Depth of Field, volume 5, no 1 (December 2014)Hilde Braet: Instrumental Photography. The Use of the Medium Photography to Stimulate Empowerment

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Transformation from pain to power

In addition to Wendy Ewald, we also have – on the opposite side of the world – the Indian photographer Achinto Bhadra. In 2007, Bhadra (b. 1959) photographed 126 girls for the project Another me, transformation from pain to power. Together with Harleen Walia, he worked for several months at the Sneha Girls Shelter, a centre for abused and abandoned girls. Walia, a coordinator with Sanlaap, the NGO that had founded the shelter, recorded the testimonies of 126 girls and women between the ages of eight and twenty-five. She as well guided them through the process of telling their own personal story. As each of the girls spoke about their past, they were also asked to process it by thinking about a fictitious character, an ‘alter ego’, that they would like to be or become. In doing so, they were able to develop a fictional personage to embody exactly what they wished to express or address. Their pain, anger, hope and expectations were ventilated through this ‘other-me’. The girls dealt with their trauma by talking about it with their peers and being photographed as this other version of themselves.[3] ‘For a moment, each felt the power within herself. And today, that brief transformation remains an inner source of confidence and strength.’ The result is a powerful series of beautiful coloured photographs, in which the girls convert their pain and anger into hope and strength. Once again, we observe that it is the whole process, rather than the actual photographs, which achieves this transformation. In other words, the photographic medium has been used as a means of improving the subjects’ self-empowerment. When asked the question of whether the photographs contributed effectively to these girls' empowerment, the photographer responded: ‘Photography is just a medium. It was the process that gave them a new life.’[4]