A Visual Research at a Shelter for the Dying in Kolkata (an Online Gallery) By Egor Novikov

The sketches, photographs and field notes collected in this online gallery were made in April 2016 during an anthropological fieldwork at Kalighat Home for the Dying Destitutes. The shelter is founded by Mother Teresa and run by her monastic order Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata (Calcutta)*. My research was focused on the life changing experience of the western volunteers working with the bare life of the marginalized Indians. I found this experience being tightly bound to corporeal phenomena: physical contact, monstrous images of suffering and transgression of spatial borders. Hence, the visual methods were irreplaceable while working with these hard-to-describe matters as well as for the consequent presentation of the research outcomes.

A few years ago the nuns of the order introduced a ban on photographs in the Home on the pretext of protecting human dignity. As one of the signs on the wall explains it: “…our patients are not animals”. While carrying out participant observation in the premises of the shelter as a volunteer, I had to go back to the old anthropological method of sketching inhabitants of the shelter and their daily life taking advantage of every break in service. The method came out being effective in many – often unexpected – ways. The work on the sketches gave me a reason to stay for a longer period focused in one direction, which usually doesn’t happen: the volunteers mainly spend their working time in constant movement. Thus I could pay attention to details and witness the slow pace of the patients’ life and their interactions.

Besides various side effects such as closer relations with nuns and other volunteers and involving them into my research the sketches provided me with a much more profound access to the values and the mental conditions of the disempowered patients of the Home. Brought to the shelter at the verge of death from streets of Kolkata they are predominantly silent and passive, subjected to the totality of religious charitable service of the sisters. In spite of multiple symbolical and structural borders which separated me (a western socially acknowledged volunteer) from them (nameless inhabitants of a human dumpster of Global South), we could establish a certain personal contact where sketching functioned as a universal mediator delivering multiple unclear but powerful messages through the linguistic, cultural and symbolic borders.

Clearly, when looking closely at the patients of the Home, processing the visual perceptions through my body and imprinting their images on paper, I functioned as a politically active subject objectifying their stripped bare life into a social product. Apparently, for these forsaken inhabitants of social bottom such recognition from a western stranger who embodied their image in an intimate act of representation often was an important experience. At some cases upon seeing their portraits usually apathetic people came out of their desperate indifference and showed strong emotions so irregular in their condition seeming almost frightening. Some of them found it important to write their names on the sketches. For instance, in one case a patient revealed his name for the first time since he got to the shelter asking to sign the portrait. Another one was asking me to let him see all the sketches whenever he saw me passing by with the journal in my hand, though I don’t know for certain what was that he found there for himself. Meanwhile, that might be another value of these brief visual reflections: they are tangible pieces of the field experience which bear imprints of various actors. They are points of attention where anxious gazes of the patients, the nuns and the volunteers cross, where all of them find essential meanings of their own.

A couple of words about the technical side: for sketching and the fieldnotes I used a moleskine-type A8 notebook with a waterproof cover (small enough to carry around behind the trouser belt) and a regular ‘Pilot’ gel pen. For the photo (also video) shooting I used a compact high-resolution mirrorless Ricoh GXR camera with a ‘normal’ 50mm lens, which provides a view angle close to that of a human eye.

*          Following a call from Virgin Mary Mother Teresa founded female monastic order “Missioners of Charity” in India in 1950. She started bringing critically ill people from the streets of Kolkata to an old shelter for Hindu pilgrims at the main Kali temple in 1952, which was the beginning of the Home for Dying Destitutes. Today the Kalighat Home gives place to almost a hundred of local people in critical health condition. About ten nuns and novices, a dozen of volunteers and a few paid workers provide daily care to the residents. A few patients die in the shelter every week. The Mission remains one of the most known symbols of religious charity in the world. For decades it has invoked severe discussions being an object of both furious criticism and blind veneration.




Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Decisive Moment

see more at openculture.org

post-mortem photography;

Today in class we mentioned post-mortem photography; I actually posted on my blog about Victorian mourning photos last week for anyone who is interested: http://amandajunebrawner.tumblr.com/post/2957074740/victorian-post-mortem-mourning-photographs;
It’s a morbid but interesting part of photographic history.





Mary Ellen Mark

Google her

Diane Arbus & August Sander



Lisette Model, born 1901


Winogrand (influenced by walker evans, Robertfrank)




WilliamEggleston (the bycicle)









http://www.slate.com/id/2123639/slideshow/2123637/entry/2123625/fs/0// DianeArbus

Photographers I know and admire:
Thereseand Joel

A new discovery for me:
JimGoldberg (very contemporary, I like it)

Depression US:



Worth looking at, differentnarratives:



Cartier-Bresson (the decisive moment)
Eugene Atget


Don McCullin, born in 1935


James Nachtwey


In advertising



SallyMann (Immediate Family, wet glass)

Larry Clark



SteveMcCurry (NatGeo’s Afghan girl)


Jim Richardson

Aremost famous ones white?


SebastianSalgado (Brazil)

One in 8 million NYT photo series

One in 8 Million – New York Characters in Sound and Images – The New York Times

Closed. (Synopsis of a photo essay)

Although the topic of my photo essay is a closed hospital, the photos are not only pictures of urban decay. There is more (story) to them than only the strong effect of the textures (broken glass, peeling paint) which convey the idea of slow destruction.

