The Creative Minds of Dharavi: Vinod and Shekar's Group

After having introduced Emmelie Koster and her Slum Photography Contest, we are ready to follow her in her wonderful adventure. From the streets of Mumbai, she reports on meeting the children participating in the competition to distributing the cameras and Getting back the films! Read after the jump for more.

Vinod’s Group

We have distributed the cameras to the children through two different channels. As we had absolutely no clue how to reach forty-five children form Dharavi, we teamed up with Arne de Knegt from Artefacting Mumbai, an organization that uses art to energize marginalized communities and catalyze change by connecting the dots. One of those dots is the Acorn Foundation India – the Dharavi Project, of which Vinod Shetty is the Honorary Director. Vinod is a lawyer by profession, but spends his free time teaching football and dancing to the children from the slums. This is our first group.

Excited about what is coming, we enter a classroom in Dharavi and meet around twenty boys. They hang on to every word that comes out of our mouths, while we explain the assignment and how to use the camera. Everything is new to them. Only two kids raise their hands when we ask if anyone has taken a picture before. So we teach them everything, from how to look through the viewfinder to the distance they should keep to the things they are photographing.

Next up is the registration. We hold small interviews to get to know the children better and very touching stories emerge. Stories of broken homes and 12 year olds providing for their entire families are some of them, but mostly the children tell us how much they like their afternoons with their friends, when they play cricket or football.

Their dancing classes are the best, according to the majority, and the little energy bombs start showing us their moves. After their performance (it is incredible how energetic they can be in this heat and humidity) we take headshots. It is endearing to see how some of the boys get very nervous standing there, waiting for their picture to be taken. For a few, it is the first picture ever taken of them. Shuffling their feet, wringing their hands, squeezing their eyes fearful of the flash. They’ll get used to it soon enough.

Shekar’s Group

Shekar introduces the next group to us. Being born and raised in Dharavi, Shekar is another dot in Artefacting Mumbai’s network. The kids he has assembled are all kids he knows from his area of Dharavi.
19 years old, Shekar already has quite the experience with photography and foreigners; his work is to guide tourists on a tour around the Dharavi slum. His English is excellent.

He meets us at Mahim Train Station, and together we cross the bridge to go in to Dharavi. We walk through a busy commercial area, with many food stands. People, animals and a mixture of aromas of trash and tasty food surround us. A stream of unidentifiable blue liquid flows freely through the streets where the lushest fruits, riped to perfection, are sold. Coming from the Netherlands, I just do not know what to think of this. I am amazed by the ripeness of the fruits, curious for their taste, and at the same time afraid of what sort of chemicals might be surrounding me. I decide not to care, nor to buy the fruits. In dubio abstine.

We continue our walk for 15 minutes through increasingly narrow pathways between the houses. It is a lively neighborhood. Finally we reach a small square; this is Shekar’s area. In no time, a bunch of teenagers surround us. Shekar had already sent out word that we would be coming, and everyone seems to know why we are there. Some older people are looking inquisitively from a distance.

Whereas most of Vinod’s kids spoke English, there are not many in Shekar’s group that do. Shekar explains the kids the idea of the contest and the assignment. He has done this before, I can tell. This group seems to be a little more rowdy and the registration and handing out the cameras is much more chaotic than in Vinod’s group. The children are equally enthousiastic but less patient, all they want to do is start shooting with the camera.

We hand out 12 cameras and give 8 more to Shekar because I would like him to find girls to participate as well. So far, only boys have registered. Vinod and Shaker have both explained to me that it will be very hard to get girls to participate, as most of them come from strict religious families that do not allow a girl to participate. It would be interpreted the wrong way.

Of course, I don’t want anyone to get in trouble for his or her participation, but an all-boy contest is not what I had in mind either. Luckily, Shaker says he can find girls from less strict families to participate, so I leave the cameras with him. I am not very doubtful he will find some girls, he seems quite the ladies man to me.

All kids have their camera and have gone off to shoot their most enjoyable moments, so we sit down and have a Lassi, a very typical Indian sweet yoghurt drink. Drinking the last of our Lassi, one boy comes to find us. He has finished his film roll already. It is Naresh, a 20-year-old mute boy. Naresh is probably one of the relatively experienced participants, his cousin explained during registration. He has used a camera before and has even taken pictures at weddings. I would be lying to you if I would say that when Naresh handed in his film roll to me I did not have a secret hope that this boy, who could not speak, would be able to tell us about his life through the pictures he had made. I promise myself to have the film developed the next thing in the morning.


Lomography recommended a photo lab, Idea Creative Solutions, to have the films developed, so that is where I go the following morning. They develop the film for me immediately. Suspense… Did I discover a creative genius? Was there a potential winning picture on this film roll?

Let me first say that I have been pleasantly surprised by the techniques used by the photographer. The pictures were well framed, the flash was used in situations that needed it, the right distance was maintained. Not bad, I think, as my initial fear was that we might not have properly explained how to use the camera. Nevertheless, there is a substantial problem with Naresh’ film roll. In pretty much every single shot there is Naresh posing with one friend, posing with another friend, posing alone; all taken against the same background and all taken by somebody else.

A magnificent start. I cross my fingers that the first batch of film rolls will show a little bit more understanding of the assignment. Ultimately, I do hope to find an indisputable winner to exhibit at the art gallery. Word seems to have gotten out in Mumbai about the project, and people are en massed signing up for the opening on the 1st of July. All of them are writing how excited they are to see the winning picture in the contest.

I take another look at Naresh’ pictures. This guy has enjoyed himself immensely that day. Regardless of the winning picture, the Slum Photography Contest succeeded the minute we handed out those cameras.

In a series of three reports, this being the first, Emmelie will keep you updated on the progress of the photography contest on
Next report: Emmelie collects the first batch of film rolls and finds out whether the other participants did understand the assignment.

Text by Emmelie Koster, Owner of No Man’s Art Gallery
Photos by No Man’s Art volunteers shot with a Lomography Diana Mini camera and 35mm 100 and 200 ISO film rolls provided by Lomography.*

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