Six students tell complex stories of North Chennai through photography

Whether it’s a fisherwoman catching an eral (shrimp) at the Alayathi Kaadu, or a man pushing a boat through the waterlogged streets of Puliyanthope, each photo in the upcoming Reframed photography project is packed with complex and emotional stories from North Chennai. Clicked by six neighborhood children during a six-month workshop, the project aimed to get young people to tell stories about climate change, the daily struggle of the working class, the rich history of the locality, and more.

Organized by environmental activist Nityanand Jayaraman in collaboration with the Chennai Climate Action Group and the Coastal Resource Center, the idea behind the project was born a few years ago. “These young people are part of a group called Zenith Learning Centre, a free education center run by Ali Baasha in Tiruvottiyur. It gives these kids exposure that other kids might take for granted. We have been working with them for two years in the Vellore-Manali-Pulicat region in response to the concerns of fishermen there about increasing pollution,” says Nityanand, who realized the resilience of the locality during a trip to Tiruvottiyur there. a few years ago.

“Until then, for me, North Chennai was about pollution and the place that seems to be a victim of industrial development and discrimination. But I realized that if these stories are told by children, it will be at from a place of life, resilience and resistance,” he says, adding that the locality is probably the most concentrated source of climate change emissions in all of southern India, which makes it makes them vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

And soon after, Palani Kumar, who was also the photographer for the critically acclaimed documentary Kakkoos, was enlisted to guide the children through the photography workshop. “All six kids were given DSLRs and I didn’t tell them what to shoot. I taught them the basics and told them to click what they liked, and I quickly learned what was important to them. I gradually told them to interact with the community and hear their stories, such as the impact of power plants on the locality, the dust pollution experienced by truck drivers in the area, etc. remembers the photographer.

These children were able to easily grasp the stories of the community because they are part of the locality, Palani points out. “So many people can also connect to these images. More than me clicking on these pictures, when these kids click on pictures of their own neighborhood, the reach is greater. It was more like they taught me,” he smiles, adding that the aim of this project, which is going to be exhibited in a gallery in the city, is to bring these stories to everyone in the city. .

Catch eral in Kattur
One of my favorite photos is the one I took in Senganimedu. Usually when you see people sitting down, you think it’s easy to do. But it wasn’t until we got into the water to take a picture that we realized they were sitting inside the saer (mud), which was above their knees, and the water above their hips. It was so hard to get inside. Only if they do this every day can they even eat and end their day.

– Shafiq Ahamed, 17

Telling stories through photos
Through this experience, I realized that I could tell a story through photography. For example, I took this photo of two men arranging a fishing net. And behind them some containers would be on their way to the port. Their work should ideally be done by the sea. But since there is no seashore available, they were doing this in a corner of a highway. The image depicts soil erosion problems.

– Logeshvaran, 21

Pollution in Ennore
I was born and raised in North Chennai. My favorite photo is on the tail lift field of a group of seated soccer players, with the Ennore Thermal Power Station in the background. The pollution caused by the power station has caused many respiratory problems for local residents breathing in the air. I wanted to represent it through this image.

– Noor Nisha, 16

The sweet song of the birds
I had taken a photo of a bird in the forest, which was my highlight. We only hear the noise of vehicles on our streets, but out there we only hear the chirping of birds. It was such a great feeling.

– Mohammed Adhil, 14 years old

Revealing experience
I know so much about my region today, much more than six months ago. For example, I did not know that eral was taken from Alayathi Kaadu. When I was able to talk to these fishermen about their way of life and their difficulties, it was an eye-opening experience. There are also so many different species of birds in the forest.

– Karthikeyan, 17

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