Eye on Photography » Images by Jan ramsay

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Delhi & Varanasi. India. Portrait Equality Work

I found out about this great charity organisation called Portrait Equality whose mission is to provide family portraits to those in developing nations or remote communities who might otherwise not have such a keepsake. To give photos, not just take them.

I bought my own Polaroid camera and film and off I went on this great adventure. Here is my story and the photos we took of the people.
I started the Portrait Equality photos in the Holy City of Varanasi. You very rarely found a family together consisting of mum, dad and children as both parents worked whether it be washing on the banks of the Ganges, rowing boats for tourists, or the many other jobs that made them money. The women often would be the ones who collected the cow pooh and added water to the slop of mixture and then made pooh paddies which when dried was used for fuel in their cooking. So I captured what I could with the family members together. People were amazed that I had taken their photo and then walked away not expecting a thing. Random acts of kindness. So often when people received their photo you almost dropped a tear seeing their big smile and the gratitude in their eyes.
One elderly lady who used a phenomenally heavy, coal fired ironed, and working with her Grand daughter along a busy alleyway where cows, motorbikes, dogs and bicycles frequently passed by, was not sure at first but after taking their photo they invited others to come and have a look with smiles and laughter. We walked past her little ironing stand hours later to see the photo proudly displayed in front of her working area. You can’t help feeling total gratitude on their behalf.

Old Delhi is a big busy frantic part of Delhi full of pollution, cars, took tooks, rickshaws, horns, poverty and noise – you name it. It teaches you patience. I concentrated on an area where there were many underprivileged families who have set up camp on the side of the footpath. Not begging but surprised that we were giving and not wanting anything. There seemed to be a lot more mothers with their children and no presence of a father figure.
Time after time crowds of people wanted to view the photo taken and smile as their polaroid came to life. There were many moments where you truly knew you had given something so special to someone with so little.
When you look at the photos, look past their faces and see the living conditions behind them. Mattresses folded up and their cooking facilities all out on the walkway. Such a hard area to bring up children. They were not beggars but evidently poor. Such hard faces but to see a little smile emerge said it all. You can’t help but wonder what trauma and hardship some of these people may have experienced. We gave pencils and Koala key rings as little gifts which the kids loved. You feel joy and then a tear wells in your eyes of gratitude.

Making a difference by being a part of the Portrait Equality Photography team was one of the best parts to this trip and I would certainly encourage anyone to do this. Well done to the team who organised such a project.

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