PLAN 73: Article
Camera For Us

Architecture Students Win Legatum Grant

Among this year’s recipients of seed grants from the Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship is a project conceived and directed by two undergraduate students in architecture – Anna Kotova and Arka Prava Dhar.

Their project, Camera for Us, aims to empower children in India by putting cameras into their hands and sharing their photos with the rest of the world. Their pictures will be made available for purchase in the form of calendars, post card sets and hi-res versions and a percentage of the profits will be forwarded to the photographers, not only giving them a chance to speak out about their circumstances but also providing them with a better living. Overall, the project hopes to inspire change by opening people’s eyes to the realities of poverty.

The project is focused on Guwahati, a major city in Eastern India often considered the gateway to the Northeast Region of the country. With a total population of more than 800,000, it is the largest city in the region, with a per capita income of Rs. 20321 (404 USD). Only 38.1 % of the households there own their own houses, 36% live below the poverty line and 28% of the entire children population is subjected to hazardous work. On average, 124 deaths are reported every year that are caused or related to child labor and while various organizations are working to eradicate child labor, each year there is 4% increase in the number of related accidents.

In January, while Kotova laid the groundwork for an exhibition and further action, Dhar traveled to Mother Teresa’s Nirmalaya Orphanage in Guwahati to talk with the sisters in charge of the center about the project in detail. With their help, they gathered seven children from around the city for a week-long photography workshop. Students were taught the basics of photography – how to load film, how to compose a picture, etc. – and then they spread out around the city to take pictures, bringing their film back for development and critique with local photographers. Consultant for the project was Priyam Dhar, Senior Photographer with Outlook India Pvt Ltd.

Of the seven participants, two became very interested in photography and ‘Camera for Us’ arranged their admittance to a part-time photography class in Guwahati where they will be able to continue learning the elements of photography. One of the seven, who used to work in an illegal battery-recycling outfit, has been successfully removed from that job and is now enrolled in school with plans to become an Air Force Pilot. The project was supported by SOS Children Village and Rotary International.

Camera for US was one of 32 proposals received by the Legatum Center from across the Institute for innovative projects on renewable energy, health, water, biotechnology, mobile services and a host of other promising enterprise solutions to development challenges in low-income countries. The 13 winners use the grants to fund market research, project scoping and pilot studies. The grants are made possible through the generous support of MIT alumnus Jack Hennessy, who was previously a board member of the MIT Corporation, the chairman and CEO of Credit Suisse First Boston, and assistant secretary of the US Treasury.