Photography and Development – An interview with EveryDay Mumbai

I’m off to Mumbai next week to speak at a Conference on Social Media for Development, Innovation and Freedom. During my research I came across Everyday Mumbai and spent hours looking at some of the wonderful images that creator Chirag Wakaskar has curated. So I contacted Chirag to ask him a few questions:

What inspired you to start @everydaymumbai

Back when I started this project (6th July 2014) there were probably very few working photographers from India on it and the pictures on the medium were mostly the typical oversaturated fluff of sunsets, mountains, beaches etc but there were a few western photojournalists on the medium sharing some interesting work and while I was on it with moderate success perhaps because photojournalism based content is not as popular in India as something that provides a much more departure from daily dreary lives such as a beautiful sunset or your favourite celebrity having fun is (I guess). I loved what @everydayafrica was doing and thought of having something on similar lines but since there weren’t really a lot of photographers around that I knew personally I decided on a curated platform rather than a collaboration. There was also a thought in the back of my mind of seeing the city through local eyes, which included a lot of non professional photographers who also contribute to the project.

How do you select which images to curate? Are there certain issues that you deliberately focus on e.g. I noticed that there are many images documenting the LGBT community in Mumbai and also on pollution. What is the motivation for highlighting certain issues?

I generally look at photographs which have something to say beyond the visual. I often feel many times images of such issues are sidelined in mainstream media in India which is more focused around political news, celebrities and sports coverage. Even Instagram is primarily dominated by Bollywood & vanity. I hope to make space for highlighting various issues and making a strong case for photographers who document such issues.

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Do you think that @everydaymumbai can be used as a tool for development? If so, how?

I would like to think it can be used as a ‘model’ because it reaches an audience through a medium that is easily accessible to them so that they can understand or know a little more than they usually would. I would love to see communities self documenting to better understand for themselves as well as others. I’ve actually written a guide and put it up on the website so that someone who wants to start off a project like this would know how to go about it. It can be found here – http://www.everydaymumbai.com/how-to-start-your-own-everyday-project-on-instagram-by-chirag-wakaskar/

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Have you ever been contacted by local government or NGOs about your work?

I have never been contacted by government. A couple of times NGO’s have reached out to share something. Though I have often proactively shared something I think would help share a good message or help someone out.

You mostly provide quite detailed supporting text – how long does this take?

The credit is all to the photographers. I will often egg them on to write more in terms of either jouralistic captions or even what they may think about what they have photographed. I also share with them resources such as  caption methodology such as AP or NPR so that they can get an idea as well or even some photography resources that I have found helpful. I maintain a small database of articles Ive liked – http://www.everydaymumbai.com/resources/

You receive lots of comments on the images that you curate. How long does it take for you to maintain the Instagram account?

I share just one photograph a day after looking at the hashtag and usually will message the photographer if I need to have any more details included. I have notifications off except for comments so that something inappropriate doesnt pass through. I’m generaly quite liberal in terms of comments and even with negative feedback but never outright for any hatred, lewdity, violence, etc

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Do you know if any of the photographers that work you curate have received photography commissions as a result?

This is a difficult one for me to quantify, but I do share the work of lot of young photographers with the hope that journalists, editors, curators who follow the project will commision them work or perhaps write articles about them particularly when they have some projects, exhibits, books & so on.

What is next for @everydayMumbai

I’m currently working on creating an offline exhibit in public spaces so that a wider audience can reached, particularly those who may not be on social media or even the internet. I’m also looking to reach out to mariganlized communities to help train them to document themselves and create social media based projects like these for their communities so more people can know about them.

Thank you Chirag for such an interesting and inspirational interview. I can’t wait to see some of the projects working with marginalised communities.

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NGO documentary film highlights sanitation issues in Indian slum

I recently organised for Steve Melia, Head of Film at WaterAid UK to speak to students on the MA Media and International Development course that I teach on. The seminar was a huge success and many students (and myself) were engrossed by a film ‘Across the Tracks’ that WaterAid produced this year. I caught up with Catherine Feltham, the producer/director to find out more about the production.

Trailer for Across the tracks by WaterAid.

Why did WaterAid produce this film? 

We were commissioned to tell an in-depth, character-led story that people would be able to connect emotionally with, while also demonstrating the impact of WaterAid’s work in India through the HSBC Water Programme. ​

After meeting HSBC NOW TV, a web-based TV programme broadcasting weekly to HSBC’s 265,000+ employees and wider community around the world via the organisation’s intranet and external YouTube channel – we set about identifying the right story to give an insight into WaterAid’s work in India. We were struck by one particularly challenging urban slum, where lack of sanitation was a major issue. We quickly identified that violence against women and girls was prevalent in the slum, and that the lack of toilets only added to this risk.  This also felt the right time for WaterAid to make its own in-depth documentary film, which could be pitched to different audiences such as film festivals and media outlets.

We planned for a shoot that would enable us to gather the depth of content for HSBC NOW and also to enable production of a 20-minute film to be pitched at broadcasters, and a 10-minute film to be pitched at short film competitions, festivals and other online sites.

What are the objectives? 

At the front of our minds was that this story should meaningfully contribute towards the national and international conversation around Clean India​, a campaign launched by the Indian Government in October, which aims to see a toilet in every household by 2019. As well as attracting global attention to sanitation issues, we were keen to show that not having access to somewhere safe and clean to go to the toilet doesn’t just impact on health, but also dignity and livelihoods.

One of the key messages we wanted to emphasise was that everyone, everywhere should have access to basic necessities such as a toilet, regardless of where they live.

Who is the main audience?

We wanted to reach a wide audience, from HSBC employees and WaterAid supporters, to policy makers and people working in development. We also wanted to tap into an audience of film enthusiasts and the culturally engaged.

How long did it take to produce? How many people were involved?

We undertook a recce in April 2014 to identify potential characters for the film.  This took place in as part of an existing WaterAid supporter visit to Kanpur, India. This was really crucial for the planning of this film as it enabled us to gather interviews with several people living in the slum, get a sense of people’s personalities and how they might be on camera, and to start to work out who the key individuals were who were engaged with the WaterAid project there.

After the recce we started regular communications with WaterAid India and the project partner, a charity called Shramik Bharti, which delivers the project in Rakhi Mandi and therefore knows the community closely.   We discussed the full implications of filming with them, impacts on the project, people’s time and the logistics around filming the construction of Radha’s toilet from start to finish. We wanted to film ‘in the action’ and actuality style footage, rather than after the event, so we needed to ensure this was possible. We didn’t want to turn up to a toilet already half way through construction!

As the shoot only had one content-gathering objective, we had time to consider how to create a product with high production values.  So we researched film techniques and styles and this is when we decided to gather aerial footage.  We booked an Indian drone operator called Nikhil Thakkar, from Wonderwork Productions, and worked with him to gather general shots to show the scale of the slum, the location of the slum, the area the community used for the toilet, and also to gather shots of each character from above.  We felt this footage would be integral to telling the story by showing the challenges of the urban slum environment.

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The shoot took place in October 2014 over ten days, with the first two days used to complete the recce and plans with no cameras out.  The core team on the shoot was made up of myself (producer/director), the DOP, a second camera operator/photographer, and two translators.  In addition we had fantastic support from Shramik Bharti day-to-day, and WaterAid’s Partnership Communications Manager joined for half of the trip to help with logistics, and wider fact and story gathering to build the context. We also had the local drone operator join for two days of the shoot. Having the support of the WaterAid India local team was also integral to making the shoot a success.

In December we began the edit and completed the 20 minute and the 10 minute film the day before the deadline (25 January) for the first competition we wanted to enter!  We were shortlisted in the final 10 films (of over 100 entries) in the Rankin and DocHeads short film competition 2015. Our 10 minute film is now live on the Rankin site as a result of this exposure. We hope that this is the first of many distribution opportunities for the film and Radha’s story.

The film also aired HSBC NOW on 6 February and received overwhelmingly positive feedback from employees including converting an editor from HSBC’s production company into a new WaterAid monthly donor! The intranet version of their film has reached nearly 16,000 people so far. As you can probably gauge, a lot of people were involved in the project overall, from internal WaterAid stakeholders, to the partner organisation, the corporate partner and production staff.

How did you choose the main character?

The main character is Radha Verma.   Radha immediately stood out as she had engaged  with the WaterAid project work very early on in an environment where it was very difficult for our partners (Shramik Bharti) to gain the trust and ears of the community.

Rakhi Mandi slum is situated next to the Delhi-Kolkata railway line in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, Northern India. Rakhi Mandi is one of the oldest slums in Kanpur, thought to be around 65-years-old. There are at least 3,500 people living here.  The biggest challenge with the project work was to change people’s mindsets. Living on unofficial land with no support from local government, people thought nothing could be done and that they were born to live like this and that going to the toilet in the open was just the ‘norm’.

Before the project could get underway, Shramik Bharti had to bring a largely disparate community together. Community facilitators described families in Rakhi Mandi that were not close, with high levels of domestic violence, alcoholism and drug abuse. It took a long time to identify potential leaders and build people’s trust. In the first five months they visited Rakhi Mandi every day, focusing on cleanliness, and started to encourage families to build soak pits to dispose of household waste water, which would bring a visible change to people’s homes and surrounding areas, and go some way towards tackling serious drainage issues in the slum. Shramik Bharti first talked to people about their personal problems, their health, their kids, and built up a bond, before identifying leaders, forming a water user committee and training them on how to access services from local government officials.

Radha shone as an example of someone who wanted to change her situation and understood the benefits to her and her family. She had been one of the first in the community to build a soak pit and was also really determined to get a toilet for their home as her daughter Nisha has narrowly escaped an attack when going for open defecation.  This incident also demonstrated the very real dangers women and young girls face, as a result of having no safe place to go to the toilet, without sharing the detail of some of the more violent stories we were aware of such as rape in the community.

The secondary characters we selected – Kalavati (who features in both the 10 and 20 minute film, and HSBC’s film) and Laddan (who features in the 20 minute film) also both stood out as key individuals in the change taking place in Rakhi Mandi. They represented the hope and life that the project has.

Do you think it will share very well on social media?

We believe that social media will be a powerful tool for promoting the film and the wider story the film tells. Already the trailer for the film has received nearly 1,500 views on Vimeo without any real push to it yet.  It was liked by well-known filmmaker Philip Bloom who tweeted it out in the first few days and we saw a huge boost to views after this.

We have not started social media activities around the film with full force yet as we are still pitching and entering the films into competitions and to media outlets. However, the small social activity we have done so far has proven to engage with audiences. For example, we edited a 15-second ‘Instavid’ version of the trailer of the film for Instagram and published it the day that the Rankin/DocHeads film competition winner was announced.   The film gained 277 views, and nearly 10% of those people used the URL link we provided to visit the website to view the film.  Our average views on an Instavid on our channel range between 200 and 300 and we don’t usually provide URL links as these are not direct links within Instagram, so we were pleased with the rate of people who used the link to visit the page.

We have more Instavid’s edited and ready to use as we begin to push the film out further and we will also be using Twitter and Facebook to promote the film.  The social media pick-up will of course be more successful if we can link the film to a film festival or screening as we will be able to tap into wider networks outside of WaterAid.

Are you going to enter it into any film festivals?

Yes, absolutely. We have already begun the process and will be continuing to submit the film throughout the year. Before we went on the shoot we put together a draft distribution plan which included film festivals, competitions, online sites, media outlets and screenings.  Our colleagues in India are also researching festivals in India that we can submit the film to.

 Website link: http://www.wateraid.org/acrossthetracks​

Image Credits:  WaterAid/Nikhil Thakkar and WaterAid/Isabelle Neill

 

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Case Study: Social Media and recycling in India

Arriving in Delhi to see (and smell) heaps of rubbish lining the streets was a bit of a shock to the system when I first arrived to volunteer in January of this year. The waste management problem in Delhi is so serious that the Hindustan Times dramatically stated that “Delhi may drown in its own waste”. Although this is probably not strictly true, as much as 85% of Delhi’s residents do not have a formal waste disposal system and Delhi’s colossal landfill sites are filling up fast.

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I volunteered with Swechha; a non-governmental organisation focused on education and environmental issues in Delhi. I took part in clean-ups along with a variety of other projects – however, when I agreed to work to improve waste management, social media marketing was one of the last things I thought I would be doing.

