Capturing India - Interview with Photographer Enrico Fabian

Posted by Stefan Heil • Saturday, April 24. 2010 • Category: Global Career
Recently we found the time to conduct an interview with photographer / photo-journalist Enrico Fabian which we wanted to do for the longest time already. We know Enrico Fabian already since he started taking pictures as a profession and have since supported him for his critical approach in photography. His works are often uncomfortable but beautiful at the same time, and one can clearly see the social agenda he is following with his choice of projects.

© Enrico Fabian for Reuters

KM: Tell us a bit about yourself Enrico...

EF: I am 28 years old, I was born in Kamenz, a small town near Dresden in which I was raised and lived for a long time. After working for 7 years with Malteser International (a globally-operating relief agency) as an IT systems administrator, I came to India at the age of 25.


KM: What brought you to India?

EF: In my life I had pretty much everything that you can ask for: lots of good friends, a very nice job, a beautiful little apartment. But somehow I felt that there was something missing. So, when my then-girlfriend who was working for Deutsche Welthungerhilfe (a German NGO) was offered a position in New Delhi, I thought I should just take a break from my job and my life in Germany and follow her along to India and see what kind of surprises this new environment had for me.


KM: Now it's already mid 2010, so what made you stay here?

EF: I decided to stay, because I immediately liked the country and especially New Delhi. Of course there are things which strike you as odd and confuse any European first-time visitor, but in the larger picture I felt very much welcomed and I soon realised, that I liked it here much more than I liked living and working in Germany. I was - and still am - fascinated by the culture, the friendliness and hospitality of the people and in general by the fact that over here everything was so very different and exciting. And, as I already explained before, that was exactly the reason for leaving Germany and coming here in the first place. And what I also soon realised was that I did not want to work in my old job in IT anymore, but instead I rather wanted to do what I really cared about and loved, and that was photography.

© Enrico Fabian for IFAD


KM: OK, this leads us to the next question: Many people like taking pictures as a hobby, but what made you want to become a professional photographer and make a living that way?

EF: I was always interested and fascinated by any kind of visual arts or media, be it a good movie which is visually stunning or be it a coffee-table book. Another reason was that I am a critical mind who constantly questions many things that happen around me. I am especially drawn to issues and topics which many people not even notice, or which many people don't know or don't want to know much about, issues many people steer clear of because they are discomforting or frightening. For me it's like this: everything in life always has two sides - a good one and a not so good one. For my part, I am way more interested in these dark or bad sides of life. It were these issues and problems that I wanted to show to other people, topics that made me uneasy and did not make me feel good about. I want to create awareness and make other people think about such bad things, problems I was not willing to just accept. Photography is in my opinion the best way to achieve this, because pictures leave you as much time to think about what you are seeing as you want or need to. In the end, I thought to myself: "Out of passion I make profession" and from now on I would work as a photographer. I also think that if you devote time and effort to these issues and capture these problems on pictures, it is possible to make people stop and contemplate about these matters. You can change things to the better and really make a difference by showing these bad things in a proper, sometimes even beautiful way.


KM: Please tell us a little bit about the projects that you have been working on lately.

EF: I was working on many different issues throughout the last year. I have my own projects, but I also do contract work for newspapers, photo agencies like Reuters or institutions and NGOs. For example, I was recently working for United Nations to document their efforts to improve the conditions of indigenous people in central India; for Reuters I was following the lives of Delhi's homeless people; a big German newspaper sent me to the Kumbh Mela to Haridwar to get some good pictures. But one of my biggest and most important projects that I work on for quite some time now is a project done in cooperation with Chintan, an Indian NGO: covering the lives and the work of Delhi's wastepickers - the kabaris. Some time ago there was also an exhibition of my pictures on the subject, supported by the German Embassy in New Delhi. Working with Chintan, I took up this issue after having a glimpse into how the garbage problem is handled in this city. I was watching the kabaris with their small carts collecting and segregating all the trash in my neighbourhood each morning and this also kept me thinking. Then there was this decisive moment one day when I passed the huge landfill in Ghazipur. I was instantly fascinated and shocked at the same time by the sheer size of that 'mountain of garbage' that I saw next to the highway. Due to my cooperation with Chintan, I immediately realised what hard work these people were doing for us, for everybody living in this city by taking care of all the trash we produce every day. But they did not do this because of altruistic motives; instead it was their way of making ends meet - by collecting all the garbage and afterwards selling off whatever was worth anything. Due to this, there is an immense benefit for the environment, too, because by collecting, segregating and ultimately selling off other people?s trash, they are recycling a large part of the garbage. This issue became something I felt I needed to show to the world, because these people who take care of and literally live in our waste are more or less totally neglected and don't get any appreciation for what they do for the community. It was important for me to make people think about the kabaris, about the valuable work they do for everybody and under which horrible conditions they live and work every day.

