Gauri Gill. Portraits at Balika Mela
When the Urmul Setu Sansthan, a non-governmental organization in the village of Lunkaransar in Rajasthan, invited Gauri Gill to participate in a balika mela (a fair for girls) in 2003, she developed an entirely new way of collaborative working. Gill reimagined the role of the photo wallah—an itinerant portrait photographer who historically traveled to fairs and villages in India selling family portraits and identification cards. She set up a makeshift photo tent with props and backdrops at the fair for anyone to have their portrait taken and later receive a silver gelatin print. “Girls came in and decided how and with whom they wanted to be photographed,” described Gill. “We would start to discuss where and how the picture would be taken: which backdrop, what props to use, if any. The whole scene was co-directed by me and those in the pictures, as well as everyone around us.”1 When the fair was held again in 2010, Gill returned to show the original balika mela images she had taken and took additional portraits—this time in color, with a focus on the young girls’ idiosyncratic fashion, portraying the hybrid cultural reality of globalized rural India.
Gauri Gill, Balika Mela (Zurich: Edition Patrick Frey, 2012), 155. ↩︎