They don’t need a bunch of colours for life to be beautiful. Just black is enough. She doesn’t need a handful either. Just two will do as windows to their soul. Sipra Das who specialises in black & white photography of the visually challenged.
My camera is my husband!” Simple, straightforward and right from the heart. That’s Sipra Das speaking to you, standing in the middle of a State Lalit Kala Akedemi gallery. And, if the camera’s her ‘partner’ then, she’s got two—a Nikon F-II and a Nikon D 100.
This creative camera artist has, with her ‘partners’ traveled far, covered much and but almost shot it all in a short span of time— militancy in Kashmir and Assam, cyclone in Andhra Pradesh, Mandal agitation, Kargil conflict, bomb-blasts, riots… sporting action et al.
“I am a hardcore news photographer. But then, in 1999, I decided to do some heart-mind-soul photography,” says Sipra. The outcome of this personal venture is now on the walls of two galleries at Lal Baradari, Kaiserbagh as part of the ‘Third Eye’ collection.
All these photographs have a common theme—the visually impaired people and their life. “Photographers look for photogenic things to shoot. I decided to shoot the visually challenged. Blindness is not photogenic but I decided to make it so.”
“Starvation ran in my family. My first job was giving tuitions. Then, I started selling washing powder door-to-door and also worked in an electrical goods shops. Then, I started contributing articles to newspapers and magazines,” says Sipra.
So, how did she become a photographer? “When I used to contribute features in Kolkatta, staff photographers used to shun accompanying me for my stories or, used to throw tantrums. One day, I thought why not to become a photographer.
I decided and was determined. I borrowed an Isolley II from a friend. He gave me some tips. I went to a tribal area on a minor assignment given to me by All India Radio. There I took the camera and the tips. I shot some pictures. My friend just exclaimed ‘unbelievable’ (in Bangla) when he saw them. He said, ‘You can become a photographer as you seem to have a flair for it…’. So… there I was,” recalls Sipra.
Sipra claims that whatever odd jobs she did, she did them with love, dedication and dignity—from washing-powder selling to photography (Few minutes in the galleries would make anyone endorse her claim).
Extremely exuberant, childlike and fascinated with her work, Sipra never married. She currently works with a national weekly newsmagazine in Delhi and travels all over India for her work. The ‘Third Eye’ has taken her across the country as she backed up everything with a lot of research. “I used to find information about the visually challenged and then, go for my photographs.”
One example of this is a blind midwife in Shahpur village in Muzaffarpur, Bihar. “People there have such faith in her skills that they summon her for births rather than go to a maternity home. I tracked her down and shot her with all the children of different age-groups that she had helped give birth to.” Sipra has titled the picture ‘Sightless Midwife’.
‘Third Eye’ has been shot entirely on a manual SLR camera with black & white rolls followed up by a manual developing and printing process.
“I live alone. Go to work early morning with my cameras. Return home after 1 am. Start cooking when people go to sleep. Eat alone. Do all the housework alone,” says Sipra who learnt photography ‘on the job’ and now, is a Royal Photography Society, Department of Photojournalism, London, associate!
“My work and creativity is totally unhindered,” says this salt-and-pepper haired Sipra who first took up the camera when she was 30 plus! Maybe, late… but she’s picked up at super speed and has way to go! Indeed!