© Enrico Fabian


KM: As we have heard, these days you are back at the landfill in Ghazipur again. What's going on there at the moment?

EF: Yes that's right. Recently I read in the newspaper that there was a fire in a kabari settlement around the landfill. So I contacted Chintan to find out if it was the settlement where I had spent so much time. And sadly, it became clear that it was exactly this one. So I right away went there to see with my own eyes how bad the fire was, what it had destroyed and how the people over there were doing. Because I felt such a strong connection with these people that I know for more than 1.5 years now and had spent so much time with, when I reached there I was totally shocked to see that these already poor people who did not have much before the fire had now lost more or less everything. So I talked to a lot of people and asked them how they are coping with the situation, and of course I took pictures, because I knew I had to do something and could not just leave them to their fate. So I activated my personal network but also used the Internet and social networking sites to get the public to know about this and I asked everybody for donations of things like household items, clothing, toys, etc. Until now, it has been very successful and many people gave stuff they did not need anymore or which they could do without. I am very much looking forward to this Sunday, when I will go there and distribute all these things amongst the people over there.


KM: What was the most outstanding or impressing thing that happened to you while you were taking pictures?

EF: This is hard to say, because for me many things are special or outstanding. But since you asked: one of the occasions that really stood out and left a lasting impression on me was maybe the Gadhimai Mela (festival) in Nepal and the people I spent my days with while working. It were the people who are responsible or organising this Mela, where every 5 years between 12000 and 15000 buffalos are being sacrificed in honour of the goddess Ghadimai. It was unbelievable to see how kind-hearted and hospitable those people were to me. The same people only hours later were overseeing and executing the sacrifice of so many animals.

As far as the positive impressions are concerned, it's probably also the big - often religious - festivals, to see how people are celebrating here, to watch them sing and dance. It's only here that you realise how special this country is, how age-old traditions are still very much alive. Especially for people with a Western background it feels like turning back time for hundreds of years. It's a very deep and lasting impression to see how these customs and rituals are still performed today. And of course it's very rewarding to see how I am treated by the people I meet when I go to these places. Examples when I felt this way were the Gochak in Leh, or the time I spent during Shivratri in Pachmarhi. I keep thinking that more often than not, these people are much more fascinated and amazed by me showing up there and spending my time with them than I could ever be by watching and photographing them.

© Enrico Fabian


KM: Can you already tell us about what future project(s) you are working on?

EF: I am working on different things at the moment. For example, together with the "Gesellschaft fuer humanistische Fotografie" (Society for Humanistic Photograpy) in Berlin, I am preparing to show "Tracing Waste", the exhibition on Delhi's wastepickers, during the "Month of Photography" in Berlin. My work with and for the kabaris and environmental issues in general are definitely some things I want to keep on covering as long-term projects. Besides these, there are many assignments for various newspapers and other organisations. However, the next big project that I want to start is covering the lives of India's tribal people who are slowly vanishing and whose culture and way of life is about to go extinct: what's happening there, what's the bigger picture, the roots and causes, the context in which all that is happening.


KM: Any last words to our audience?

EF: I hope that there will always be individuals who have a critical mind and who ask uncomfortable questions. I also wish for more people to take action, people who try to change bad things which happen around them to the better.


KM: Thank you very much for your time!


If you want to find out more about Enrico, please visit these links:

Website of Enrico Fabian
Blog of Enrico Fabian

Enrico at work. © Johannes Dahmen
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  1. Hola,
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  2. Nice photos.

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