For the veteran photographer Raghu Rai’s daughter Avani Rai, photography wasn’t something that came naturally to her. Infact, had it not been for the documentary she was making on her father, Avani’s relationship with acamera wouldn’t have evolved. Her relationship with photography began when her documentary brought her to Kashmir in 2014. Unaware of Kashmir’s complexities then and concentrating on filming the climax of her documentary, Avani returned right in time of the Burhan Wani mayhem in 2016 marking the onset of her relationship with the Valley and its people. Since then, she has never let the camera slip even for a second when on the streets of Kashmir.
And her endeavour has resulted in the series Exhibit A that documents a section of Kashmir suffering silently far away from the chaos that has engulfed the Valley. For someone who has shot through vulnerable situations — between stone-pelting, hospitals, visiting ex-militants houses, to capturing daily life in the villages — Avani never leaves home in Kashmir without her camera. “I have shot most with women and children as they are the ones suffering at home after their husbands, fathers, and sons leave them. These men of the house are either shot in an encounter or have disappeared,” shares the 27-year-old adding that everything in Kashmir is a canvas. "Whether you are standing and there is a reflection, or a child sitting in front of you, or a security person in a bunker; everything tells a story." While she attributes Kashmir to be the reason for her photography voyage, Avani emphasises that the way natives opened up to her made her work joyous and easy. “I was shooting at Khanqah mosque and a woman came up to me, held my hand and kissed me. She then asked me where was I from and didn’t let me go until I had tea with her family. In the same mosque, a boy walked up to me and asked from which side (India or Pakistan) I was. Not sure what to answer, I asked him the same question and he replied, ‘I am from Allah’s side,” narrates the documentarian. And most importantly she says, “Is the fact that people will remember you, always.”