Little children in a group, holding their Canon cameras up to take a photo.

Learning the right to expression

Home to nearly 22 million people, Mumbai is defined as a ‘megacity’ and considered to be the commercial capital of India. But it is also a place of contradictions. Mumbai’s slums house more than half of the city’s people, but where some operate as enclosed economies that employ working families, others are impoverished, and homelessness is a real issue. In the 2011 census, it was reported that around 54,000 people were unable to access any housing or a place to settle.

Non-profit organisation, ‘Mumbai Smiles’, founded in 2005 by Spanish journalist and writer, Jaume Sanllorente, works in these disadvantaged communities to promote access to health services and education, as well as campaigning on their behalf. So far almost 8000 people have benefited from the support it provides together with its sister organisation Sonrisas de Bombay’ in Spain. It was through this collaboration that Canon Spain became involved in a photography project entitled ‘Bombay desde sus ojos’ (‘Bombay through their eyes’, as the region is still known by its old name in Spanish).

The project, which ran in February, was led by photojournalist Susana Carpintero, who taught the fundamental aspects of photography – colour, portrait, object and place – to groups in the primary schools of Shivaji and Aarey Colony before travelling to the most depressed areas of the region as part of the ‘Smiling Bus’ initiative, which visits children from homeless families to provide them with healthcare and education services.

A child in a bright pink and neon green dress holds a Canon camera up to her face to take a picture. In the background, a young boy does the same, watched by an adult and more children.
The children are not just being taught photography. They are being taught the right to express themselves.

Susana, who also works with the Barcelona School of Photography, delivers workshops that are “learning by playing, adapted to their age", meaning that the children are free to use the camera to experiment with what interests them and, in turn, this gives a truly free, open and honest glimpse into their world – through portraits, still life, indoor and outdoor spaces. They have the spontaneity and outlook to take pictures that show their everyday life, surroundings, games, family and friends.

However, it’s not just fun and photography. In learning how to use a camera at such a young age, the children are being given a clear and important message – that they have the right to expression – to be seen and heard – and that their experiences have meaning. "This project starts from the idea that photography is not only an art, but also a therapy,” explains Jaume Sanllorente. “There are many stories children need to tell, but we do not always hear them."

Two women in saris, stood in a doorway.
The children use the camera to let us into their world.
A hand holding a heart-shaped silver sparkly broach
The smallest details can be significant.

For Pilar González, Corporate Communication and Marketing Services Manager of Canon Iberia, the project brings joy and escapism, yes, but also the foundations of personal strength for these children as they grow. “It allows us to help these children to forget for a while the harshest reality they live in and to have fun like any other child their age,” she says. “But it is undoubtedly an example of how the power of image acts as an element of social inclusion and a means of universal expression.”

See more from Susana and the children at the Sonrisas de Bombay LinkedIn page.

Written by Elena Garcia-DeVera

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