Chennai: A pleasant surprise awaits passengers frequenting the Thiruvanmiyur MRTS, whose drab and dusty walls have become more engaging than their luminous phones. A splash of colour and a slice of city life – the large captivating photographs stuck on the pink walls are quick to draw your attention. Captured by women from the Down Syndrome Federation of India and a group of young girls from the NalandaWay Foundation, these pictures are on display along the platform of the station until March 13 as part of the Chennai Photo Biennale.

 A digital camera and a two-day workshop was all it took to get the women excited about photography. “I love photography. I like taking pictures of colourful things like swings, slides and flowers,” says Babli Ramachandran. Photography may be seen as a challenge to this 35-year-old with Down Syndrome and partial vision but her beautiful pictures of nature tell a different story.

Babli is one among 14 others who attended the introductory sessions conducted by Lensational, an organisation dedicated to empowering marginalised women in developing countries through photography. “The idea is to challenge stereotypes through photography and transform lives. These girls have a strong artistic acumen as they shot photos in unconventional spaces like slums and garbage dumps,” says Bonnie Chin, founder, Lensational.

The striking images of red pomegranates, yellow flowers, colourful plastic pots, rusty hand pumps and happy locals catch your eye while waiting for the train. Shot at Nageswara Rao Park, Kapaleeswarar Temple, the slums in Perambur and areas near the Kodungaiyur dump yard, these pictures reveal untold stories of the city through the lens of these amateurs.

“When we went to shoot near Kodungaiyur, we noticed that there is so much garbage and people were living around it. We felt that if we shared our pictures of the place, the residents may get help,” says V Dhanalakshmi, a class 7 student from NalandaWay art lab. Similarly, 12-year-old Kushbu Solanki captured stagnant, dirty water around a hand pump covered in fungus to convey the living conditions of slum dwellers.

The programme was a unique experience for most girls as it was the first time they interacted with the local community. “They had no qualms about going to a dirty place. In fact, it triggered a lot of questions and they came up with great ideas for pictures,” says Monisha V, associate for projects, NalandaWay Foundation.

Photography served as a platform for expression and the exercise has been empowering. “The women have become more outgoing and confident after this,” says Dr Rekha Ramachandran, president, Down Syndrome Association of Tamil Nadu.

Pumped with energy, they fearlessly roamed the streets capturing what they liked. “We noticed that these girls weren’t hesitant to put cameras before faces and click pictures. We would think twice but they were thrilled to engage with the public,” says photographer Shuchi Kapoor, who conducted the workshops with French photographer Yannick Cormier.


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