What Are You Seeing? Community & Photography

The following article was developed by Amit Shah, Managing Director of Green Comma as a discussion resource for use in grades 9–12 classrooms as well as in freshmen college classrooms. It is recommended that you explore the hyperlinked sources.

Photographs are copyrighted and the property of Jayshree Shukla, a resident of Delhi, India.

All opinions are the writer’s own.

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What does personal photography have to do with the social sciences you ask? Let me just say before all else that this article is not about evaluating, deciphering evidence through photographs, unearthing bias or identifying locations for a geography quiz.

This article is a brief glimpse of a medium used to bring a small slice of lives in a well-known city to us. It conveys joy, humor, an awareness of life and an appreciation of humanity, diverse and robust.

At the Jama Masjid. Photographer © Jayshree Shukla

Green Comma is interested in world cultures through photographs that revels in its subjects.

Each of you can look at your surroundings and convey the spirit of the place through your own eyes and camera lens.

“ To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.” (Susan Sontag, On Photography)

Man spreads grains for pigeons. Early morning at Jama Masjid. Photographer © Jayshree Shukla

“As people quickly discovered that nobody takes the same picture of the same thing, the supposition that cameras furnish an impersonal, objective image yielded to the fact that photographs are evidence not only of what’s there but of what an individual sees, not just a record but an evaluation of the world. “ (Susan Sontag, On Photography)

Medieval bylanes of Nizamuddin Basti. Photographer © Jayshree Shukla
New Delhi supplanted Calcutta (now Kolkata) as the capital of British Imperial India in the early 20th century. Lutyens’ Delhi was conceived as the same stratified, segregated and visually diagrammed space as any in Europe. Bungalows for officers serving the government that became the prized possessions of generations of bureaucrats were built to emphasize the racial and bureaucratic race distinctions. European officers were on higher ground than their junior Indian colleagues (labelled “thin white” and “ thin black” in Lutyens’ diagrams shown to the English royal family at Balmoral, on the outskirts of Aberdeen. (Source: Indian Summer by Robert Irving, Yale, 1981).

Where the natives of Mughal Delhi lived was exoticised, made fantastic and distant. It is that very Delhi, the Delhi that’s inhabited today by millions, away from the cursory gaze of the tourists and along buildings, alleys, arches and gardens that Jayshree Shukla focuses her lens.

Night falls on the Dargah of Nizamuddin Auliya. Photographer © Jayshree Shukla

I “met” Jayshree through her photographs taken her morning walks in Lodhi Gardens. The photographs were not “selfies” of an eager face against a backdrop that was almost incidental; a scene duplicated and replicated a million times each day around the world. These photographs were an attempt to convey the smell of the morning mist, the patter of early-morning walkers feet on the lanes, the trunk of a tree or a curve of a column against the morning light. As Sontag had said, “ . . . an evaluation of the world.”

A Dickensian scene from Delhi 6. Photographer © Jayshree Shukla
Pigeons in flight. Photographer © Jayshree Shukla

Let’s call it Jayshree’s world. It is ours too. Seeing those photographs, I wanted to meet the photographer and also to be in that locality. She brought Delhi to me.

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderlay again.” An old haveli in Delhi 6. Photographer © Jayshree Shukla
Enroute to the house of the beloved. The Subz Burj in Nizamuddin. Photographer © Jayshree Shukla