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“Now Everybody Is A Photographer”: Visuals That Changed The World #WorldPhotographyDay

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By Kshitij Nagar:

To begin with, I would like to make my argument using a few photographs.

First, the year is 1984, Afghanistan is in conflict. Thousands have crossed over to neighboring Pakistan to seek refuge. In a small refugee camp in Nasir Bagh is one of those refugees, Sharbat Gul, a young preadolescent girl, left orphaned by the Soviet bombing.

A young American photographer, by the name of Steve McCurry, is on assignment for the National Geographic Society tasked with documenting the condition of those displaced by the conflict. He’s had a busy day photographing the camp.

He enters the makeshift school in which Gul is studying, after talking to the person in-charge, he proceeds to take a few pictures. The light is dull, and his film speed is slow. His Kodachrome of only 64 ISO (a significant factor in the signature “look” of his photographs) is not suited for such light. While moving around the tent, his eyes fall on Sharbat Gul, who shies away and covers half of her face with her maroon scarf. Even so, McCurry is already drawn to her eyes, and the pain they portray. McCurry requests, the school teacher chips in, and finally Gul obliges.

Both McCurry and Gul step out of the make shift tent, in search for better light and background. They find a spot, and McCurry waits for her to get accustomed to his presence. After taking a few shots, the magic happens. Gul, removes her scarf from her face, turns, and looks directly at McCurry. Enamoured by the moment that has revealed itself to him, instinctually McCurry takes a few quick shots, the moment passes, and it’s all over. Neither McCurry nor Sharbat Gul or anybody else that may have been around knows the gravitas of this moment and what will follow.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

The image is published the following year in the June 1985 issue of National Geographic. The image takes the world by storm. The sharp stare of Sharbat Gul’s eyes conveys her plight halfway around the globe. She is named, ‘The Afghan Girl’. All eyes are turned to Afghanistan (if they weren’t already) and on McCurry.

After almost 17 years of wondering, who that girl really was, McCurry decides to return to Afghanistan and Pakistan in search for her after the collapse of the Taliban regime. After much searching, she is found and located and her identity is confirmed using the same thing that made McCurry’s photograph famous, her eyes. Both McCurry and her meet, and she sees, her famous portrait for the first time. A mother of three young girls, she has only one wish, that her daughters are able to go to school and learn some skills. In recognition of her, National Geographic sets up the Afghan Girls Fund, a charitable organization with the motive of educating young Afghan girls and women.

I now present to you, example number two.

The year is 2015. On the night of June 23rd, Joyce Troefranca, a 20 year old medical student is returning home from Cebu Doctors’ University in Mandaue City, Philippines.

A young, 9 year old, Daniel Cabrerra catches her eye. He is completing his homework, while sitting on the footpath with a makeshift table in an attempt to use the light coming from a McDonald’s restaurant. Inspired, by instinct she takes two pictures and posts them onto her Facebook timeline. The images go viral. The images are shared close to 10,000 times on the social networking site and reported by local television. It gets noticed by the local authorities and the boy, who lives in a wall-less food stall with his mother and brother, receives a scholarship grant. Help pours in from the entire world, in terms of financial aid and school supplies. Cabrerra will be able to fulfill his dream of becoming “either a doctor or a policeman”.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

I would like to add, if I am to take a step back from the context of the picture, and only look at the picture on its own and judge it on the basis of its photography, this picture is complete. The picture is well exposed, the composition is proper, most importantly, the subject matter is strong. It expresses correctly, what Joyce wanted to express. It conveys to me the same enthusiasm and inspiration (if not more) that it conveyed to her.

Two images, separated by years, time frames, and geographic location; linked by similar circumstance, subject matter and ultimately similar, life changing effect. One difference. One is clicked by a professional photographer, the other by a “common citizen”. This is the power of the photography of today, in today’s globalized context. A photographic device is in your pocket, always ready to empower you with the ability to tell stories visually, if you choose to use it. Gone are the days of slow, unforgiving film and big bulky cameras that limited image making only to those who could master the technical aspects of it. With automatic exposure, automatic focus and automatic white balance, the camera has taken the excess weight of your minds. You are left to focus on the most important aspect of photo taking, which is- framing. It is only because of these factors that Joyce’s image is what it is.

This is the boon of digital technology. It is only for the second time in the history of photography that we are seeing such mass popularity and adaptation of photography in daily life. The first time was when Eastman Kodak launched its compact Brownie cameras. As these cameras became much better and more accessible, Kodak’s motto became “You press the button, we do the rest” implying, you could buy a Kodak camera with film preloaded, and once the roll was finished, the camera could be taken back to the store, the film would be processed and the camera would be returned to you with a fresh roll inside along with your developed pictures.

That has drastically changed; most digital devices are now capable photographic devices and provide you the freedom to tell visual stories anywhere and everywhere that you want to. Some professionals curse and crib that “now everybody is a photographer”, I rejoice and celebrate this fact. The dream of Sir George Eastman (founder of Eastman Kodak) of having a camera in every household is being realized now. Ofcourse, this is not an attempt on my part to reduce the difference between an amateur and a professional. For me, David Griffin, Director of National Geographic summarized it perfectly “Photography is now empowering, now we all have 2-3 good pictures within us, but ofcourse as a professional, you have to produce good images all the time”.

On World Photography Day, let us first realize the power that is now accessible to us all, and not limited as compared to a decade or so ago. The first step towards perhaps becoming a Steve McCurry is now open for all.
Happy Photography Day!

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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