Until I came to Ranchi in 2012 for the first workshop, I had never held a camera in my life. My hand shook, and I really wasn’t sure I could do it.
Deena Ganwer, from Chhattisgarh (quoted online at the workshop's blog), was one of the participants in a recent series of photography workshops organised by Video Volunteers in partnership with Magnum Foundation.
Video Volunteers – based in Goa, India – aims to train and empower grassroots media producers to express their own stories about their local communities. Video Volunteers helps people to advocate for concerns which might otherwise never make it into the media. Magnum Foundation focuses on production and distribution of in-depth documentary projects; it is the charity arm of the acclaimed photography cooperative Magnum Photos founded by Robert Capa and Henri Cartier Bresson in 1947.
The “Storytelling Through Photography” workshops were comprised of a selected group of 20 community correspondents, all of whom had participated in earlier training with Video Volunteers, and who have been consistently producing videos about their communities. This network of community reporters is a Video Volunteers program called IndiaUnheard, training community correspondents to explore unreported stories – and in turn feeding this community-produced content to national and international outlets, whether mainstream television channels or social networking sites.
From the Video Volunteers website:
These Community Correspondents represent India’s most marginalized perspectives, including Dalits and tribal people, as well as religious, lingual and sexual minorities… Through IndiaUnheard, Video Volunteers offers the global audience a clear window into the real India. Every day, video reports on key issues such as caste, conflict, identity and education are gathered from across the country.
Building on the IndiaUnheard project participants, the workshops were taught by trainers from Magnum, photographers Olivia Arthur and Sohrab Hura.
Attendees were primarily female, said Kayonaaz Kalyanwala, Program Coordinator for Video Volunteers:
We wanted mostly women candidates and selected those who we felt would have the most potential to take up photography and also those for whom this would be an incentive to make more videos… Our CCs [Community Correspondents] are strong at activism but sometimes less skilled at visuals, and we knew photography was a great way for them to develop a better eye.
From these workshops, each participant created a mini-series, documenting their community. The photo stories feature a range of topics, including alcohol abuse, local superstition, disability, and environmental concerns.
The community correspondents attending the class worked with subjects in their communities, documenting local stories and lives. For some reporters, their subjects were merely acquaintances, while others knew their subjects well – allowing for a close insight into their daily lives. One photographer, Saroj Paraste, chose a disabled girl as her subject, getting to know her by staying with her family for a week, earning trust before even taking out her camera. Saroj was quoted on the Video Volunteers website as saying, “Since the girl was at first not keen to be photographed, I spent a lot of time making her feel comfortable. In the end she grew very fond of me and was happy to be a part of the project.”
Kayonaaz noted that the workshops are a way to introduce the correspondents to another medium through which they can tell their stories. Equipped with simple cameras, they are required to send a set of photographs back to Video Volunteers every few months. As she said in an email interview,
We want to make sure that once trained, they continue to use photography as a tool. At the same time VV is trying to get their work out there through exhibitions and other media platforms.
You can see more photographs are available on the projects’ blog, and Video Volunteers will present on the work of the Community Correspondents during the Delhi Photo Festival in October of 2013.
All photographs are used with permission from the Magnum Foundation.