As a child, Souvid Datta visited his grandparents in Kolkata for Christmas. In the midst of a tantrum, he stormed out of the house and wandered into Sonagachi, a red-light district. He saw girls around his age, men with handfuls of money; he made eye contact with a girl wearing pink, green and gold, and then he watched her led away by a much older man. The experience marked Datta, and as an adult, now a documentary photographer, he returned to Kolkata to work with an NGO aiding sex workers and their families.
Red-light districts like Sonagachi are characterized by exploitation, corrupt police and government systems, poverty, gang activity, and trafficking. Girls born into brothels rarely leave, creating a spiral of devastating sexual exploitation. Over 700,000 women and children are trafficked each year across the globe, forced into the $32 billion industry.
The 21-year-old Datta returns to Kolkata in hopes of connecting with and giving voice to the women and children of Sonagachi through photography. With the inspiration he finds in the work of “world-changers like James Nachtwey, Don McCullin, and Steve McCurry,” hopes to “learn […] from [his subjects] in a dignified, respectful, curious manner,” he tells Feature Shoot.
His series, titled In the Shadows of Kolkata, does allows him to do just that, capturing the overwhelmingly complex lives and practices of the district with startling clarity and purpose. His portraits of children osculate between poignant moments of play and expressions of urgency and marked sobriety. Women glance somberly into the distance as Datta’s lens reveals the blurry confusion of the unimaginable. With compassion, warmth, and brutal honesty, each photograph gives voice to those who need it most.
Thanks to Feature Shoot
Images via Feature Shoot
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