Friday, 2 May 2014

Photographer in India earns living taking pictures of the dead minutes before they’re cremated

It’s a job not many people would take on — but photographer Shankar Jha spends his day taking photos of families with their dead loved ones minutes before they’re cremated.

The 24-year-old earns a whopping 30,000 Rupees (about $500) a month fulfilling the requests of grieving families who want one last photo of themselves with their dead loved ones in the holy city of Varanasi, in northern India.

Most would decline such a career but Shankar sees it as a perfect business opportunity.

He said: “Initially I felt awkward doing this job but now I’ve got used to it it doesn't feel bad anymore.”

Shankar was just 12 when a man approached him for the first time at the river Ganges asking if he could photograph him and his family alongside his dead father.

“It was very odd but I realised that there was a need for this kind of thing so I set up my own shop on the Ghats of the river Ganges and soon people started ordering my services,” he added.

While most would find this job not only depressing but also distasteful; Shankar believes he’s giving hundreds of grieving families treasured photos.

He said: “I’m helping people have an affordable and treasured souvenir of their dead family member. It’s something to treasure forever when they’re gone.”

Families have to pass Shankar's shop as they carry the dead towards the river Ganges, the most sacred river to Hindus. It’s widely worshipped as the goddess Ganga in the Hindu religion.

Shankar said: “If I have a quiet day with just a few orders I do approach passing families asking if they want photos. Most accept; there’s only a couple that say no. I feel I’m helping people remember the last face of their dead relatives.”

It takes Shankar under three hours to develop the photos — the same time it takes the families to watch their loved ones turn to ash and leave.

According to Hindu traditions family members have to wait and watch until the cremation ceremony is over.

Financially, Shankar has been earning much more than an average worker in Varanasi but he now fears his business will begin to suffer as more people invest in phones with cameras.

“Times are changing and people don’t need a photographer any more, they have their own phones to do my work. And I have no particular skills, I’m just in the right place at the right time, offering a much needed service.”

But for now Shankar will happily continue delivering what he believes are treasured memories.

Friday 02 May 2014


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