My middle daughter just returned this week from a month-long study abroad in Argentina, arriving in Augusta after more than 24 hours in taxis, buses and airplanes through six airports.
I'm not much of a traveler, so that's mind-boggling to me. So I can barely wrap my brain around the travels of D.K. Bhaskar.
Bhaskar, a Martinez resident originally from India, has just published a book based on six years of travels in the Amazon River basin. He's an incredible photographer, and the book is filled with lush views of a still-mysterious part of the world.
It's an impressive work, and he'll be holding book signings around town like the one he held Friday at Augusta's Book Tavern. But an even more awe-inspiring project isn't in book form, and it doesn't even involve his own photographs.
Through months of persistence, Bhaskar persuaded Nikon to donate 50 point-and-shoot cameras. He then took those cameras to a remote village in northern India - an area he chose, he said, because years ago he was abducted there by militants.
The current residents had nothing to do with that, and they don't have much to do with the developed world, for that matter. The only electricity in the village is from a bank of batteries recharged by a gas-powered generator, and it runs a couple of lights and fans that shut down each evening promptly at 8 p.m.
There's no television, and no telephone except for an occasional cell phone - which the owner must recharge by traveling 30 kilometers to another town, Bhaskar said.
There also are no cameras. No one in the village had ever held a camera, and none of them had ever been photographed.
Bhaskar assembled a group of students, most of them early and mid teens, and handed out the Nikons. On the first day, he said, he only showed them how to turn the cameras on and off. Then he sent them forth.
The next day, he downloaded their images to his laptop and returned the cameras to them, with more photography pointers and some instructions: Document one of seven specific categories - including children, faith, education - and come back with more pictures.
He continued this process for several days, with the young photographers switching each day to a different category.
One of the early challenges was that lack of electricity. Bhaskar had to travel to that same battery-charging town to buy more batteries for the cameras, which the students drained by viewing their pictures on the camera screens.
Once the experiment ended, he put all the photos together. The residents and those from their neighboring villages then gathered to view a slide show of the images, using a battery-powered projector shining on a piece of white cloth. Bhaskar also had all the photos printed in that nearby town, and posted those for the students, who received certificates recognizing their work.
That work is stunning. As Bhaskar sat in my office with his laptop and ran through a slide show a series of photos - all entirely unretouched, straight from the young novices' cameras - I could barely contain my admiration.
I do not exaggerate when I say I could have been viewing a series of photos from National Geographic. These kids had never seen a camera, and collectively they produced astonishing images: Children playing, a wedding, draft animals at work, even a mundane drain pipe turned into a work of art.
Bhaskar has ambitious plans for repeating the project in other places, and of choosing some of those teens to keep the camera to document a year in their lives.
But in the meantime, he's generously offering to present the show and talk about the project to any groups who'd be interested, particularly to classrooms or civic groups.
He can be reached through his Web site, www. dewworks.com, or by e-mail at email@example.com. Or contact me and I'll let him know you're interested.
Trust me; it's worth it.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow at twitter.com/barrypaschal.)
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