Let’s give away photographs to people who would never have their smiles documented as memories, thought a US-based Indian, Bipasha Shom. A unique project, GivePhotos has already given more than thousand people a reason to cherish their smile.
Bipasha is an acclaimed editor and producer in Hollywood and her husband Chris Manley is an Emmy award-winning cinematographer. They have several laurels against their name and are recognised names in their profession. However, the duo embarked on a journey that would allow people in the remote areas of the world get access to their photographs; giving them reasons to smile at their own smirks or smirk at their own smiles. To those who dwell in slums and to those who have scars in their palms holding a photograph of their own seemed like a reward that no one ever imagined.
Inspired by smiles
Bipasha’s family moved out of Kolkata when she was a two-year-old toddler. Known for her diverse works in the field of television commercials, music videos, documentaries and features, she took her bags to India frequently. The reason primarily was her teenage habit of gifting real photographs to people who would never expect them to come their way.
“I love knowing that the photos we give to someone could be their only memory of a place or a person. You know, many people in the world have little to no access to photography. I know we’re not feeding the hungry or healing the sick, but it is still gratifying knowing that this memory we give to someone will be cherished,” Bipasha tells us over an email conversation.
GivePhotos is a non-governmental organisation and works for the happiness of those who have stopped demanding it. While she knows about her job very well, Bipasha and Chris have managed to inspire a lot of people to do the same. “Is feeding people’s souls less important than putting food in their bellies? Of course, there are some priorities in life but seeing the smiles on people’s faces when we handed them their portraits was priceless,” Bipasha added.
Giving photos to the world
What made the project stand out was involving photographers from the world in this noble cause. GivePhotos slowly built a community of photographers who wanted to visit the marginal parts of the world. Using a simple instant photo camera like the Fuji Polaroid, Bipasha inspired other photographers to help people document and preserve their cherished memories. Speaking about how the idea spread, Bipasha said, “After we finished the project in India we wanted to do it again in another developing country but we realized that the cost of plane tickets alone would eat up most of the money we needed to share photographs. So, we decided to find local photographers and travelers who would be going to poverty stricken areas and have them replicate the project.”
Social media was useful in pushing the initiative further – “It’s been great finding people through Instagram and helping them to connect with people in other places. So far we’ve sent film and cameras to Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Zanzibar, Tanzania, The Gambia, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Mexico,” she added.
Coming back to Kolkata
Bipasha and Chris were in Kolkata during January last year and the homecoming was special this time. She says it was “an incredible experience travelling to small villages and also urban slum areas giving away photographs.”
Reactions were their remunerations and having Chris by her side they were able to document the entire project. While reminiscing about the inclusive curves that made those otherwise dejected faces look beautiful, Bipasha said, “People were thrilled to have a print. Once they realised what we were doing they went and grabbed their elderly parents or their young children. People wanted group photos, photos with their prized possessions, photos with their friends and family. It was fun doing this with my husband who is a cinematographer by profession. We made a short film documenting the experience. He captured some beautiful scenes of people reacting to their photographs.”
“It was indeed a deeply moving experience for me. I didn’t even know such living conditions existed within such close proximity of our residential complex,” said Rana Basu Thakur, Chief Mentor, Just Lateral Thinkink, a media consulting and creative solutions firm based in Kolkata. Rana is more a neighbour to Chris and Bipasha than a professional as he described his experience moving around the city of joy with the couple.
Metaphor to memories
Perfumes, they said are the best form of memories; until photographs were discovered. While Bipasha used a Polaroid Fuji camera to capture those candid moments, she perhaps understood the importance of a real photograph developed from a film. “We did the project with a Fujifilm Instax (Polaroid) camera,” she told us before describing that moment of magic-and-memories that she has been so dearly accustomed to. “There is a magical element to someone getting a blank piece of paper that then slowly becomes an image. People were amazed by what transpired before their eyes. You can say it is a kind of metaphor of memories; memories that gradually develop over time and capture a moment in our lives,” Bipasha concluded.
As a footnote to what they do and intend to achieve, the website serves as a prospectus. But real experiences would let you understand how they bring a difference to a society that is slowly forgetting the beauty of smiling. “Scepticism dissipated amongst the predominant labour class families as Chris and his wife broke the ice with their magic ‘box’ churning beautiful memories for the slum dwellers. Memories that they promised to preserve for posterity,” Rana was reminiscing about his day out with the Hollywood couple in January 2016. “These people were not used to getting gifts, they were pleasantly surprised, I remember. It was my pleasure as well to tag along with my neighbourhood ‘jam’ Chris and soaked in that euphoria,” he added.