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Rag picker Patti Das and his child, Delhi. Photo © Stuart Freedman

Rag-picker Patti Das and his child - Stuart Freedman, Delhi, 2011

1 November 2012

I have, on and off for the last few years, been making work in Delhi about those people that find themselves outside the tiny bubble of wealth that is, according to the advertising, modern India. Delhi was once a sleepy bureaucratic cousin to Mumbai but is now an island of ostentatious wealth floating on a sea of mediaeval squalor. Slum clearances are set against fairy-tale prices for real-estate and the city is viciously segregated between those that have wealth and those that produce it.

Through Action Aid I worked alongside an Indian organisation, Aashray Adhikar Abhiyan that runs shelters and outreach for the estimated 100,000 people that are homeless on city’s streets. I was guided by Prakash, whose endless patience and bitter years of firsthand experience of the problem meant I was able to gain access to situations that ordinarily I’d have no chance of witnessing.

This image of rag-picker, Patti Das, and his child was the result of a couple of days spent drinking tea underneath a bridge in the South East of the city where scores of families live under cardboard right next to the busy railway line. It’s a simple frame and one that captures a gesture that any parent would recognise but Patti Das just happens to be penniless and destitute, his children play feet from express trains next to an open sewer.

It forms part of a new exhibition, a kind of small retrospective, curated for the Jersey Human Rights Festival called The Art of Getting By. The phrase comes from a French word, débrouillardise, that I first came across in Africa years ago and it seemed to be a motif in the reportage that I made in even the most difficult circumstances. It is no less than the human condition – why shouldn’t the poor, the maimed, the brutalised somehow steal a smile, fall in love?

The exhibition images are not romantic, although I hope some are beautiful; rather they reflect the everyday struggles of common people. They aren’t meant as rosy depictions of poverty by an outsider and they aren’t meant to patronise.

I have worked consistently in the Developing World for most of my career, a choice made from the low horizons of my own childhood and the desire to escape the grey landscape of a Hackney past. I consciously sought difference but found similarity and common ground.

The images in The Art of Getting By tell stories from many countries. They show people touched by war and poverty living as best they can. They are small stories from larger narratives and usually show small lives but they are no less important for that.

They are photographs of what I have tried to see – sometimes forced myself to see – to remember that the world is not dark, dangerous and other, but that it is beautiful and full of life. You just have to know where to look.

The Art of Getting By, part of the 8th Jersey Amnesty International Human Rights Festival, is at the Jersey Arts Centre from Monday 5 November to Saturday 10 November 2012.

Stuart Freedman talks to Metro Imaging about his exhibition The Art of Getting By on YouTube.

Stuart Freedman is an award-winning photographer and writer based between London and New Delhi working for a variety of editorial and commercial clients.

Photographer since 1991, EPUK member since 1999

See more work by Stuart Freedman

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