A Journey into Personal Engagement
I first came across members of the Tai Phake tribe in the winter of 2004, while driving along the historic Stilwell road from Southwest China into India’s cloistered northeast for a documentary project. Since then, I have spent a large part of the past four years living amongst and working with members of this Buddhist tribe in Phaneng, a small village in upper Assam . Due to various reasons, this tribe numbers a mere 1500 today and is on the verge of extinction.
My involvement in Phaneng has been with an education project, reforestation program, finishing a half built monastery, and a unique eco-tourism project that has built local capacity as well as raised incomes. My proximity to the Tai Phake tribals, their trust in me, the years spent documenting various facets of their life, all this gradually led me towards this portraiture project. I have photographed the entire village in past 3 years with portable generator in a studio built in one of the tribal huts. The images are all on 4x5 format. Most of them were never photographed ever before and I managed to shoot only one piece of film on each person.
The structure of this body of work serves as a metaphoric journey through the darkening world of Phaneng’s tribal inhabitants who live without electricity,most modern amenities. Ironically, they also live in close proximity to modern coal mining projects that are slowly swallowing their forests and way of life. A people and a culture that may soon fade away from existence and only appear as a distant memory.