A vegeful spirit


The photography sessions were conducted in
silence, except for the voice of the
photographer. Many, in their portraits, are
crying. Through the months of the project,
the girls and women had been guided by the
counsellor and the photographer to seek an
expression of themselves… something,
anything, they wanted to be. And for a moment,
before the camera, each one silently

These portraits evolved from the need to
protect the identities of the girls and women.
The photographer decided upon masks,
drawing inspiration from tribal masked ritual.
Each would choose her own mask. Through
group and individual counselling sessions, the
counsellor helped each identify a human, or
divine, alter ego – a long and delicate task,
given the intense pain, anger, sadness and at
times emotional instability of the girls and

They wanted to fully express their
transformations, and simple masks developed
into full costumes. The shelter erupted into
festive creativity. Shawls, jewellery, antique
saris, leaves and vegetables were brought to
the shelter, and the girls and women were
instructed in the arts of costume and makeup.
In the dressing rooms behind the silent studio,
excitement, quarrelling and laughter bubbled
as the girls dressed each other, made up each
other’s faces, and waited for their turn to be

All joined in, even the silent ones who normally hid during the day behind the coconut trees. For a brief time, the aggressive ones quieted down and the depressed started talking with others. Many shook with emotion as they went in front of the camera. For a half hour or longer, each one stood quietly under the lights, under the gentle guidance of the photographer, adjusting, focusing. For perhaps the first time in her life, she was the centre of warm attention: costumed, beautified, fussed over, focused upon, hallowed for what she wanted to be. What originated as a simple photography project had become a healing experience..

‘I loved this activity because we all did it together.
We all dressed up and celebrated together. I wish
we could always be so happy.’