Balarka Brahma: The Other Side of Convention

 
Shabana, an eight-yearold steals a few laughs at her community coaching centre. Centres like these are run by local scholars and NGOs, and are a constant source of encouragement for parents to send their children to school. Photograph/Balarka Brahma

Shabana, an eight-yearold steals a few laughs at her community coaching centre. Centres like these are run by local scholars and NGOs, and are a constant source of encouragement for parents to send their children to school. Photograph/Balarka Brahma

Balarka Brahma is a Kolkata-based independent photographer. He had initially experimented with landscape and street photography, but he became drawn to visual storytelling. He is the cofounder and is a part of Pentaprism Creation, a Kolkata based picture collective.

Balarka Brahma is a Kolkata-based independent photographer. He had initially experimented with landscape and street photography, but he became drawn to visual storytelling. He is the cofounder and is a part of Pentaprism Creation, a Kolkata based picture collective.

Balarka Brahma documents the positive attitude that Kolkata’s various Muslim communities share towards the right to education.

Around two years ago, the Institute of Social Works, Kolkata commissioned me for an assignment to document their activities in and around the city. This involved extensive travelling around Kolkata and its surrounding areas like Barrackpur, Barasat, Murshidabad. During these travels, I interacted with all kinds of people. One thing that stood out the most in my interactions was the rising importance given to education, especially in the Muslim communities.

Traditionally, madrasas have been given more magnitude, but there has been a shift to state-affiliated education in urban areas and smaller towns. NGOs work towards raising awareness amongst parents as well. This move towards more mainstream education has made it easier for children to transition to colleges and universities.

I spent over 16 months travelling to various areas to document the state of education. I am not a fan of shooting continuously and always talked to the person before photographing them. Their comfort and forthrightness was crucial to the project.

There is a positive shift in thought that is taking place, slowly but surely, and that is what I wished to bring to light through my photographs.

Exercise classes are conducted at the local community centre in Khidderpur, Kolkata. This building was infamous for anti-social and criminal activities, but the Institute for Social Works converted it to a community centre for women and children. Photograph/Balarka Brahma

Exercise classes are conducted at the local community centre in Khidderpur, Kolkata. This building was infamous for anti-social and criminal activities, but the Institute for Social Works converted it to a community centre for women and children. Photograph/Balarka Brahma

When Photographing a Social Issue as a Long-Term Project

  • Research is the most important part for any project. If your research is weak, the project will be weaker. Make sure you read enough and speak to the right people for the correct information regarding your project.
  • You need to gain trust from whoever you are photographing. Since you will be privy to their lives, it is important that you are trusted.
  • Patience is the key when pursuing a social issue. It is not possible to finish the project with just a two or three day visit. You have to spend time with your subjects for months, and sometimes even years.
  • You must remember that it is not only about making dramatic pictures. The issue needs to be heard through your work. Anyone can make pictures nowadays, but it is very hard to create a strong and compelling story.

–As told to Natasha Desai

You can find more of Balarka Brahma’s work here

Tags: Balarka Brahma, Barasat, Barrackpur, education, Institute of Social Works, Kalyani University, Kolkata, madrasas, Murshidabad, Muslim community, Pentaprism