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Framed
September 28, 2018

The Ongoing Indian Photography Festival Tells Some Poignant Stories About Women

Text by Sadaf Shaikh

From elderly prostitutes to the psychological effects of being ‘fat’, the festival in Hyderabad delves into the psyche of women from all over the world with photographs that catch them at their most private moments.

The fourth edition of the Indian Photography Festival (IPF) in Hyderabad, which began on September 6th and ends on 7th October 2018 has seen participation from award-winning international photographers each telling stories that need to be told. Such as, Nick Ut’s tragic coverage of the Vietnam war in 1970, Yemen’s humanitarian crisis presented by Giles Clarke and the eerie Living for Death series by Alain Schroeder which sheds light on Toraja Land’s (Indonesia) ‘cleaning of the corpses’ ceremony.

What caught our eye, however, were the projects highlighting the life of women caught in unique circumstances — a powerful portrayal of femininity struggling to survive in toxic environments.

Life after Life in Prison: The Bedroom Project by Sara Bennett

For the past 3 years, Sara Bennett has been photographing formerly incarcerated women in their private bedrooms, all of whom had been convicted of serious crimes and had spent 14 to to 35 years in a maximum-security prison. By the time they came up for parole, most of them had been reformed, yet they were repeatedly denied release and continued to be detained because of the crimes they had committed decades earlier. By clicking pictures of these women in the safety of their homes and procuring quotes on the sense of freedom that emanates from their bedroom, Bennett hopes to shed light on the pointlessness of extremely long sentences and the scars they leave on women who have long since shed their heinous personas.

One of the quotes that hit home comes from 51-year-old Mary who has been home for almost two decades after serving a 15-year sentence reads, “I’ve been home 19 years, but re-entry is a lifetime process. In many ways, prison is with you forever. Still, the impact is a lot less than it used to be. For years, everything I did, everything I thought about, reflected back to prison. It was about 15 years out, I did 15 years in that I stopped connecting to that girl I was in prison. Maybe you have to do the same amount of time outside, as you did inside, before you feel free from it.”

The Women of Casa Xochiquetzal by Bénédicte Desrus

For the past decade, Bénédicte Desrus has documented the daily lives of the women living at Casa Xochiquetzal, a unique shelter named after the Aztec goddess of earth and love that provides accommodation to elderly sex workers in Mexico City. In the capital city, women past their prime offer sex in exchange for a few pesos or a measly meal and live in appalling conditions on the street. Ostracised by society, rejected by their families and with no place to spend their final years, they are forced to practise their profession in spite of not having the energy to do so. But things are beginning to change with the establishment of Casa Xochiquetzal, a facility that has been donated by the local government. The shelter, which offers its residents medical and psychiatric care and education, along with a course in basic handicrafts, seeks to restore the dignity in the lives of the women and the French photographer has poignantly managed to capture these moments of unshackled zen.

„Für mich“ by Sina Niemeyer

Operating on the statistic that every third and fifth woman experiences sexual abuse in her life, German artist Sina Niemeyer’s project „Fürmich“ which translates to ‘for me’ in English is an autobiographical account of her own experiences with sexual assault. Including a top shot of a woman’s bare legs, an image of a woman who has her head bent forward with hair falling all over it and a photograph of an outstretched hand cupping water, the photo series aims to demonstrate how sexual abuse affects the victim’s life. Presenting a plethora of vague and subtle emotions that are often difficult to express through verbal form, Niemeyer hopes to help fellow survivors deal with their own trauma and remind them that they are never alone.

Insider/Outsider by Women Photograph

This particular series explores the relationship between the photographer and the subject and has been submitted by Women Photograph, an initiative that was launched in 2017 to elevate the voices of women and non-binary visual journalists from nearly 100 countries. Aiming to highlight the psychological effects of being fat in a society that values ‘thinness’ over everything else, the photograph above features a 16-year-old girl who shows off her birthday present that she gifted herself – a tattoo saying ‘Kiss it!’ on her butt cheek which is also a reminder to be her own person, and a caveat to the bullies – that they can kiss it. Photographer Abbie Trayler-Smith attempts to address the stigma associated with childhood obesity that plagued her own teenage years with self-loathing and insecurities in a world that is obsessed with size zero bodies.

The Indian Photograph Festival is on until October 7, 2018 at the State Art Gallery in Telangana, Hyderabad.

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