24 August 2009

Tom Pietrasik

The record sheet of a member of the Narsenahalli credit union.
The women here are some of the first to challenge the status
quo and demand the right to own the title deeds to the land
they cultivate.

Too long ago I received and then misplaced an email from TomPietrasik calling my attention to a newish blog he has begun keeping. Tom is a photographer based (mostly) in New Delhi and his blog posts consist in his reflections on various aspects of life there (e.g. status, literacy, politics) accompanied by his striking photography.

I lifted the image above from this series of Tom's work on the Panos web site. It struck me especially because I've just finished re-reading Amrtya Sen's Development as Freedom, a book I've assigned for my graduate seminar this fall. Sen's argument is that we need to assess development (or its absence) in terms of criteria broader than standard GNP or income. His argument is complex, but basically he sees development as defined by the "capabilities" people have to achieve things (what he terms "doings and beings") they have reason to value. And, in particular, he focuses on the ways that such matters as literacy or property ownership or participation in labor or credit markets are central to women's capabilities. In short, Sen sees gender equality in such terms not as instrumental to achieving development, but as constitutive of development. This picture of Tom's seems to capture that idea. While it may not be the most stunning of Tom's work (I am partial to the opening shot in this slide show) this image displays a pretty remarkable and subtle insight.

The punch line? Tom's blog is definitely worth a visit and so too are the various other of his presences on the web that I've linked to above.



Blogger Tom Pietrasik said...


I think Sen's argument is right and that our attitudes to what constitutes development need to be reassessed.

During the course of my work in India I have found that members of those communities who have organised and formed networks to campaign for their rights often live on low incomes but are among the most creative and life-affirming individuals I have ever met. These groups include the women's credit unions you mention and those who have organised and fought for the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS. I wouldn't want to romanticise these campaigns or ignore the many challenges that those involved with them face, but there appear to be several benefits to taking part in a movement for social or political change. Among those benefits are a growing sense of community and liberation from feelings of isolation or inadequacy, an expanded sense of justice and responsibility toward others and an increase in political literacy. All of these benefits emphatically constitute "development" but interestingly none can be measured by GNP or income. Indeed, it is worthwhile noting that many of those countries which score the highest in terms of GNP are deficient in the indicators of development I have just listed.

Thanks for highlighting my photography and blog. As a photographer working in India I continually find myself in situations where the issues you raise about politics and society converge and impact people's lives. It is so useful to see my day to day experiences contextualised in your blog.


25 August, 2009 06:54  

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