Magnum Photos Workshop Showcase: Anjali Tirkey

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Earlier this year, Magnum Photos and British Journal of Photography announced a special partnership around education that sees the world’s longest running photography magazine work with the participants of Magnum Photos’ international workshop program to showcase selected portfolios online.

Initiated in 2007 as part of Magnum’s 60th year anniversary celebrations, Magnum’s workshop programs provide opportunities for photographers at different stages in their careers to benefit from the vast experience of Magnum’s established photographers. In October, Magnum photographer Abbas hosted a workshop in India. At the end of the one-week event, he selected Anjali Tirkey’s portfolio to be featured in British Journal of Photography.


We spoke to Anjali about her experience.

BJP: What was your project about?

Anjali: Delhi. A rural Delhi, often unseen. Cattle living along with men. Taken care by the women. These women collect the fodder grass, feed, milk, clean the cowshed, make cowdung cakes, churn butter. They do everything; apart from the other household chores. Sometimes, they are helped by the children. They are oblivious of the Delhi we know. And the Delhi we know is oblivious of them.

BJP: Why did you choose this particular subject and how did you go about shooting it?

Anjali: I was looking for something that interested me, something that touched me. I was fascinated by this rural side of Delhi which existed just a 30-40 minutes drive away from the heart of the city. Most men in this village leave in the morning to work as drivers, plumbers, contractual labourers, etc. and the women take care of the children, the home and the cattle. Many of these women had never been to the Delhi we know. They had not seen India Gate, Red Fort, the shopping malls, the metro. It’s an unknown place for them. And I had not seen this side of Delhi. So yes, I was drawn to the world and the life of these women who lived in this village. I wanted to photograph this life, which perhaps didn’t come to our mind naturally as it got overshadowed by the city’s dominating culture.

I first befriended a woman and her family. And then gradually started meeting others, her neighbours and those who went with her to collect fodder grass. We talked about family, children, marriages, customs, and yes when the wall was broken I went about shooting photos as they worked. It was beautiful, not just for being a witness to their lives but a also participant in these lives. They had never seen photographers, especially a woman photographer. They were curious, warm and even concerned about me. I accepted their hospitality shown through lassi (a drink made from curd), tea and some delicious meals. But the most amazing and touching thing was, when I was going away, the family gave me Rs 100 saying I was a daughter from far who was visiting them for the first time and must not leave empty handed!

BJP: Why did you decide to sign up to the Magnum workshop?

Anjali: We do admire the masters in Magnum, don’t we? So when there was this opportunity to meet them in person, learn about their work, learn from them and their experiences, I signed up. The experience was also very important to me as I had made this detour in my life sometime ago and had taken up photography to express myself. I hoped to improve my ability to tell visual stories.

BJP: How was the experience of learning with Abbas? What’s the best advice you received from the workshop?

Anjali: Abbas does not talk a lot or should I say he does not like giving a lot of answers. He prefers to make us question ourselves, our work and find our own answers and voice them. So if someone thinks we got some readymade answers and solutions, we didn’t. But did this style make us look within for these answers? Yes, it did. He is warm and friendly, encourages us to study the work of the Masters but form our own style. His emphasis was on editing and presentation. To be strict with oneself. Not to dilute stories by putting more photos. There was another thing I noticed on the day we were working on the final edit of our workshop photos to present for the public viewing: we were 12 and we had roughly five or six ideas on “how to present our photos”.  Abbas, I noticed incorporated all of our views. It was interesting to notice that while we were individuals with our different style and stories, a team vision was also possible.

The best advice? To have good shoes and to fall in love. This, he says, to everyone. Seriously, as I said earlier, there were no ready-made answers. But the whole experience was important to me. I was fortunate enough to discuss my ongoing projects with him. And he patiently heard me and shared his views to make the work more appealing and versatile. So yes, in a nutshell he did guide how to capture photos which are strong and to click more, to edit strictly, and to share them somewhere. If you do not show or share, it is almost equal to not clicking at all.

BJP: What are you planning next?

Anjali: Someday, I wish, to photograph some aspects of Delhi that this friend introduced me to. I especially want to focus on the youth practising alternate art. But right now what occupies my mind and time are the two projects I am working on. One is on the Apatani tribes living in Arunachal Pradesh and another one is based in Assam.