It’s December 26th, 2014 at 11:54 am. I’m sitting in the hotel in Goa, India. I’m listing to Alt-J (really been enjoying this band) I’ve been in India for close to 5 weeks. The shooting is done now. It had been my hope to update this blog during my time here but of course you know the saying about “best laid plans” So with limited internet access I was only occasionally able to sign on and grab some email, upload some Instagram photos. I’m here thanks to the support of the 96 amazing people that contributed to my Indiegogo campaign.
The goal was to to show how the migrant sugarcane worker is commoditized and marginalized while the factory owners, farmers and factory workers thrive. There is no doubt that I was able to show that. However I was presented with another side that I had not considered. This other side gave me pause because more so then ever before I realized I had the power to edit this story in a way that could affect how it’s viewed. On one hand I could show how these migrant workers really have it bad. The challenge for me is that I can also and quite easily show how they are doing very well. Especially compared to other people in the towns and villages that they come from. Places like Beed, India.
So what is the right thing to do? The more I looked into this the more I was left to draw my own conclusions about what is going on here and then dare I say how it should be? I am well aware of how people from the west come into some place with all the answers. Basing issues and problems on how we see it. Giving little to no thought as to how the people in question would actually thrive or at the very least could have their lives improved. I have seen firsthand how the gov’t in Australia stepped into Elcho Island and changed the lives of it’s inhabitants for the worse based on what it thought was best without really taking into consideration what the Aboriginals of the island would want.
So that being said I’m not going to say what I think is best for these people. I don’t know what the right answer is. My photos that will be coming soon to a website will hopefully show the good, the bad and ugly but most important I hope they show the truth. I will add words where I think it will help give clarity.
I think the key thing here is not to compare ones self with another. Be that with wealth, status or power. All we can do is take our own situations and try to improve upon them. There is no doubt that in the sugarcane industry of India, that is exactly what is happening. One viewing the images from the outside could easily say that some individuals are not getting a fair shake while others are profiting disproportionally and that would totally be true. However, by looking deeper one (me) could see that thanks to the opportunities provided by the sugarcane industry there are groups of people (families) that are able to make a living where once there was none. Many are thriving while some will never fully exploit the opportunity they are getting.
The industry is essentially made up of a many working parts. At the top you have the factory, they process the raw sugarcane and within a number of hours turns it into sugar as we know it. There is the farmer, who owns the land and grows the cane. These individuals are generally considered wealthy especially by the local standards. Often the land has been passed down through generations. There are migrant workers who come and harvest the cane from the farmers field. They transport the cane to the factory on wagons connected to Ox carts or larger tractors. Then there are the middle men (Pimps) these people are responsible for finding the migrant workers (called gangs) and sorting out the working arrangements. They are paid by the factory to find the gangs. Then they pay the gangs while skimming a % off the top. They also get paid for finding the gangs in the first place. So essentially they are getting paid from both sides.
2) Farmers (own the land to grow the sugarcane)
3) Migrant farmers (harvest the cane and deliver to the factory)
4) Middle men (arrange for the migrant farmers to come to the farms to harvest the cane)
That is the basic way things play out here. This blog is not designed to go into extreme detail about how it all goes down as that is what the website will show. With this blog I will be showing some images and basically giving my free flowing run at the mouth take on my trip. However, I wanted to lay it out here so you understand the basic how’s and why’s of the people I talk about.
I did a lot of traveling on this project. I started in Mumbai and then went to Bagalkort then drove to Mudhol and spent some time in Bijapur, Bangalore. All of these towns are in the Karnataka province.
I want to make something very clear. I would not be here if not for the support of the Indiegogo contributors but once I made it to India there is one person who’s help was simply so far over and above what anyone could expect. Without her help I would not have had access to a Sugarcane factory, an interpreter, hotels, drivers and food. So essentially everything. Sunitha Jagannath has been like a mother for me here even though we are essentially the same age. I’m so indebted to her it’s not even funny. Sunitha works for KHPT and I met her two years ago when I was shooting for UN Women. Check out KHPT and see what amazing work they do. The other person I wanted to thank was a man called Panduranga Biradar (Pandu) he is the Head Of R&D at Nandi Sugarcane Factory. This man gave me unprecedented access to the factory and as a result to the migrant workers. He actually gave me a motorcycle to ride around and use to meet workers and even tour the inner workings of the factory. He also allowed me to stay at the guest house for free for over a week. They fed me the most authentic south Indian food and even allowed me to try to make chapati (I failed miserably). When I needed to come back for another day a week later he was more than open to helping me and even said I could stay for a few extra days. Again no doubt I would not have been able to accomplish this story without him. He took the time to show me how they are working on a better irrigation system to create a larger yield of cane that would in turn mean more money for the farmers and the migrant workers who harvest the cane. It was with him that I had to reassess my idea of what was going on at the factory. Not to imply it’s all golden but it was certainly worth more consideration on my part.
I also want to take a moment to thank the amazing sponsors (in no particular order) who helped me with gear for this project. Without them I would not have been able afford to do this story. Their gear is amazing and their help is even more. Supporting photographers to help tell stories that can affect change should not be ignored!!
Fotocare NYC If you need to buy or rent gear, you can’t go wrong!! The unending support from Linda, Fred and Jeff. I’m more grateful than you will ever know!
Manfrotto USA Thanks to Shanna for an amazing carbon tripod and head as well as a Metz flash.
XP Photo Gear Thanks to Xavier for the beautiful small soft boxes that create amazing quality of light from an on camera flash.
Tamrac camera bags Thanks to Spencer, my back thanks you for providing me with an amazing backpack/wheelie bag. It held more than I could carry!
Joby Thanks to Zach for the amazing little gorilla tripod and funky ways to connect my GoPro to just about anything.
Lexar Thanks for the memories!! I wish I could put one of your cards in my brain.
Peak design Thanks to Adam! I honestly was not sure how I would use this product but then I started and could not believe how helpful and cool it was!
Zacuto Thank you Rachel: Made my video taking so much easier. If you are serious about shooting motion with a DSLR then you don’t want to be without some of their products.
Blundstone Boots Okay they don’t sponsor me in anyway shape or form (I have never asked) but these are the best boots and really only boots I wear pretty much all day everyday. With them on I feel like I can walk on or through just about anything and now I need to get a new pair because they are worn out but worn out with love!
Okay, I think that’s a good background to this project.
P.S. Oh you wanted to see some pictures? okay here are a few 🙂 SO much more to come.
It’s still Dec 26th/2014 but now it’s 2:01 pm