I Agreed to be Uncomfortable - A Rainy Indian Slum

As a photographer, I find myself living life in a fine balance -- a balance of documenting and experiencing. It truly has become it’s own artform, only with some moments being harder than others. I’m not sure I ever understood what I was signing up for, but somewhere along this photography path I agreed to several things.

I agreed to…

  • Be uncomfortable when I didn’t have to be.

  • Hold hands of as many laughing children as possible.

  • Extent my heart through a metal inanimate object.

  • Drink and eat things offered to me - that were terrifying.

  • Find joy within suffering and capture it. 

Chennai_India_NatGeo_Woman_Photographer_Humanitarian_001.jpg

So when it came time to revisit a Chennai Slum in the pouring rain, there was never any doubt in my mind. I stepped out of my covered auto rickshaw into ankle deep flood water and went to work capturing the street vendors on the way to the slum. They were covering their shops with tarps and standing close to their neighbor to avoid the rain. 

After walking the line of vendors I took a right onto a small alleyway I had visited once before and I was greeted with familiar little smiles. It was the middle of the day and these girls were not in school, but they know nothing different. Just like when it rains, they are used to getting soaking wet because they’ve never known a life with a warm dry home.

They huddled under their broken umbrella mainly just for fun, but overall they were content being in the pouring rain. I remember reaching to hold their hands and realizing the warm little hands I held the other night were now wrinkled and cold. 

This was...and is not okay.

Chennai_India_NatGeo_Woman_Photographer_Humanitarian_019.jpg

Again I was trying to find balance within this photographer role as I held those cold little hands. What can I do? What can we do? What can the world do for these children?

Chennai_India_NatGeo_Woman_Photographer_Humanitarian_011.jpg

I slowly made my way down the main alleyway with thoughts racing through my head. When a little boy came up to me and pointed at my backpack, he was worried my bag was getting too wet. I then noticed how soaking wet I was along with my gear and I just looked at him and shrugged my shoulders - this is what I signed up for.  

With many of the children not having homes they would huddle under metal awnings. 

At one point a family invited me into their home, because again they were worried I was getting too wet. They had Akon blasting on the radio and gave me a plastic chair to sit in...and of course chai tea!

The small room housed a Grandmother, this young couple with a baby and several teenage boys. We laughed as I took photos of the baby and got him to smile really big. This wasn't the first or last house I was invited in, but each one I was greeted with the biggest smiles and warm cups of chai.

The boys were trying to get a paper boat to float!

These were some of my favorite photos as I laughed with the boys and they tried to spin their toy top in the water. 

Again, more wrinkled hands and feet. The boys hands were even worse, reminding me of those times I sat too long in the bathtub as a kid. 

Chennai_India_NatGeo_Woman_Photographer_Humanitarian_028.jpg

It wasn't until I was headed back past the shop vendors, that I started to realize how uncomfortable I was. I was drenched. My gear was soaked and with zero exaggeration I smelled like a toilet. The difference was that I was headed to put on dry clothes, while those precious little hands and feet would keep soaking in dirty street water.

That made me more uncomfortable then any wet clothes could ever make me feel...and I think that's an okay place to be in. 

Chennai_India_NatGeo_Woman_Photographer_Humanitarian_006.jpg

So, agree to feel uncomfortable. Even if that's simply to look past the beauty of these photos and examine the reality of them. 

-Tara