India’s Gaze On Women: Priyanka Shah

It’s hard to be a woman in India. From birth many suffer the consequence of gender hierarchy, where baby boys take the top spot in many families as they are considered both good luck and a blessing. As a female you’re at a disadvantage in society before you’ve even started your life. With a more recent understanding of women’s rights fast evolving, change still lead to controversy as drastic shifts of cultural and traditional values are compromised. A previous photo series by Delhi-based Sujarto Ghosh raised the question of if cows had more respect than women, gaining huge backlash but never giving a definitive answer from the public.

Now, photographer Priyanka Shah from Bangalore explores the hefty societal gaze that follows young women in a powerfully visual and thought provoking photo series titled Perspectives. Using her friend Aishwary Suresh as her subject, Shah uses her art to give us an insight into what it’s like living as a young female in India. I was able to talk to her in some detail about the reason behind the project and why it’s so important to her as an artist.


Tell us how you go into photography?

My dad loves photography, and I have been around a camera since i was a little baby. The idea of capturing a memory/story forever is what got me into photography.


Who are your favourite photographers and who influences you artistically?

I have 2 photographers I look up to. One is Steve McCurry and the other is my teacher Trupal Pandya. Their style of capturing stories and their love for the art is inspiring.


What inspired you to do this project?

I have been living in Bangalore alone for a while and may it be Mumbai or Bangalore or any other place for that matter being a girl our clothes have always mattered so much. Whether we wear shorts or are fully clothed we are looked at in the most negative way possible. Whenever i told people most of them didn’t take it too seriously. I really wanted to show people what kind of looks we get, how intimidating and horrifying they could be. How getting on the streets everyday is like an emotional battle and how we have to think twice before wearing something we are most comfortable in.


Which part of the project are you most proud of?

I am most proud of the fact that both my model and me had the courage to withstand all the negative words that were thrown at us through  the process of shooting this project.


You mention that the photo shoot got quite dangerous at one point. What happened?

We were at the market and people started passing rude comments. I shot the whole album hiding behind different locations, at one point in the market I went up these pitch black staircases and just as they saw me and another girl who was with us leave, they lifted up phones to take selfies with my friend who stood in the crowd, they laughed at her, they passed rude comments at her.


Have you ever felt uncomfortable to the point where you don’t wear what you want to in order to avoid unnecessary attention?

I’d say I used to be that way, but not anymore.


How have the Indian public responded to your style of photography?

There has been a mixed response. Some people have been unbelievably supportive and have sent me messages saying ” you are an inspiration to my daughter and I applaud you” and many people shared it because they were able to relate to it. I appreciate the critique, and honestly this was like a first iteration to a probable bigger project, so I know there are a lot of things I can change and improve. But some people have passed rude comments to my family and friends saying things like, “yuck, she is so ugly who would ever rape her” . Those kind of comments were rude and unnecessary.


You’ve received great feedback from the photo series however, some people took the  view that the model’s clothes didn’t fit “India’s dress code” therefore provoking people to stare and judge. What do you have to say about that?

That was exactly the point of the project right? She wore WHAT SHE IS COMFORTABLE IN, that shouldn’t raise any questions, looks or rude comments.


I couldn’t agree more. Did you ever expect your work to reach such a large audience?

Never in a million years. I put it up just for my family to see my university project.



Words: Katrina Mirpuri, Photos: Priyanka Shah