I Work the Body Electric

Pramod Kumar KG, Tehelka Magazine, Vol 7, Issue 5, November 13th,


THE PERIL of making photo books has always been that pretty pictures and stark realities don’t necessarily sit well together. Women Changing India is a significant addition to the

almost invisible visual record of how women have contributed to social, political and economic change in India. The book follows women in India through the twin eyes of Magnum photographers and contemporary writers.

Annie Zaidi tracks the battles of microfinance ventures and how they’ve empowered what she calls the ‘middle poor’, emphasising that the poorest of the poor are another group for whom such schemes are unavailable. Gujarati women who benefit from organisations like the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) and the Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan (KMVS) are effortlessly captured by the evocative nuance of Martine Franck’s camera. Rarely intrusive, these photographs convey the vibrancy of women’s work, their colourful attire and virtuosity with the needle.

Alex Webb’s intimate portraits capture a new work force of women as taxi drivers, petrol pump attendants, chefs and security guards in positions once considered male domains. His sensitive handling lends a rare dignity to these women without reducing them to incongruities in their surroundings. Mukul Kesavan effortlessly chronicles the social mobility and respect these women command from their own families with their financial independence, while carving a new role for themselves in urban India’s work landscape.

Focussed: Singer and multimedia performer Tritha Sinha Roche PHOTO: OLIVIA ARTHUR/ MAGNUM

PHOTOGRAPHERS PATRICK Zachman, Alessandra Sanguinetti and Olivia Arthur chronicle other femaleincursions into male domains of film technicians, IT and panchayats. The last section includes photographs by Raghu Rai and profiles of our female icons — their relationship with the camera is securer than of the other unknowns in the book. Rai captures them with his impressive skill of an auteur, except for two photographs of Chanda Kochhar and Preeta Reddy striking discordant notes in an otherwise impressive portfolio.

This is a lavish book with impeccable production values and remarkably simple graphic detail. How many women changing India will have the cash to purchase or access this book is debatable. As contributor Mitali Saran says, the issue today is of the greater choices available to Indian women and that “their vulnerability to social censure is slowly being tempered, or falling away”. The photographs here more than make a convincing argument for this.

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