According to Barthes the act of taking a photo involves that the subject is transformed into object. For the viewer, the essence of a photograph, the punctum is a wholly personal connection; it is achieved when its viewer is able to turn the object back to a subject. And although in case of an edifice it seems less relevant talking about object/subject – it was the very subjectification that I felt while taking /looking at the pictures, due to the invisible but tangible history and stories linked to the place. I hope the photos convey something of that.

What happens to a building that has lost its function?

During 140 years, this building and the institution it hosted became intertwined. For some years now, the institution no longer exists – the edifice does, derelict. As it is impossible to enter the hospital, the barred windows turn out to be the only tools to communicate with the inside. The majority of the photos therefore concentrate on these places / objects that best exemplify the change that occurred to this building when it lost its meaning, the inner side of it. The perspective turned: windows that once gave sight from the inside to the outer world, now let us peep in to the vacant wards; the bars that were meant to keep people in, lock us out.

The different materials at/around the windows all show signs of decay, which makes even the bottle of antiseptic left on the windowsill seem out of place… This might be the point that shows us that it is not decay that is so disturbing about the place but rather the reason for it, the absence of humans, the aim of these objects and the building itself being there. The presence of such objects intensifies the absence of their users.

I’d welcome any feedback.


Diana’s lomtalanitas photo essay

Objects have stories… they possess biographies through which ‘their significance may radically alter’ (Miller, 1993). These stories are evolved and developed in the vision of ‘objects as properties’, rather than the consideration of the ‘properties of objects’. Objects, regarded as properties, become intrinsically linked to a larger context of belonging and therefore tell far richer stories than an object regarded as possessing a number of properties, signifying its mere materiality. Thus the struggle in a sense evolves around the very practice of sense-making and perception, which oscillates between the articulation of the object’s physical externality versus its internal symbolism.

Despite the easily detectable physical externality that the photograph so skilfully exposes, there is always an inherent symbolism, an internal story in each shot… perhaps – less easily disclosed, but is always possible to uncover once the static take of the object’s being is turned into the context of its dynamic becoming… And it is at the point of regarding the object within the context of becoming that two elements of temporal symbolism come together – ‘the object standing for time’ and ‘time controlling what the object stands for’ (Miller, 1993). Within
this very confrontation one can uncover the various reasons underlying the act of detachment…

By Diana

Jewish District: Symbols, Places, and Practices

Hello all,

The project aims to depict how these two types of identities intervene in the “Jewish Quarter” by looking at symbols, places, and practices. By symbols we understand the Jewish symbols present in the 7th district and we were looking at how these symbols are contextualized and at the same time recontextualized. Places that were the unit of our analysis are Dohany Synagogue, as one of the most significant place for the ‘traditional’ representation of the “Jewish Quarter”, and Siraly as the place for ‘alternative’ to the official and traditional depiction of the district. What is referred by practices in our project is how people practice the space of the district, with an emphasis on the people in Synagogue and people in Siraly.

Synopsis of the Photo Essay

The outline of our project follows a structure in three parts that we entitled Symbols, Places, and Practices. The rational behind this structure follows the lines of our interaction with the field that led us from the obvious to the more intimate sides of the quarter. In practice such a firm distinction between the three does not exist. Symbols mark the places, they are interpreted and re-interpreted by the groups that reside in the quarter or visit it, practicing the place, and giving it new dimensions. To convey our representation of this identity, we organized the photo essay in these three parts. However, the borders of these three components were not clearly stated in the photo essay per se, precisely because they flow into each other.

Here is the full photo essay


Dumi and Esma

The Others

Dear All,

These black-and-white photos are posted in the permanent exhibition of the Hungarian National Museum and part of the outstanding Photo Collection of it. I am writing my MA thesis on the permanent exhibition of this museum, with the intention to find out what kind of message does it have, if any, in concerning with identity, Hungarian national idea etc. At the exhibition there are approximately 10 photos about “the significant others” for the Hungarians, the Germans and the Soviets as oppressing powers.
In my photo essay I am researching the similar characteristics among these photos in describing that group of people. I am looking for the visual techniques and images that provide hint for a certain evaluation of the group as well as if there is any motif or hidden intention that connect them (why and how these photos were chosen to exhibit and not others).


Nepszinhaz Test Shots

Here are some shots from the window of my flat on Nepszinhaz utca. I plan to make a short film out of the window for my project, trying to some how capture the rhythm of life on the street. It fits into my thesis topic which regards gentrification and the district/street. I’d be happy/pleased/ecstatic if people could leave comments letting me know what they think of the angles, shot etc. I think it works quite well, but maybe the picture is too busy…? So that filming out of it static would not work… I would have to choose on what to focus. Nem tudom.

They are all in quite bad quality apart form the last one, so that they don’t take up too much space 🙂

Whoop whoop


Visual notes

Spring // 2017

Notes on visual travels

Visual anthropology blog by Liza Havrylenko


moving images / standing ovations

william uricchio

this is not a blog....

Visual Anthropology Diaries

Blog of the Visual Anthropology course at CEU


interdisciplinary meditations on art and culture


Kylie's Visual Anthropology Blog

Visual Anthropology, 2015

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Visual Anthropology CEU 2015 Svetlana's Notes

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Anthropological Diaries

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visual anthropology CEU

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tristes carpathians

Blog of the Visual Anthropology course at CEU