Durga, the mother goddess

about the project

In a unique project conceived and put in place by the Terre des hommes Foundation (Lausanne, Switzerland), the documentary photographer Achinto Bhadra and counselor Harleen Walia guided 126 girls and women through a healing journey of psychological transformation. Achinto’s portraits record trafficking survivors’ imaginative visions of themselves as human, animistic and divine beings of power, love, revenge and freedom.

The girls and women in the photographs, from 8 to 25 years old, are survivors of trafficking, rape or abandonment, or are the children of sex workers. They have been in the care of Sanlaap, a non-governmental organization based in Kolkata, India. The photography sessions were conducted at Sanlaap’s Sneha Girls Shelter.

Through the months of the project, the girls and women were assisted by the counselor to narrate their personal histories, the stories that they wanted to tell the world - powerful stories of disappointed childhood, abuse, betrayal, abduction and finally, slavery in the brothels. Following this, they were guided by the counselor and the photographer to identify an imaginary being into which they most wanted to transform, an empowered physical expression of their sorrow, anger and hope.

The costumes and makeup were created by the girls and women with the artistic guidance of the photographer. The photography sessions were conducted in ritualistic silence. As each girl and woman stood before the camera in the silent studio, she transformed into ‘another me’. The aggressive ones quieted down, the depressed raised their heads, tears of release flowed. For a moment, each felt the power within herself. And today, many months later, that brief transformation remains an inner source of confidence and strength for the girls and women in Sanlaap’s care.

The photography project has had a lasting impact on the confidence and self-esteem of the participants - for each, the transformation into ‘another me’ has become a healing experience.