Finally composed the set of images for my Dokra photo essay
After months of pondering over whether to complete or not, I finally decided the edit I want to do with my Dokra series and put the pictures in my website.
This story of Dokra is very personal to me. In 2008 while roaming around I stumbled across the village in West Bengal where these structures are made. The event was magical, I was at my wife’s place and weather is so good I decided to go out for short trip for few hours. Having seen quite a few structures of Dokra I knew they lived in vicinity so we asked around and reached their place. Seeing their state of living and the kind of work they do I decided I would try to capture their life through my lenses.
I waited for couple years because at times you feel strongly for something which turns out to be not true and defeats the purpose of photo essay. To me if in a photo essay trust is missing then there is nothing much in it! Often photographers make a story out of their own perception and go with it. I strongly feel against it. Anyway I went back in 2011 and started mingling with them, asked questions, jotted down their details. I had done a lot of reading about them prior to that so that preparation helped. There are around 50 families in this village who survive on Dokra primarily. But given the challenges they face, other works like working in fields are often sought after remedy for day-to-day living. They told me their stories day after day. I went there for a period of 5-6 months almost every weekend. The village is 3 hours from my place so I used to set out early in the morning around 5 am to reach before 9.
Dokra is a metal craft. People generally transform scenes from daily life, animals, Gods in them and the metal structure which comes out is absolutely magical. First of the most tiresome and delicate process starts which is to make the structure using wax and many other ingredients. Once done its carefully wrapped in one particular layer of clay. Another different kind of clay goes on top of that. The whole structure now is kept for drying. As a parallel activity buying metal and breaking them in small pieces continues. Generally once or twice a week they go for making a large fire in which metal is heated and in another place the structure is heated too (in different temperature though). Once the metal is in liquid state they pour the metal into the structure and the wax goes out from a small hole which they keep during preparing it. The temperature is absolutely critical here since if something goes wrong the structure does not stand. It’s amazing how they do it all by using basic equipment. After pouring the liquid metal they cool it down and then break the out layer to get the structure of metal. Next stages are polishing and fine tuning. For a medium size structure it takes at least few weeks.
The process is so detailed one would surely admire it, but unfortunately the state government is reluctant in helping them out. In fact for a few years the government office got closed in village. I found it sad and pure callousness on the part of state officials to ignore these people instead of protecting them. Children frequently drop out of school due to money, the experienced artisans look for new ideas but there are fewer workshops if at all any.
I looked into many photo stories while taking these photographs and although many photographers doing photo essay mostly look for issues which are essentially sensational I did not agree that always a story has to be sensational. There are many things in life which are more delicate than they appear to be, they are subtle. These people has almost agreed to their fate and they aren’t agitated. I wanted to portray that through their nonchalant appearance. I hope those who looks into them do get the idea of it. I did not want to impose my thinking, my judgement into their photographs. I wanted to be an observer, a respectful one.
I showed the photo essay yesterday in social networking site but did not receive a great response. I do not want to delve into why and how though. I know a photo is never complete, I don’t like to see a complete photographs either. There is only one hope I have, that is through my pictures these people get more exposure because their craft and their skill desperately need more attention. There are already enough photographers photographing “sensational” stories around.
Here is a link to the complete photo essay: