Photo Essay | Ways of seeing


Photo Essay | Ways of seeing

A few weeks back, at the launch of photojournalist Sipra Das’ book at Rashtrapati Bhavan, visually handicapped sisters Prachi and Pragya spoke about their interactions with Das and why being visually challenged is not a curse.

The twins were six years old when Das first photographed them playing the tabla. They are now in class XII.

Das’ book The Light Within: A Different Vision of Life is the culmination of a 12-year-long project. Many in the audience said Das’ photos had opened their eyes to their own selves and their surroundings.

Das, a photojournalist with the India Today magazine before she retired two years ago, stumbled into documenting the perplexities, pleasures and pain of the lives of the blind in India.

One day, after staying at the hostel of the All India Confederation of the Blind, a teaching school, she toyed with the philosophical idea of “seeing from the heart”. The expression had been used by Jawahar Lal Kaul, the school’s then principal.

Das had not found any mirror on the hostel premises and was left with the question of “looking at oneself”. The blind can’t do that, but they have a vision decoded by their hearts, Kaul had told her. That triggered her interest in the subject.

Das’ pictures—symbolically all black and white—are an endearing mix of personal and political; her subjects are from different social classes all over India.

While the book has a few photographs of the well-to-do among the visually handicapped, like a beautician from Mumbai, Das has mostly trained her lens on the less empowered, turning them into unassailable heroes. From farmers to fishermen, feisty children, artists, performers, entrepreneurs, a midwife, doctors, lawyers, couples in love, even a coconut picker and a sightless photographer—her canvas is wide.

On the cover is a smiling visually handicapped girl holding a diya. “Who says blindness is about darkness?” asks Das. A question her photographs answer rather well.–Ways-of-seeing.html