Nevertheless, after my first couple of weeks of working with Swechha, I was asked to help market Green the Gap, an upcycling social enterprise which helps fund Swechha. I soon found myself tweeting on their behalf and becoming addicted to Facebook statistics.

In order to give a bit of background, I should explain the Swechha/Green the Gap relationship. Swechha is a Delhi-based NGO which deals in education and environmental issues, including waste management. The aforementioned waste issue in Delhi is utilised by some of Delhi’s poorest – rag-pickers who survive by picking through landfill sites and selling anything of value which they find. It is an informal (as well as ingenious) form of recycling.

This is where Green the Gap comes in – Green the Gap are an upcycling company who buy waste products from rag-pickers and employ tailors from a local slum community to upcycle these products into useful and fashionable items which can then be sold at a profit. The revenue made by Green the Gap then helps to fund the work of Swechha – It’s a beautiful cycle.

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I started working with Swechha at the exact time that Green the Gap was launching into e-commerce and was asked to support this launch by using social media to increase traffic to the site.  My only qualifying skills were the fact that I kept a rather light-hearted blog which had already attracted some attention and Green the Gap wanted to use humour to spread their eco-message.

Having absolutely no experience of social media marketing, I initially found this task to be a bit of a challenge. My main tactics became seeking the attention of pre-existing environmental charities that may have wanted to support Green the Gap and trying to highlight the uniqueness of their products. One thing I learned was that in social media – subtlety is not your friend. I used lots of pictures and sophisticated captions like “Holy Cr*p – products made out of elephant poo” to advertise one particular line of paper products created from elephant dung and Green the Gap’s weekly total reach on Facebook increased by 22,320.49% (to be precise).

Trying to maintain the balance of maintaining a level of humour whilst not seeming flippant to the waste management issue in Delhi was a constant battle but I learned that important issues can be tackled in a fun and approachable way. Green the Gap were giving people an easy way to contribute to their society without preaching and shoving statistics down their throats – and this was something I could really get behind. I was to be able to use social media to reach a wide audience and promote a really great cause and I think that social media can be a fantastic tool in developing countries. My efforts were probably a bit amateur, but that was part of the beauty of it – social media is for everyman (or woman) and it is these people who can really make a difference to the world. I strongly feel that other NGOs should jump on the social media bandwagon and start getting their names out there. If I can master it, then so can they!

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Olivia Burke is a returned volunteer from the ICS programme. She spent three months in Delhi where one of her roles was using social media to market an upcycling social enterprise as it launched into e-commerce.

 

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Delhi Gang Rape and Social Media

I watched the horrific Delhi Gang Rape story unfold on social media over Christmas. I promised myself and more importantly my family that I wouldn’t blog over Christmas. Today’s superb blog ‘Social Media and Protest – The Indian Spring?’ by Professor Ravinda Barn has insipred me to write down my earlier thoughts which mirror her own – “To what extent were the India protests organized by Twitter, Facebook and other forms of social media?

The first I knew of the story was via Twitter when Ghazala Airshad (@ghazairshad) shared a blog post on 23rd December by Indian writer Nilanjara Roy ‘Notes from Raisina Hill’.  Roy talks to many of the protesters and notes “Almost all of them heard about the protest on Facebook and Twitter, or from friends—not through the mainstream media.” She notices two very different types of protesters. In the morning peaceful protests mainly by students and by the afternoon people there just for the TV cameras. I wonder whether at the time of writing her blog she thought the story would snowball globally.

I was also intrigued on New Years Eve by the article in the Times of India “The year social media came of age”. It made me wonder whether the tweets by Sambhavi Saxena were the catalyst for the story reaching the masses across the world. I don’t think so looking back at online articles, but I’m sure it helped.

Reading Saxena’s Twitter Account I was amazed at how often she had tweeted whilst being detained. I wonder whether police officers around the world will make sure they confiscate people’s phones when they make arrests in the future?

I love that Professor Barn’s calls this the Indian Spring. I wish I’d come up with that great linkbait title, however I think she could be right. Is this just the start of the Indian Spring? Will the government’s promises to review safety for girls and women in India be carried out? Only time will tell, but I truly hope so!

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