A photo exhibition transcending borders

Published: Friday 15 February 2008

A photo exhibition transcending borders

Down to Earth Down to Earth
Mamata Sardar Kolkata Karina Krisch Hamburg
An exhibition of photographs clicked by children in Kolkata, Freiburg and Hamburg shows how children relate to their environment and how social, economic and geographical contexts mediate ways of seeing

Does a 13-year-old urban kid from India view the natural world any differently from 13-year-old in a German city? Land, water, air, plants, animals, birds--do differing socio-cultural milieus and geographical locales change a child's perception of these?

A montage of digital photographs shot by city children between 10 and 13 from Germany and India reveal there's no easy answer.

Charpashey, a trans-border photography competition organized by Goethe Institut, asked a group of some 40 schoolchildren in Kolkata and in the German cities of Hamburg and Freiburg to look around, explore their local environment and shoot what drew their gaze.
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Rinku Sardar Kolkata
Down to Earth
Renate Miguel Hamburg
Charpashey is a Bengali expression which in the context of this project means around us. "The idea was to involve urban kids and help them take a closer look at nature. The moment they get involved they learn more about plants and the biodiversity of the area," says Nilanjan Bhattacharya of Khetro, a city-based media and environment non-profit group, that helped with the Kolkata side of the project. "It's a very subtle and normal way to connect closely with the environment. If a child takes a picture of water, say 10-20 times, he's going to learn more about how the resource is being used."

So for several months, starting October 2007 the children walked around their cities with digital cameras. They photographed rivers, canals, parks, birds on wires, sunsets, leaves, flowers, trees, vegetables, insects, chicken, sheep, horses and often, even themselves.

The clearest noticeable difference between the sets of shots from two countries is in the environments being photographed. This is, of course, not intentional on part of the students but simply a factor of the circumstances under which they live. A 13-year-old from a Kolkata slum looks down at the earth, shoots little lumps of gul (coal dust pellets used as fuel) drying in the sun. His counterpart in Germany looks down and shoots her feet against a pebbled street. One does notice that the Kolkata children from less privileged backgrounds have a more intimate relationship with their environment. They bathe in the ponds they have photographed, collect firewood from the trees around and feed chickens in their yards. But again, this isn't an intentional relationship.

In the end, the sum total of the images reveal there are similar ways of seeing that all the children share and this seeing transcends economic, class and cultural barriers. Particularly, one can draw parallels between the similarities in the children's perspectives and the apparent innocence with which the subject matter has been approached photographically.
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Gopal Mandal Kolkata Christopher Gross, David Tse Hamburg
--Maureen Nandini Mitra, Kolkata
Organized and funded by Goethe Institut, Kolkata, Charpashey is part of the German cultural institute's long-term initiative to promote environment education among youth using different media

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