Poulomi Basu

BY Elisabeth Biondi, May 4, 2017

Poulomi Basu is a rebel and a fighter. After her father’s death, and with her mother’s support, she left her home in Kolkata at the age of 17 and took control of her life, a courageous decision for a woman in India’s traditional society. What’s more, she made a commitment to fight for women’s rights in India’s male-dominated society.

Photography came into her life slowly; she studied anthropology but always took photographs with her father’s old Nikon. Her interests in activism and photography merged when she began focusing on women in traditional societies, especially in remote communities in Asia.

In 2013, she started working in western Nepal on a photo essay she called A Ritual of Exile: Blood Speaks. In this region, and in many other areas of Asia, the brutal Hindu ritual of chaupadi is practiced. As soon as a woman menstruates, her life changes. During her bleeding period she is considered unclean. Women of all ages – teenagers, mothers with their babies – are chased from their homes and forced to find primitive shelter in the wilderness. They are exposed to extreme weather, dangerous wildlife, and starvation. Often they are left to die. Menstruation is the end of a woman’s freedom. Her life no longer belongs to her; men, including husbands and in-laws, wield power over her.

Basu’s pictures expose a harsh reality but they are also beautifully lyrical. She is an excellent photojournalist and a great storyteller who connects emotionally with her subjects and translates that connection into images that resonate.

Her influences are wide-ranging: She cites Indian cinema, especially the great filmmaker Satyajit Ray, as an inspiration. Her love of poetry, particularly Wordsworth and Blake, is reflected in her moody landscapes. She credits the Magnum Foundation’s Human Rights Scholarship Award, which she received in 2012, with giving her work focus and direction. Torn between being an artist or a journalist, she has managed to combine those two callings: Basu recently won the FotoEvidence Book Award, and A Ritual of Exile: Blood Speaks will be published by FotoEvidence later this year.

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