In a country of so much suffering, madness and complexity, the proposition of giving photos, not just taking them, can seem simple and insignificant. But seeing the shift from reluctance to gratitude in a person who’s been given—however small—a gift, convinced me otherwise. On our trip to India last year, my boyfriend Daniel and I took part in Portrait Equality, a project which helps give photos to people in developing and remote communities. After applying online, Fred the Camera and two rolls of film appeared in the post. We could rent the camera for free, on the condition that we gave photos to as many families and people we met as possible.
In our first week, we stayed at Barefoot College in Rajasthan—a school which not only breaks through caste barriers, but teaches grandmothers to become solar engineers. Every six months, they bring women from around the world (who must be over 35, illiterate, and have never left their villages) to Tilonia to learn the skills needed to solar-electrify their villages. “All are dragged kicking and screaming,” said the founder Bunker Roy “but they return home like tigers.” The college is strict in its selection criteria. If they train men, they learn and leave for the city, explains Bunker. Grandmothers, however, return as leaders and carers for their communities. On top of its work in solar power, Barefoot provides clean water, healthcare and education to the people in the surrounding area. One evening, we visited a solar-powered night class, run for children who work during the day. After our first days in Delhi battling touts and trickery, this was a profound insight into rural life. I had to agree with Bunker when the next day he told us, “I think one day people will realise that living in cities is hell, and it’s time to go back home.”