Bhopal: Facing 30 – Reflections on a time in Bhopal

(c) Francesca Moore, 2014. 'Bhopal Facing 30'

(c) Francesca Moore, 2014. ‘Bhopal Facing 30’

When Colin (BMA) asked me to write a few words on my time in Bhopal, this isn’t what I imagined I would come up with, but this seems most pertinent to my post trip feelings. I hope it’s not too somber.

Lorenza (who assisted throughout the shooting phase of the project) and I left Bhopal over a month ago now, and had a little longer in Delhi and Mumbai before the long flight home. Having returned, I feel cruelly habitualised back into the hum drum of everyday life, and unless I think hard about it or take the time to think of all the hard work I still have ahead of me, the project and my achievements during my time in India seem to fall out of the context of everyday life. That is, until I engage the straggler’s still asking ‘how was your trip’ into deep conversation. Then I reveal to myself the passion and drive I had to raise awareness, in a positive light, this 30 year monstrosity of corporate negligence that seems to have lacked even a fleeting consideration of equal human rights for all, exclusive of social status. An out-of-site out-of-mind mentality, that’s so easily adopted in the Western world didn’t seem good enough for the people affected, and this is what spurred me on to raise awareness of this injustice through my photographs.

When I look back on the project I feel that, even prior to the publication of the book, I have a small visual trigger to make people stand back and listen. I have something of the very simplest form – a family portrait – something that we can all relate to. And question the reason I took these pictures. Understand the concept I am trying to portray. These people are not victims of their own circumstance. They are not victims of their own poverty. The people that I photographed are as good as any other just, unfortunately, subject to a system that facilitated the economic growth of a multinational, governed by the rich and the powerful, at the expense of life and the environment. It is as if the people of Bhopal were less important, or disposable.

It is for this reason I chose to throw this idea upside down and photograph the families with the belief that they are as good as anyone else, anyone that works for Union Carbide for example, or Dow or the Indian Government; Or you or I.

As a photographer it may seem the obvious route for me, but I think the most important thing is that I have been inspired to show those people affected, and that continue to be affected to this day, as equals.

I now have all of the project’s post-production ahead of me, before the art book is produced. There will be further updates of the project throughout the year – and you can choose to sign up for updates via the dedicated project blog, if you wish, at bhopalfacing30.wordpress.com.

I must thank Bhopal Medical Appeal for all their support. I have received a fantastic number of visitors to the blog, and it’s great to know that people are seeing the work or talking about it.

By talking, the issues of Bhopal remain topical to those far from the areas and people affected – this is how I came to go to Bhopal in the first place – and, hopefully, the collective voice calling for justice in Bhopal will one day be loud enough to overcome those culpable.

I would also like to sincerely thank everyone at Sambhavna for their help and support. For the accommodation and food, which for the record is exceptionally tasty home-cooked hearty Indian fair. Never a complaint, and to our delight and gratitude we were able to arrange for our meals to be brought to the Nawab Studio so that we didn’t have to break on those long and busy days – a tasty re-invigorator following a challenging days shooting. Thanks are also due to Lorenza, who assisted the shooting phase of the project throughout, and for the many cups of chai that were delivered to the studio during that time. And for the use of the studio space, where on our final day it was extremely sad to say our goodbyes. And apologies to Nasir, and all the other health workers, whose working space was a little compromised by crowds of eagerly awaiting portrait sitters. To whom I’d never have been able to talk to if it weren’t for my translators, Sanjay and Devendra. And thank you to Sathyu, for approving the project in the first place.

By Francesca Moore

Bhopal: Facing 30 is supported by the Arts Council England. For further information see bhopalfacing30.wordpress.com

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We believe Dow must finally accept responsibility for Bhopal. Until then, The Bhopal Medical Appeal funds two award-winning clinics in the city. Both offer free, first-class care to victims of the gas disaster or the ongoing water contamination. The survivors have nowhere else left to turn – please help if you can.