Sixty young girls grinning at the camera. An old woman scrubbing with hands damaged by leprosy. Children’s drawings depicting villages being burned down. A young girl showing off her martial-arts movements.
These were among the slices of life depicted in photographs at the OpenShutter India exhibit on display at Norris this weekend. Northwestern students in India and Uganda took the pictures last summer as part of the International Youth Volunteer Summit, a conference for students interested in global change. The conference’s co-founder, Nathaniel Whittemore (Weinberg ‘06), said he’s proud of the photography project.
“Last year, this was kind of our baby,” said Whittemore, who now works at Northwestern’s Center for International and Comparative Studies. “But this year it’s been run almost totally by Northwestern students who have been thinking about how to change and grow from what we started last year. We have photos from about eight different Northwestern students past or present.”
Although the majority of the exhibit focused on India, one room housed pictures of and by Ugandan children soldiers. Whittemore has traveled to Uganda twice over the past two years, and hopes the project will combat negative and inaccurate portrayals by the media of the coutnry.
“The media is our reference point for a lot of what we know about the world and it’s hard to get past that,” Whittemore said. “Places in conflict like Uganda were subject to other people’s representations. It was just stories about misery and horror; it just didn’t show the whole picture. I thought that was defeating. It was important to create a media space where we could think about responsible media creation.”
Sophomore Emily Eisenhart was one of the two main photographers, along with Medill junior Lauren Pond. Eisenhart went to India last summer with the Veerni Project, a health outreach program in Rajasthan, India.
During the six weeks they spent there, she and another volunteer taught English to sixty girls between ages seven and 17. Eisenhart smiled as she motioned to a class picture with the girls grinning and waving at the camera, and recalled the girls’ excitement.
“The girls were obsessed with the camera,” Eisenhart said. “Every time I brought the camera to school, it would be chaos. Everyone would want to touch it, wanted me to take a picture with them. It was a fun back-and-forth interplay.”
Eisenhart had little photography experience before going to India. She said, “I’m not a photographer. I didn’t know how to use [my digital camera].”
But about 60 people crowded Norris’ second floor on Friday night to see her and Pond’s work, looking at photographs set against brightly colored cloth and plain-black drapes.
“These pictures are amazing. They really affect you on a personal level,” said McCormick freshman Hetal Sheth. “This is very inspiring. I definitely want to talk to the students who did all these things.”
Having been in India herself, Sheth said she wanted to see other students’ perspective on the country.
Graduate student Dev Ghosh saw the signs for the exhibit while passing through Norris and decided to check it out. Gosh said the OpenShutter Project was a great opportunity for Northwestern students to broaden their horizons.
“I think it’s a good insight for people to see a part of the world they’re not familiar with,” Gosh said.