Born into Brothels

Go and see Born into Brothels, Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman’s award-winning documentary about Briski’s interactions with the children of prostitutes in Sonagachi, a red light district in northern Kolkata. Briski lived off-and-on in the brothels in Sonagachi starting in 1997, and befriended many of the children there. A photographer, she began teaching some of the children how to use a camera, and in 2002, founded Kids with Cameras, a nonprofit organization to help educate these children and to empower other marginalized children around the world by teaching the art of photography.Born into Brothels is a beautifully made film. Briski captures life in Kolkata as it is lived by the people in Sonagachi, through the cameras of the children. The children fly kites, sing and dance to film songs, and perform daily chores; they are loved, neglected and abused. A significant part of the film chronicles Briski’s efforts to enroll some of the children in boarding schools so that they can escape the inevitable slide into prostitution or pimping.

One of the most fascinating threads in the film was seeing the different expressions of creativity in one of the children, Avijit. “There is nothing called hope in my future.” He is a talented painter and photographer. His paintings have won him drawers full of awards in school, and he was invited to participate in the World Press Photo Foundation’s Children’s jury in 2002 in Amsterdam. Watching him frame a photograph, stage a shot, or describe another photograph gives rare insight into the creative process of a natural artist.

Several other photographers have done similar work with children in different parts of the world. Among them, former war photographer Nancy McGirr, who set up Fotokids to work with children in Guatemala and Honduras, Lana Wong, who founded Shootback, to work with adolescents in Mathare, the largest slum in Kenya, just outside of Nairobi, and Wendy Ewald, Literacy through Photography, who has worked with underprivileged children around the world.

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