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Portrait of an old woman shot by Ram Rahman during the ongoing lockdown in Delhi

Snapshots of troubled times

The first episode of Sunaparanta’s new talk show series ‘Listen In’ which begins today, will have photographer Ram Rahman discussing ‘Photography in Times of Crisis – histories, ethics and the current situation’

CHRISTINE MACHADO | NT BUZZ

The present COVID crisis has changed the world in a number of ways. And in an effort to understand how to navigate and adapt to this new environment, Sunaparanta – Goa Centre for the Arts, Altinho, Panaji is all set to launch a new virtual talk show ‘Listen In’ on May 27. The show will connect various creative fields and bring

together divergent perspectives on this moment.

“‘Listen In’ is a talk series which engages practitioners from the forefront of their creative fields as they bring to us their voices, languages, and perspectives to help us navigate this present moment,” says patron, Sunaparanta – Goa Centre for the Arts, Isheta Salgaocar. “Sunaparanta was founded as a place for meaningful conversation, and as we inhabit this online space, we hope that we can convert it into one for reflection, pause, and discussion.”

The first episode as part of the series will have photographer Ram Rahman talking about ‘Photography in Times of Crisis – histories, ethics and the current situation’.

‘Photography in Times of Crisis’ takes as its starting point the present mass migration in India, the scale of which has been unprecedented. How it is documented will affect how it will be remembered in public memory.

“In my talk, I will present a historical perspective of moments where mass migrations have been documented by still photography – the dust bowl famine in USA in the 1930s, the Bengal Famine in the 1940s, the partition of India in 1947, the Bangladesh refugee crisis in 1971, and the present labour migrations across India,” says Rahman, who will discuss their place in the history of photography and also address problems of representation. He will also be looking at works of photographers like Sunil Janah, Margaret Bourke-White, Dorothea Lange, and Sebastiao Salgado for this.

Rahman in a tête-à-tête with NT BUZZ

Q. How has the documentation of images during a crisis evolved over the years?

The difference between the earlier times and now is the proliferation of electronic media, not just television broadcast but also mobile phone-driven web media, much of which is in colour.

Q. What are some ground rules that photographers need to follow when photographing the marginalised in particular? And based on your observations are these generally followed?

This really depends on the individual. One must always ask permission if making a portrait of an individual and family. They must understand why you are making the image. If an individual photographer does make money from an image – they must decide if they want to keep all the profit or maybe donate some to charity. That is dependent on

individual conscience.

Q. Given that television is such a wide medium today, has the place of photography in documenting history changed?

Television and all electronic media are ephemeral. Only a percentage of the masses have access to these. Print media is more lasting and accessible; a newspaper is shared among many people. A book can be found years later in a library. The still photograph is best served in print.

Q. Your take on the migrant exodus happening all over the country.

This has been a very badly managed lockdown right from the start. Millions were suddenly left without work or a source of income and food and naturally they wanted to flee to their home villages. Instead of assisting them to do so at a time when less would have been infected, they have been forced into untold hardship and have become victims of police beatings and humiliation. The scale of human migration we are seeing now in India is unprecedented

in history.

Q. You have managed to shoot a few images during the lockdown. Tell us about your experience.

Actually, I was only able to go out of my compound once after the lockdown when I saw hundreds of families going down the road to the interstate bus terminal and the Yamuna Bridge which are both right near our gate. Right after that, one family turned out to be infected in our compound and we were sealed for a month with no possibility of leaving the gate! So the few pictures I made that day are really the only ones I did. The portrait of the old woman I photographed shakes me even now. She seemed to be alone and I kept asking her if she had family with her. She didn’t speak at all… just looked at me feebly. I asked the people around her if they were with her and they all said no. She seemed in a daze. Everyone was in a panicked state. I found an Aam Aadmi Party volunteer helping people into buses and pointed her out to him. I had no cash or food or water with me. Her photo is my record of this terrible event in our history and it was made yards from my secure home!

Q. How do you believe that photography is going to change in the post-COVID world?

There will be a big change with masked people and if social distancing is adhered to. Right now, it looks as if many people especially in our country may not be able to follow those rules, so it is hard to say what our public social life will be like. But photographers will also be risking infection in public, so movement will be very restricted. This will definitely change the nature of the subject.

Q. You have done a few live talks on social media during this lockdown. What has your experience been?

The talks on social media have been useful I think as one is reaching out to a very broad audience, much bigger than one would have in a live talk in a hall. Also, more people are paying attention as they themselves are stuck at home with little to do. It has been a useful way of sharing information and knowledge.

(The first talk under the series ‘Listen In’ will feature photographer Ram Rahman live on Facebook at 5 p.m. on May 27, 2020 | facebook.com/Sunaparanta)

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