Born Into Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids

Everywhere I travel I try to visit local museums to explore what they have to offer, and even in my hometown of Los Angeles it’s easy to find a variety of galleries and shows. I really enjoy exhibits that have a purpose and that contribute towards a cause… because you know that your participation makes a difference. I admire artists who take their creative skill set to build something that helps others.

The piece I selected, which is also a documentary and non-profit organization is called “Born into Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids” and it was created in 2004 by Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman. When you watch the film it really gives you a look into the lives of these amazing children who are trying to survive in the dangerous place of Calcutta. On the website, they explain the project as “a tribute to the resiliency of childhood and the restorative power of art” which I think is the perfect way of explaining the project. Briski went to Calcutta originally to photograph the prostitutes of the area and was overwhelmed and immediately drawn to the children who play an unwilling part in Calcutta’s unfortunate system of crime and prostitution.

Briski comes up with the most simple but ingenious idea. She gives each of the children a film camera and goes around with them to shoot pictures and she also has them take pictures when they are on their own. The photographs that they come back with are astounding. Their point of view and perspective is so raw and uninhibited. They see the things that we don’t see and when you look at these photographs you are completely moved. Many of these kids are born out of prostitution and then sent straight back in for the rest of their lives and along with the poverty level and unpatrolled crime, you can’t believe that these kids would ever have anything to be so happy about but their photographs show they are still children. They still love things like painting, and animals… going to beach or singing to popular music.

Briski and Kauffman set up an exhibit when the documentary was over to expose the conditions of this area, to raise awareness, and to sell the photographs and give the profits back to the families of Calcutta. They raised over $100,000 and because of these two filmmakers, not only did they teach the students about photography and the art of film, many of the students were able to afford the chance to go to boarding schools and photography conferences worldwide. “Kids with Cameras” is still working to save children from entering the underground world of sex and crime. This project that started out as an art exhibit, sparked so many different artistic mediums and conversations around the world. This exhibit was and still is a true inspiration for me.

http://www.kids-with-cameras.org/home/

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