Capturing life through a lens

A participant taking photos

Lalita Hegde, a BCom graduate in her mid-40s, from Vargasara in passionate about drawingSirsi, is but all she has been doing for decades is making a rangoli at her doorstep. Living in a joint family of 21 members, she has no time for leisure. After completing the household chores she works on the areca plantation.

Recently, she rediscovered her creativity when she participated in an initiative by organisations Vanastree and Punarchith, based in Sirsi and Chamarajanagar respectively. This was essentially an experiment, where the organisations trained youth and women of Sirsi and Chamarajanagar in photography. The experiment was meant to tap the unexplored potential of rural men and women as photographers and enable them to tell their stories through images.  

New experiences

The effort culminated in an exhibition titled ‘Land and Lens’ at the Venkatappa Art Gallery in Bengaluru, where the work of 19 rural photographers was displayed. As part of the project, Lalita and others went through a few training sessions on the use of DSLR cameras. “My hands are only used to chopping vegetables. When I held the camera, I got goosebumps! I never dreamt that I would have the fortune to hold one,” says Lalita.

The trainee photographers took turns in using the four donated cameras they had. Each of them got a week to explore their surroundings through the lens. When her turn came, Lalita thought carefully about the kind of photos she wanted to take. “Just as Kalidasa used his imagination for his work, I tried to imagine the picture in my mind before clicking,” she says. Glowing with pride and creative satisfaction, she describes how she clicked a low-light photo using a diya to illuminate her daughter’s face. 

Hema Hegde from Sirsi too discovered a new-found love and fascination for photography. When the camera was passed into her hands, she spared at least two hours from her tailoring work every day to practice photography.

Initially, she was intimidated by the expensive and complicated-looking device. “But now, it has given me so much joy! Through the viewfinder, even the path leading to my house looked new and interesting. I felt like I was holding the whole world in my hands,” she says.

Hema has captured the view of treetops from her front yard and the stone on which she draws the rangoli every morning. “I have taken pictures on my phone but it is not as exciting as the DSLR. I want to learn more. From now on, for all Vanastree events, I want to take the photographs,” she says. Both women wish they had their own cameras to continue improving their skills. “But children’s education is our priority so a camera is out of the question,’’ says Lalita.

Artists often see themselves as agents of change, believing their creations can have a positive impact on the society. H Muthuraju, an agriculture coordinator at Punarchith, considers himself fortunate because he was able to make a difference in his first brush with photography.

For a cause

“I was just going around my village, Doddamole near Chamarajanagar, clicking pictures of nature. I came across a small hut. The man who lived there asked me to take a few pictures and help them get a house under a housing scheme,” says Muthuraju. He then went to the Panchayat office and showed the officials pictures of the dilapidated hut. He even gave them prints of the photographs. “The family was lucky because applications were being called for the Ashraya scheme. Now, their house is under construction. Who knew that we could use cameras for a noble purpose,” he adds. 

Muthuraju’s nephew Ravi V also participated in the project. Ravi wants to be self-employed, by cultivating organic vegetables on his field. He completed his Bachelor’s degree in Geography, took a course in computers, and even worked in Bengaluru for a while. “My salary barely covered my expenses in the city. I thought it would be better to find something in my village and live on my own terms instead of working for someone else,” he says.

Ravi could use the camera only for two days. But the paucity of time hardly affected his knack for composition. A picture of the mangalsutra at his sister’s wedding and another of the shadows formed by trees at B R Hills showed he has the ability to tell stories through his pictures and with more time he would have done better. 

Punarchith trainees editing their photos
Punarchith trainees editing their photos

The organisers say that most trainees have expressed interest to take advanced courses, to learn photo editing and make videos. “We thought photography would help them relate to their surroundings in a different, emotive and intense way. The narrative in the popular media is that their land is worth leaving. Through this experiment, we wanted to create a sense of belonging and attachment with their land,” said A R Vasavi, one of the trustees of Punarchith.

This project has empowered rural youth and women by providing them an opportunity for creative expression and promoting their work in cities through exhibitions.

Liked the story?

  • 0

    Happy
  • 0

    Amused
  • 0

    Sad
  • 0

    Frustrated
  • 0

    Angry