Anja Bruehling: Brick Workers
I met Anja Bruehling at the Filter Photo Festival in Chicago, where she shared her powerful project, Brick Workers, captured in Varanasi, India. Anja brings a humanity to her subjects, photographing the hardships of the community and the activity, but can also show the dignity and beauty of her subjects.
Anja grew up in Germany with art and travel as part of her life. In 2000, her career brought her to the US where she now resides in Chicago. She has worked and traveled to over 50 countries. Her travels have allowed her to experience and explore different cultures, meet people, make friends and look beyond the surface. Anja’s passions are people, diverse cultures, and the human condition. As a photographer, she makes her observations through her eyes, heart, and camera. She wants the world to see and remember places, prosperity, beauty, love, people, and the socio-economic problems they face.
The world is a diverse place in every sense of the word. Be it work, people, places, prosperity, beauty, love or the struggles that mankind faces! I have seen this in my earlier years as a child, as a university student, during my early working life and I continue to see it today. The big difference being, today I observe the world from a much more mature and all around perspective. I observe how people co-exist, survive, are exploited, make do with very little; yet living with all that life has to offer. My observations are thru my eyes, my heart and my camera!
For the last two years, the focus and fascination of my photography work has been a set of communities outside of Varanasi, India that work and live in extremely harsh conditions both from the perspective of work as well as their daily lives. These are the ‘Brick Workers’ and showcasing them, the conditions they live in, their struggles and their joys is the premise of my project.
India is a fascinating place and a true microcosm of human life. Spanning the entire spectrum from joy to sorrow, from extreme wealth to extreme poverty, from top notch medical care to non-existent, from hunger to extreme gorging, from healthy to the sick. India is a place where every single idea about human living, about life and its associated philosophies, about political systems, about law and order can be explored. You can come away extremely sad, depressed and rejecting of everything that is India. Alternatively, you come away with an exhilarating feeling to explore more, do more, try more, and live more in every facet of one’s life. This is driven simply by taking a look at how even the lowest of the low, the poorest of the poor are driven to work hard, live hard and take life in its stride with all that it has to offer.
There are so many communities that can be examined to illustrate the hardships suffered by the many people living in India. My story examines ‘Brick Workers’. Brick building in India is a back breaking tough work compounded by issues such as bonded labor, exploitation of the poor, uneducated. Estimates show that there are over 100.000 kilns all over India with and estimated 12,5 million to 25 million people working. India’s brick industry contributes around $4bn to the country’s economy every year. The problem is all the more serious in the northern parts of India such as Uttar Pradesh due to over population, lack of education and corrupt politicians and businessmen.
In all of this hardship, there is a positive spirit – a spirit of joy, camaraderie, ‘can do’ and, a spirit of trying to do the best they can for them and their children. I started my project two years ago and have not only captured the indomitable spirit, the work ethic, the ￼￼sheer hard labor, the sheer family togetherness of the ‘Brick Workers’, but also their suffering, their hardships and their working conditions. The country is going to thru an enormous change yet again and there is hope that these will be positive changes, with a distinct improvement in the working lives as well as their living conditions overall. No place could be better illustration of this change than Varanasi as it is now the parliamentary constituency of the Prime Minister of India. My work is a showcase, a viewpoint about these wonderful people who for me illustrate very directly all that the workers / laborers of the world do to fulfill their life commitments.
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