47 years ago, Hollywood film editor Bipasha Shom was born in Kolkata, the capital of India’s West Bengal state, but, not long after, her parents moved the family to New Jersey. Because a large part of the family had remained in India, Shom and her parents frequently traveled back to her birthplace. Unfortunately, those trips also meant being confronted with impoverished people, often surviving on a dollar a day or less. On one of her trips, Shom realized that many of them didn’t have family photos. She vowed to herself that on her return trips, she would do everything within her power to change that.
Shom sat down with Resource Travel and explained how she made that vow into a reality.
I started taking pictures with an SLR camera, printing them out and then going back to hand out the prints. Logistics-wise, that sometimes was very tricky.
Late last year, Shom returned to Kolkata for the umpteenth time, but this time bringing along her husband, their two children, and a friend, who also happened to be a photographer. The goal of the trip was to once again give the underprivileged some precious, tangible memories, but Shom would use an instant camera this time.
The picture taking process was immensely simplified. I could take photos and hand people their prints right away.
Shom says she was greatly inspired by the movie “Siddharth“, which was filmed in India. In this movie, a young boy goes missing and his father does not have a single image of his son to help the police be able to identify him.
I think here in the West we’ve lost sight of the real power of photography. I think our project really helps people see it in a different light.
As she was preparing her trip, Shom contacted Fujifilm to see if they would support the project she had named “GivePhotos,” by possibly donating some film and cameras. Eventually, she traveled to India with three Instax wide cameras and 1,000 Instax wide prints.
To avoid having x-rays damage the film, we had everything carefully hand inspected as we went through security checks in LAX and Hong Kong.
When the group arrived in Kolkata after months of planning and preparation, Shom felt more nervous than ever. As a teenager with an SLR, when she started what would become “GivePhotos”, she only photographed people she knew through her family.
“Now I’d be going up to complete strangers asking if I could take their photograph.”
After the initial trepidation eased, everything eventually settled and the project was turning into a great success. As Shom was photographing the people she met, her husband and her friend captured her subjects gazing in awe as their instant pictures developed in front of their eyes. The Instagram-account of GivePhotos quickly filled up with inspiring pictures. Meanwhile, because Shom speaks Bengali, the group was also able to learn a little about the lives of the people they were shooting. And they quickly realized that 1,000 prints was not going to be enough.
The reaction was incredible. Although the photos were small, many told us that they would have them framed and hung on their wall. It was a simple picture that would become a lifeline to their past.
The GivePhotos team now wants to give it their all to keep their project going. They want to continue to impact people’s lives through the power of photography. But rather than going back to impoverished areas themselves, they now want to support local photographers by shipping them the film and cameras, in India and other interested countries. To support this mission, Shom launched a fundraiser.
Our hope is to give away as much as possible. Support for the arts is so low on the list of priorities for developing countries.
Shom promises to showcase the work of the supported photographers on their Instagram page. In a talk with BBC, she also admits “that giving a photo is not like building a school or a hospital or feeding the hungry, but I think a photo is something that feeds the soul,” adding the example of how people will often grab family photos when fleeing a house fire.
This project is something anyone can do. Next time you travel to a developing country where people are living in poverty, think about bringing an instant camera or a printer with you. You’ll find that, even if you don’t speak the language, you can easily connect with people just by pointing at the camera and handing them the photo. It’s a small gift which someone will treasure forever.
Donations starting at five dollars are more than welcome on the GivePhotos Generosity-page, because “every dollar helps.” To see what you are supporting, you can head out to the organization’s Facebook-page or Instagram-account.