrival almost all of the children would be gathered, and ready to be photographed. The task at hand would be to maintain order and ask for the girls to be photographed first.

This young woman for example was the first to be photographed at this camp, and the men for the most part did quite well. This lasted for perhaps ten minutes and then groups of men started to gather and check the proceedings out for themselves. This naturally made it quite difficult for the ones following her and we did our best to minimize the distractions. When I would see a girl's eyes diverted to the people behind me, I would stop and look around to see five or six men standing with their arms crossed. Sometimes smiling at them and nodding for them to move along would do the trick. When that failed a more stern approach was necessary, showing them that perhaps they themselves might feel uncomfortable being stared at in this manner.

What I noticed the most after doing either is that the girls would show their appreciation in the most subtle of manners and understand that my presence was purely on their behalf. They knew that the camera was there for them and that this was one way for them to get their stories out, like messages in bottles.

When the rest of the girls saw this young woman cover her face slightly and my reaction to this action, almost all of them wanted to do the same and played with various versions of this presentation. It was wonderful to see them being so creative and so free with their expressions, an incredible morning all in all. I just hope that progress comes to their camps very soon and that these young girls find a bit of solace in their otherwise most difficult lives.

Note: This image was made with a Sony RX100M2, mounted side by side with a Hasselblad 555 ELD.

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