The couple appears to be a happy one, as they pose for a family photograph with their child. Dressed in a suit, the man stands next to his wife who holds a toddler. The picture seems a routine one, but held in the hands of the woman after her husband’s untimely death, the enormity of her loss seems magnified.
Her husband, a farmer, killed himself after he was unable to pay back his heavy loan. Marriage, they say, is being witness to each other’s life, but here, the wife unwittingly became the first witness of her husband’s hapless situation.
Vijay Jodha’s style of portraiture in his photo exhibition, ‘First Witness’ has a common thread — women are seen holding framed photographs or just physical copies that bear the portrait of their deceased father, husband or other family members. And, they all look directly at the camera with bleak expressions that speak of a crisis that is slowly eating away at farmers around the country.
The photographic style is by design, says Vijay who has spent considerable amount of time traversing the villages of Telangana, AP, Maharashtra and UP to document the agrarian crisis which is forcing debt-ridden farmers to take their own lives.
“I wanted to restore that individuality and dignity to them. In terms of representation, I wanted to humanise the people. Not much thought is really given to things like light, setting, when documenting these issues. But, my goal was to bring out the worn out wedding band on the women’s fingers, the wrinkled hands that speak of a hard life. Art is meant to do that, help people think about issues we generally don’t think about. Put us in situations we are not in otherwise,” says Vijay, who did his schooling in Hyderabad and later studied filmmaking at New York University.
His curiosity about documenting issues in order to create a record pervades his decades-long career that saw him work with directors like Ang Lee, Mira Nair and produce films on diverse issues like environment, gender, children and disability.
Five books to his name, projects that have been shown in galleries and museums the world over and projects that have been honoured in 24 countries, his work only seems to bolster his quest to document subjects that are hitherto forgotten.
“I have just finished working on a project on physical disability as a countrywide project for UNESCO. But, I hope to continue documenting the plight of farmers around India for some time. This is going to be an ongoing project,” adds Vijay. The exhibit is on display at Hamburg Hall, Goethe-Zentrum, till August 19.