Published: 13th January 2018
Niraj Gera is giving a transformation to acid attack survivors through his photographs
Niraj Gera's photographs perfectly portrays the pain of an acid attack survivor and the dreams that the liquid burns
The year was 2014. Niraj Gera was taking a stroll through Jantar Mantar with his camera, when something caught his attention. It was a protest. So, what’s the big deal about a protest in Jantar Mantar, right? But here, the participants were survivors of the acid attack, demanding strict regulation of the open sale of acid. Curious, Niraj decided to go ahead and talk to a few them. What awaited this photographer-cum-Art of Living teacher were stories of vengeance, attack and scars that he’d never come across in his life.
That was a life changer for this still-life photographer, who donned the role of the transformer, using his camera. Niraj’s frames, in his Sacred Transformation project, gave each of them a new identity. What another medium can portray the horror of acid attacks better than photographs? We caught up with this photographer, who has defied all the aesthetics of photography to support the cause, for a candid chat.
How exactly was your transformation from still-life and lifestyle photography to photographing acid attack survivors?
I have always loved to engage in and explore the emotional side of humans, which is why my street photographs are one of the most loved and appreciated ones. Photographing the survivors was a different experience in itself. Like we know, the series is about their emotional journey towards gaining self-confidence. It was important that people relate with their journey and feel the oneness, not just with the pain and struggle, but also their joy and freedom. And I am glad that people have actually felt a strong connection with these pictures.
Was it difficult to get the survivors pose in front of the camera? What would you do to make them feel more comfortable?
Yes, initially it was a difficult task for me. There was a very thin line between making them recall the incident and making them feel low. They were not very comfortable, but I am glad that I was able to create a cordial environment in which they soon became comfortable and camera friendly. I had to be very careful and yet make sure that they express what they felt. I had to do both the things simultaneously and also make sure that I cheer them up whenever they felt low or heartbroken. But soon, we got along well and things became easier as we stared to understand each other as friends.
There were times when they laughed and danced around with all their energy, whereas there were also days when they could not hold themselves and they cried their hearts out. But it was more because of the equations we shared than the result of the shoot.
Have you ever faced comments from anyone saying that the photos are scary and are not in accordance to the aesthetics of photography?
Not really. Although I did come across people who found some of the initial pictures very intense and powerful, and even some who were reluctant to proceed to the later ones. They were so moved and shaken by the initial pictures that they couldn't gather the courage to move up and complete the series. However, I have always insisted such people to first go through the entire series and only then come to a conclusion. At the end of the series, they would mostly leave with tears of joy, feeling the empowerment and happiness felt by the survivors and not the pain and grief which were stopping them from completing the series.
As a photographer, how could you help to change the current scenario and help more survivors?
Art in all its form is any day a strong medium of change. Photography, being a visual form of art has a great potential to leave an impact on one's mind as visuals are usually easily perceived and their impressions last longer and stronger. It definitely has the ability to bring about a positive change in the society and address critical issues by spreading awareness. The more the visuals reach out to people, the more they become aware of the issues and that in itself is good enough to stimulate the people to think over and address the issue.
Moreover, as an artist and a photographer I believe, art invokes humanity in an artist. That's why artists in general are often more sensitive towards emotions, be it their own or other's. Sensitivity also paves way for tolerance and mutual respect, it also generates courage to speak up for any wrong in the society. As far as this exhibition is concerned, through my photographs, I have tried to raise awareness about the acid attack survivors and the need for sensitising the society towards them. The series also raises the issue of gender discrimination which begins at a very early age in some form or the other and goes on to create a sense of fear and suppression in the society.
Have a look at few of Gera's photographs: