Born Into Brothels
"When I have a camera in my hands I feel happy. I feel like I am learning something...I can be someone."
-Suchitra (one of the children in Born Into Brothels)
Photojournalist Zana Briski wanted to capture in pictures the hard life of prostitutes in Calcutta. She lived with them to gain their trust. In the process, she met their children who were growing up with no hope of a better life. Indeed, the girls would most likely soon be “joining the line.” The boys would likely become pimps or addicts.
These are children that our phrase “at risk” doesn’t even come close to describing. Where could they go to escape? Schools and agencies weren’t interested because their mothers (and sometimes even grandmothers and great-grandmothers) were sex workers. Even to get a passport was nearly impossible. These were children that most people would prefer didn’t exist.
Born Into Brothels shows us not just the lives of these children, but the hope that came into their world through the work and passion of Zana Briski. Briski brought point-and-shoot cameras for a group of the children and gave them instruction in the art of photography. Many of the photographs these children took of the streets of Calcutta are truly works of art.
Of course cameras in themselves are not enough to bring hope or change into these children’s lives. Briski also spent a good deal of time trying to find schools that would take some of the children. Now there is Kids With Cameras, an organization that is seeking to build a school for the children of the sex workers in Calcutta, and is expanding its work to other areas as well. Because of the work started by giving these children cameras, there is hope that some of them may find a new life with far more fulfilling possibilities.
While the film does show us some of Briski’s dedication on behalf of the children, it really concentrates on the children themselves, their setting, and their growth as they begin to take pictures. Through their photography they begin to see themselves as something more than the human detritus that the world has treated them as. They become very capable photographers, capturing the world around them not like most of us do when we take our cameras on vacation, but showing the combination of beauty and pathos that makes up their lives.
Throughout the film we see many of the amazing photographs the children took. Eventually, some of the photos were auctioned at Sotheby’s. Amnesty International featured their photos in its 2003 calendar. The Kids With Cameras website has prints available for purchase as well as a companion book of the film. (Proceeds go to support the children’s education.)
A few (but sadly not all) of these children do indeed escape the squalor of their lives in the brothels. It is the success of those few that gives this film its sense of hope that lives can truly be changed by those, like Briski, who care enough for others to share of themselves. Her relationship with the children means far more than the cameras and classes she taught. She taught them to believe in themselves through her believing in them. By believing in themselves, they can begin to see the possibilities life can hold for them. Those possibilities are the essence of hope.This film will slowly be making its way around the country in the spring of 2005. As the flowers begin to bloom in the world around us, this film can help hope bloom in our lives as we see the ways that lives touching others can bring beauty into even the darkest and dreariest settings.