Women captured by German lens

PHOTOGRAPHY EXHIBITION

German photographer Nicolaus Schmidt visited India for the first time, some 20 years ago, to capture the images of Indian women. He was taken aback on witnessing the deplorable condition of women, especially in rural India. After two decades, when Schmidt came to India last year, once again to take snaps of his muse – women and girls, he was startled.  “There was no change in their condition,” exclaimed Schmidt.

“I was surprised that the progress of the majority of the women especially in slums of big cities was poor. It was what it used to be in 1980s. Legally, there has been big progress on laws related to rape and equal rights. In cities where women are educated there has been progress but that too has been slight. But in rural areas there hasn’t been much change,” he said while talking to Metrolife about his photography exhibition ‘Diversity and Strength’ at India International Centre. 

His photographs focus on the very poor conditions of the daily life of women and girls from the rural areas of Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh. These photographs depict the daily struggle in the life of women who are trying to live a life of dignity in spite of all the difficulties.

All photographs, however, beautifully captures the self-confidence of these women. “Though these women are Dalits and marginalised but they had a very strong personality,” he said. His portrait-series reflect the situation of women, caught between
tradition, religion and the modern age.

For him it was difficult for him to capture those images, he confessed, “Women were in veil while they spoke to  me. But after a time, those women opened the veil and started talking more freely. Then the whole community was chattering and laughing with me. It was surprise. I realised the problem is not women but society and men,” remarked Schmidt.

 “I came across women who hammer stones on streets. You cannot see their face because their heads are bowed down while working. I had a tough time taking their pictures,” said the Germany based photographer. “Important is how you meet them. I have not planned to meet them. But I made them comfortable so that they never forget me.”  The experience in India reminded him of one of his projects in New York where he had to click black Americans , who lived in slums and were break dancers.

He has displayed the photographs by combining the two elements - portrait and a part of the protagonist’s daily life. Like, he captured Savita, a female taxi driver. “She came to my hotel to pick me up. People looked as if she had come from Mars. Likewise, in Kolkata I saw domestic workers meeting their own children in park for few minutes,” said Schmidt.

As all his photographs reflect the situation of women, caught between tradition, religion and the modern age, the photographer pointed out, It’s high time when government should not only talk about laws on women rights but try to implement it as well.”
The exhibition is on view at India International Centre, Kamladevi Complex, till January 27. From 11 am to 7 pm.

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