Struck by their simple and rustic lifestyle, a US photographer has enabled nomadic Van Gujjars with cameras to capture images of their world in their own way, reports S.M.A. Kazmi
VAN Gujjars, a nomadic tribe from Shivalik hills, has caught the fancy of Benjamin Lenzner, a young photographer from New York City. Two years ago, Benjamin on a visit to Dehra Dun, sponsored by the American India Foundation Service Corps, was quite fascinated by the simple and basic lifestyle of these tribal people, who spend their entire lives in the lap of the nature. This fascination did not dim back home in the hustle and bustle of the world's busiest metro.
So Benjamin is back to do a unique project on photography with these Van Gujjars, who roam in the upper reaches of the Himalayas with their herds of milch animals. The project is unique in the sense that these tribal people, who are one of the most photographed people in the world, would be behind the camera this time instead of being in the front.
In Benjamin’s words: "The tribal and indigenous people are the most photographed people all over the world but nobody thought how these people perceived their own world."
Popularly known as Ben among Gujjars he has armed them with 56 handy cameras, which he bought with his own funds plus generous contributions from friends in US.
Ben has provided cameras, loaded with film rolls, to 56 Gujjars, including old women, young girls and old tribal chiefs. He has also been holding classes since the last month in various deras of Van Gujjars to teach them the technicalities of handling a camera and taking photographs. "They were asked to shoot whatever they liked. I wanted them to explore their world through the eye of the camera and document their lives," he added.
Ben’s efforts have not been in vain, for the pictures taken by the Gujjars are a linesman's delight "I was excited to look at the results and peep into the lives of the tribals through their own eyes," said Ben.
A young girl has shot a beautiful picture of her siblings in the forests while another photographed a woman with a seriously injured leg. Another young boy photographed his father offering namaz in their dera. A youth was photographed hanging upside down on a tree, while another posed beside him. A young Gujjar mother was captured feeding her infant in her lap. An old Gujjar woman living in the Gaindakhatta rehabilitation colony took a picture of a mausoleum of a saint in Hardwar, saying ‘I have brought my saint to the jungle’," recalled Ben.
Asked about the purpose behind his project, Ben said he wanted these tribals to document their lives as they are in danger of losing their identity, their simple and rustic way of life, their songs and culture to increasingly modern ways and western lifestyles around them.
"I will be holding an exhibition of these photographs in New York to create an awareness about these tribal people and through them about all indigenous people of the world," he said.
Ben hopes to be back again next year and wants to train some of them to become professional photographers.
His logic, "They live in the forests, roam in the mountains and visit the most beautiful landscapes in the Himalayas during their migration. If trained they could really capture breathtaking shots of some the virgin locales, untouched by civilisation."