At our Friday Morning Meeting today, we saw the Academy Award winning documentary Born Into Brothels, a story about the children of Calcutta’s red light district. In this film, a New York photographer named Zana Briski goes to Calcutta to live with and document the life of Calcutta’s prostitutes, but instead finds herself becoming increasingly involved and engaged with the children who live and grow up in the district while their mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts and friends work “the line” as prostitutes.
She ends up giving all the kids cameras to capture life as they see it, and teaches them how to take pictures, choose the best ones, edit and so on. The kids are taken to visit the zoo and the beach and are followed around their neighborhood while they take pictures – and it becomes clear that several of the kids have a real talent for photography. Unfortunately for the girls, it’s only a matter of time before they’re old enough to “join the line” and start earning their keep as prostitutes with the rest of their families. And the outlook for the boys isn’t much better. In several cases, we are shown that the kids are expected by their families to earn the money it takes to feed and care for them.
The only way out of this situation is education, something that many of them are getting from local schools in only the most slap-dash manner, being too busy trying to live to study or even attend school. Briski winds up moving heaven and earth to get some of the girls into a quality boarding school – a difficult proposition, considering that some families will not permit their daughters to be away from the family for so long, and almost no school will take children of criminals, which of course they all are.
Over the course of the movie, Briski succeeds in getting several of the girls into school (some more permanently than others), having their photos exhibited in galleries across the globe, selling signed prints of these photos for money that goes into an educational fund for the kids and even getting one boy selected to attend a famous international photography conference as the child photographer representative from India – a plan that almost falls through when she can’t get him a passport through the sedimentary layers of bureaucracy, corruption and just plain slowness of the Indian government system. Luckily, they do manage to get him a passport literally at the last moment, and he is able to make his flight and proudly represent his country and his group of friends.
All of this led up to the formation of the charity group Kids With Cameras, which is repeating the process with other kids in other areas – offering empowerment, hope and scholarships and other funds to kids through photography.
Check out the film. It’s definitely an eye opener.
My favorite print is Suchitra’s Cat. I tried to link to it directly at the site, but apparently you can’t do that. So that’s a Flickr link. I hope to be able to afford to buy a copy one day. I’ve got it bookmarked just in case.