The First Witnesses
Dates2017 - Ongoing
- Topics Portrait, Social Issues, Documentary
A portrait series about India's farming crisis in which over 300,000 debt-stressed farmers have committed suicide since 1995.
India is the among the highest producers of almost every agricultural commodity in the world such as tea, coffee, rice, wheat, corn, beans, spices and milk. Although this indicates a robust farming sector, things have never been worse for many of India’s farmers. Due to financial distress, over 300,000 of them have committed suicide since 1995. The survivors, predominantly widows, are both victims and the first witnesses in this on-going tragedy. This photography project is produced in collaboration with a few such witnesses. It puts faces to some of the grim facts and figures with the intent of humanizing this on-going tragedy rather than keep it distant and abstract, especially in India’s cities where the public and the media has little interest in this issue. Accompanying almost every image are details that restore some immediacy, individuality and a measure of dignity to the people appearing in the photo frames. Common template for photographic portraiture of the poor or the marginalized reinforces collective anonymity rather than individuality. Physical attributes are downplayed unless servicing a preconceived generalized media narrative or an abstract set of statistics around an issue. Photography in such cases often ends up reinforcing rather than shaking up stereotypes. This project attempts an alternate approach. By following the photographic template for the famous and the powerful but collaborating with the anonymous and the powerless, it subverts dominant conventions around staged celebrity/anonymity and powerful/marginal portraiture, as well as shopworn practices common to photo-journalistic reportage. This project is driven in equal measure by such aesthetic concerns as by demands of efficient documentation.