The Sambhali Trust is a non-profit organisation based in Jodhpur, in the Indian state of Rajasthan. The mission of the organisation is to offer educational opportunities to underprivileged women and girls, to help them find a way to financial independence. Callie Eh spent two weeks visiting the trust with her Leicas Q and Q2. The resulting pictures reveal many different perspectives.
How did you come up with the idea for The Door to a Brighter Future?
At the beginning of 2020, I attended a workshop in India together with Photographers Without Borders (PWB) and the Sambhali Trust NGO, whose focus is to provide underprivileged Rajasthan women and kids with education and social skills. I spent two weeks with this NGO, visiting their empowerment centres, sewing centres, boarding homes, and rural schools – all located across Jodhpur and Setrawa.
What impressed you the most there?
My time at Sambhali taught me a lot and drew my attention to the inequalities in this world. The NGO’s empowerment centres provide a safe place for women to reclaim their dignity and worth, to support them in developing confidence and self-esteem, and help them work towards financial independence. While this might sound like something every woman should naturally experience in western society, in India – and other developing countries – this is often only possible with external help. It has been an honour to photograph these brave women: these photos tell such different stories, and I want to convey this message with this project, The Door to a Brighter Future.
Your impressive pictures show the women and girls while studying, working. They rarely look directly in the camera…
I usually try not to interrupt them. I try to catch moments of their daily lives, so that there is no posing or staging my subject, but rather documenting their real-life stories. For sure it was helpful that I spent some time there, so people were used to having me around: they were naturally in their element and did not focus on me or my camera.
Where do the women go when they have finished their education at the Sambhali Trust?
Most of the women who graduate from the Sambhali educational program will be employed by the Sambhali Boutique, making clothes and handicrafts or teaching at the centres. They can join the Sambhali graduate sewing program, where they are able to sell their crafts, and thus work towards financial independence.
Do you think that your pictures can change anything about the women’s situation?
This is a difficult question to answer, as a photo has no direct economic impact on their lives, of course. However, I do believe pictures are important because they allow people to see the world from different perspectives. Photography is a powerful tool for telling life stories. Spreading the message can help shape our understanding of culture, history, and the identity of the people who make it up. It touches upon the bigger question of whether my pictures can change anything about the women’s situation. I hope my story will raise awareness towards issues surrounding women’s empowerment in India; and I am very grateful for publications like this, the Leica blog, which will hopefully help more people become aware, interested and make their own contributions towards helping to reduce inequality in the world.
When and why did you become a photographer?
My life wasn’t easy: I managed many ups and downs and I worked very hard to get through life. Photography has been an enormous support to me, and it has been a refuge for me during difficult times, as well as a safe space to explore a multitude of emotions concerning love, conflict, and hope. A turning point in my life happened in 2015 when I moved to Poland, where my work was discovered by a cafe owner, Gaston Sitbon, and the Galeria AMI Poland founder, Piotr Kaczmarek. What also later really impacted me was a documentary workshop in Krakow in 2016, which was extremely intense and deeply changed my photographic point of view. In the same year, I bought the new Leica Q. I instantly fell in love with the camera and the way to take photos with it. The 28mm fixed lens forces me to get out of my comfort zone and makes me get closer to the subject; and to focus on taking a better picture that tells an important story and provides some much-needed direction, purpose, and meaning. It takes the image quality to a whole new level, and I have not let go of it ever since.
What equipment did you use and how did it perform?
I worked with the Leicas Q and Q2, with Summilux 28 f/1.7 ASPH lenses, my favourite cameras so far. They’re compact, practical, and reliable – the perfect cameras for travel and street photography. What I love about the Q and Q2, is the ability to quickly change settings, with the thumbwheel button of exposure mode, and manual controls that feel solid and responsive. It makes me become more creative with the angles, light, mirror, and water reflection, or an unexpected and unique perspective. Pretty amazing! As for a 28mm fixed lens, you really need to get close to the subject. It can get tricky in situations where you would normally prefer a zoom lens; for example, when it could get dangerous. In any case, it is really important to be aware of your surroundings and the cultural and social rules at all times; both out of respect for the subjects and for their own safety.
Please complete the following sentence: “Photography is…
…to me a way of seeing the world: each photo is like a tiny documentary about the different lifestyles and situations my subjects experienced, and the feeling I had in each moment.”
Born in 1972 in Yong Peng, Malaysia, where she was raised, Callie Eh has lived in various countries and is now based in Switzerland. She got her first DSLR camera in 2008, and started taking photos during her travels. While she always enjoyed capturing special moments, becoming a photographer was not something she had initially planned. What really impacted her was a documentary workshop in Krakow in 2016, which deeply changed her photographic point of view. It provided some much-needed direction, purpose, and meaning. Callie Eh loves to photograph people in their daily lives and tell their stories through her lens. Photography helps her come ever closer towards finding her voice. Her work has been exhibited, awarded, and published internationally: Finalist for the World.Report Award, 2021; TIFA 2020 Bronze Winner. She has been featured by LensCulture, selected for the LFI Gallery “Master Shots” and “Picture of the Week”, and has been published in Leica Fotografie International (LFI) magazine. An interview with the photographer has appeared in the Leica Switzerland Yearly Courrier magazine 2020, and Dodho magazine. Find out more about her photography on her website and Instagram page.