Activist Photographer Fazal Sheikh

Fazal Sheikh’s photographs have been described as being “like a lesson in contemporary history…both political and poetic.” His two photo essays “Moksha” and “Ladli” at the Fondation Cartier-Bresson are dramatic testimonials revealing the conditions experienced by some women in India.

“He has a very novel and fundamentally human way to deal with a modern subject,” said the jury who awarded Sheikh the HCB 2005 award largely based on these essays. “By allowing these women to express themselves, he gives them back their identity, and their dignity… Through his portraits, his interviews and his photographs of the subject’s environment, Sheikh brings us to the tragedy of these women-very old and very young-in India.”

The “Ladli” (beloved daughter) photo essay looks at the conditions of Indian female children living in a Delhi orphanage who were rejected by their families.  His pictures convey how childhood is cut short by poverty and necessity.

Moksha, (heavenly place) confronts the plight of Vrindivan’s dispossessed widows. As Fazal Sheikh describes in his book where the pictures first appeared, “strict Hindu tradition holds that a wife whose husband dies before her is in some way responsible for his death, either because of a lack of devotion in this life, or because of a crime in a previous life.  There are 40 million widows in the country, many living lives as social and economic outsiders, denigrated and abandoned. Some were child-brides, widowed and stigmatised before they even reached puberty.”

Sheikh, who was born in New York City in 1965, says he considers himself an “activist artist rather than a photojournalist challenging the anonymity and cliches of mass-media representations of refugees.” His portraits are images of real people, identified by their name, presented alongside powerful testimonies and texts that explain the political context of the situation depicted. Sheikh’s photographs are nothing less than respectful meditations on human conditions.

Fazal Sheikh “Moksha and Ladli” Foundation Cartier-Bresson, 2, imp Lebouis, Paris 14e, Metro Gaitie.