by Erick Pay
ver the last couple of years I have had a growing desire to make a difference in the world around me but struggled with figuring out how to do that beyond volunteering time or money to social programs (both which I value doing). I really wanted to give something uniquely me, something that not just anybody could give. Through the soul-searching that this initiated I realized that my love for photography could be used to tell the stories of people and the stories of the work that development organizations do. This past year I had the opportunity to put this into action as I traveled through northern
I had heard how India can be one of the most challenging places on earth to visit, how hardened veterans of developing-world travel are brought to their knees by the hardship they witness. I had no idea what to expect, as most of the reports I read talked about the emotion the writers experienced. I went with few expectations beyond a desire to observe, experience whatever an outsider could experience, and try to find the heartbeat of the people. What I found was poverty and affliction so pervasive that my senses and emotions were overwhelmed to the point of numbness. I have only been able to process my sensual and emotional overload in bits and pieces since returning. There continue to be moments when I contemplate my experiences and am frozen in thought and feeling. Looking back, I wonder if my numbness while in India helped me in my picture-making. Perhaps because my reactions to the poverty and suffering were so numbed I was actually able to see the people there living their lives in a dignified and caring way – beyond their circumstances. I believe my images portray their stories in this way.
When I reflect on India now, the people and the conditions form two separate yet connected lines of thought. While embedded in the world, replete with struggles, pain, challenges and luck, life for individuals and families continue on filled also with joy, faith, hope and love. The people are the foreground of the image, their circumstances form the background. One tied to the other, but still independent. Joy in the midst of sorrow, love in the midst of calamity.
As I grow in my photography, one goal I have is to try to ensure that my images portray the dignity of the people I am making images of – not to ignore their life circumstances, but rather to show their worth in the midst of their situations.