Itinerant donkey owners working in Gujarat’s brick kilns spend 24 hours a day with their donkeys. They live, work, play and abide together. The donkeys’ welfare is entirely in the people’s hands. So who are they, and how do they live alongside their animals? I hope these photographs from MA Ambapur kiln near Ahmedabad will help show how these two societies live together.
Itinerant brick kiln workers use WhatsApp to stay in touch.
Donkey owner-drivers working in the brick kilns of Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh are paid every Friday, but receive a lump sum payment at the end of the brick-making season. This allows them to buy Indian-made smartphones costing about 5,000 Rupees each.
Most donkey owners are itinerant and may be away from their home villages for many months at a time. The phones allow them to stay in touch, both with family members, and friends working in other kilns. They’re also a status symbol for the young. Using WhatsApp is cheap and may be a spur to literacy for a largely unschooled workforce.
Madhupur Village near Agra, Uttar Pradesh. Virat (13) who likes to be known as ‘Brad’ with his smartphone. He good-naturedly photographs every move the UK photographer makes.
In the UK animal traction and haulage are things of the past – relegated to the heritage industry. In India draft animals play a key role in the modern economy. Aside from their use in agriculture, donkeys and mules are essential to the construction industry. The livelihoods of many thousands of marginalised families are reliant on the welfare and efficient functioning of their teams of donkeys and mules. These photo stories take a look at this industry.
India is experiencing a building boom to cope with its rapid urbanisation. Thousands of concrete-frame high rise blocks, with brick infill, can be seen rising up around Delhi and Mumbai. Almost every one of the millions of bricks involved has been transported by donkey or mule at the brick kilns where they are made. So how does it work?
Donkeys have a blind spot immediately in front of them, but can see right round to their hind legs – though not behind their head.
Simply mounting a wide angle camera on a donkey’s head won’t tell us how a donkey really ‘sees’ the world. But it can tell us something about its working life. Its movements, its height, the rhythm of its work, how it directs its attention and perhaps how it relates to people and other donkeys.
This donkey shot 2,700 photographs over a 45 minute period as it went about its repetitive work at a brick kiln in Gujarat, India. This selection of its work will tell you as much about what I think makes an interesting photograph as it does about donkey consciousness. But that would apply if I had shot them myself.
This is a male horse with his owner Rohtas. They work in a brick kiln. They both live in a house with plastered and painted walls and electric light.
This is a mule with his owner Vedpas. They also work at the brick kiln. The mule also has a nice bedroom, though not quite as nice as the horse’s bedroom.
This is a buffalo with her owner Annar Devi. The buffalo has a bedroom, though its not painted, has no electric light and is open on one side. She has a sacking blanket to keep her warm.
This is a goat, Somehow it seems to have got a plastered and painted bedroom.
These are donkeys with their owner Harish. They all work in a brick kiln with Harish. They sleep outside in the rain. Harish puts their pack saddles on in the evening to keep them warm, and to stop the crows from pecking at the saddle wounds on their backs.
This is the bedroom of Harish’s older brother Mahender – standing on the left. Mahender made a good marriage with a good dowry. The room is plastered and painted and has electricity.
This is the bedroom at the back of the house where their parents (on the right) and Mahender’s mule sleep. It’s made of brick but it’s not plastered or painted and it doesn’t have electricity.
With thanks to everyone at Khesikala and Madhupur, and to TDS India
Gurgaon, a city outside Delhi, India, is undergoing a boom in construction fuelled by the new Metro link and Delhi’s need for young professionals. Almost every brick in the country has been carried by donkeys during its manufacture. In Gurgaon they also work in lieu of cranes.
One of 14 HIV+ve participants, Anthony rendered his life story in a series of paper cut-out shadow photographs. Working until four in the morning over many nights and using just paper and a torch he has taken photography right back to its origins by fixing a shadow cast upon a sheet of paper. His images have the directness of photograms and produce a compellingly parred down narrative of survival.
Visiting her one room home I was particularly taken by the screen around her shrine. She told me it was there to avoid offending passing Muslim neighbours in the busy alley outside. This sparked a whole discussion about how she navigates her multiple identities as a man, a woman and as a Hindu and a Muslim while remaining within society and her community.
She acts these out for us in a documentary performance which is intimate and confident but without histrionics or vanity.