In life, we meet people for a reason. No one believes in this more that Swarat Ghosh. A photographer from the city, Swarat’s chance meeting with a mother-daughter duo, who are ragpickers, not only inspired him to dig deeper into the dirt but also to shoot a series called Ragpickers — The Secret Environmentalists. That also helped him snag the Neel Dongre Awards for Excellence in Photography grant. And now, Ghosh’s work was also on display in Delhi earlier this month.
Foraging: Ragpickers handle toxic substances with their bare hands.
“It was an encounter by chance,” says Ghosh. “I was on the way to work and spotted these two ladies with huge bags going towards the local dump yard near my house. Having always wondered where our daily garbage goes, I followed them with my camera (which he carries every time),” he says. What started as curiosity led him to discover a world, which, most of us pass by without noticing.
“The theme of this annual grant this time was recycling. I wanted to do a photo series on organ recycling — eye transplants — but I couldn’t get the required permission for it,” explains Ghosh who adds that it was ace photographer Aditya Arya who organises this grant.
“Eight photographers have been selected for this grant and I am the only one from the South,” informs Ghosh, who sent 15 photos every month, for five months and out of the 75, 15 were eventually selected.
Photographing ragpickers was not easy. “I had to win their trust first and besides that, I had to go through the tough conditions in which they live. They forage through mountains of garbage to collect hair and other items they can sell. Men in their families just sit idle at home; it’s the women who toil hard to make both ends meet,” explains Ghosh, who started working on this project in October. In five months, Ghosh learnt much more about the lives of ragpickers.
“Did you know that it takes at least five to eight days to collect a kg of hair? It is a strenuous process and they earn only Rs30 per kilo. For that small amount of money, they risk their health by handling toxic substances with their bare hands,” explains Ghosh, who shoots with a Nikon D610. Ghosh, who works as a lead visual designer, says, “I’m glad I did a series on them. I’ve learnt so much from them. Now, I want to do a series on the wig business. The people who collect hair are not keen on revealing their names, so I’m trying to find sources and other means.”