Magnum Photos Workshop Showcase: Olya Morvan

Reading Time: 3 minutes

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 Raghu Rai hosted a workshop in India. At the end of the one-week event, he selected Olya Morvan’s portfolio to be featured in British Journal of Photography.

We spoke to Olya about her experience.

BJP: What is our project story about?

Olya: I call this story “Puppets’ life”. It’s the story of the people living in the slum Kathputli in New Delhi. It’s a slum like any other, yet it’s different. It’s a slum of puppeteers and of street artists. But that tradition is dying out since the young generation is not keen on learning this art and the government wants to move all of Kathputli’s inhabitants out to build a shopping mall. All of them will be moved to a camp for three years. After “this period of time” they are promised apartments in the redeveloped Kathputli area, but I doubt this will happen. I tried to document their day-to-day life since I believe these people matter. They are part of Delhi, and they are the pride of India. Many of these puppeteers travel the world to represent India in various festivals.


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

Olya: Since I saw Mary Ellen Mark’s work, I became obsessed with the circus. Then my mentor and my friend suggested I start working on a project about Kathputli. Once I went there I was mesmerised by all the colourful walls and the magic behind these walls. Of course, I had to convince people to let me photograph the place. It wasn’t easy. I could see that they now are tired of journalists, photographers and tourists, as well as government officials. To build trust I stayed one night in the slum. I shared meals with them. In many houses I was offered tea. Of course, some people asked for money, but I had to explain what I was doing. I tried to be humble, invisible (as much as a foreigner can) and patient. I took my time to observe before shooting any photographs. I did not ask people to pose.

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

Olya: I think it’s a dream for many photographers to learn from the Magnum masters. At least it’s my dream. I live in Chennai, India. As soon as I saw that Magnum was conducting the workshop in India, I signed up.

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

Olya: For me Raghu Rai is a person I call my Guru in many ways. He is a master of photography, strict as a teacher. I liked the forwardness with which average photos were rejected. At the same time Raghu Rai is an incredible person: open-minded, giving, kind, humble, spiritual. It was a great experience to talk to him. The best advice he gave me was to be tight on editing and to show only photos the world hasn’t seen before (which is hard).

BJP: What are you planning next?

Olya: I am working on an environmental project in Chennai, I have to finish it. I’m planning two other projects in India, and next year I will be moving to China, and it’s going to be a whole new world.