Zana Briski, New York, January 2004
In 1998 I began living with prostitutes in a squalid red light district of Calcutta.
When I first went to India in 1995, I had no idea what lay ahead. I began to travel and photograph the harsh realities of women's lives – female infanticide, child marriage, dowry deaths and widowhood.
I had no intention of photographing prostitutes until a friend took me to the red light district in Calcutta. From the moment I stepped foot inside that maze of alleyways, I knew that this was the reason I had come to India.
I spent months trying to gain access to this impenetrable place. I knew I wanted to live with the women, to really understand their lives. Finally a brothel owner gave me a room. It took a long time before I gained the trust of the women. As they waited for clients, I waited with them. I sat for hours on end, joking, playing, experiencing the tediousness and the volatile emotions that erupt where women find themselves trapped in an inescapable world, forced to sell affection in order to live and care for their children.
It was the children who accepted me immediately. They didn't quite understand what I was doing there, but they were fascinated by me and my camera. I let them use it and showed them how to take pictures. I thought it would be great to see this world through their eyes. It was then that I decided to teach them photography.
On my next trip I brought ten point-and-shoot cameras and selected a group of kids who were most eager to learn. I had no idea what I was doing, but the kids loved it and turned up to class every week. And the results were amazing. I gave up my own photography and began to work with the kids full time. I knew that there was something important to document here so I bought a video camera and began to film the kids in the brothels, in the streets and on photo class trips. I had never even picked up a video camera before.
I invited Ross Kauffman to Calcutta to come and make a film with me. He didn't want to come, so I sent him some of the tapes to look at, knowing that he would fall in love with the kids, as I had done. Soon after he was on a plane for Calcutta. He was worried about the story. I told him to wait. The story would reveal itself.
And it did.
Ross Kauffman, New York, January 2004
In the winter of 2000, Zana Briski, a photojournalist from New York City, asked me to collaborate on a project with her about the children of prostitutes in Calcutta. She had been teaching them photography for the previous two years, and decided that their stories were worthy of a film.
I had just quit editing documentaries after 10 years and was successfully making the transition to working as a documentary cameraperson. Though I was intrigued by her offer, I passed on the project, feeling that I did not want to be a poor, struggling filmmaker for the next 3–5 years.
Zana then sent me 4 videotapes that she had shot in Calcutta for me to "critique" (she had never shot video before). Within the first ten minutes of viewing the first tape, I knew I was going to Calcutta.
I am eternally grateful to Zana and the Kids for sharing their lives with me.
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