The printing press replaced the scribe, and was then replaced by the typewriter, which then fell victim to computers. So it goes with technology. The fear of robots taking over human jobs features prominently in both fiction (The Jetsons, The Simpsons, The Terminator) and real life (IBM’s Watson and the Kiva robots that staff Amazon shipment centers).
Always bittersweet, in India these technological coups are usurping traditionally human, analog jobs on an accelerated timeline. “Due to the rapid socioeconomic change in India and the McDonaldization of the Asian sub-continent, we are at this juncture when the modern generation prefers not to follow their ancestral trade practice,” says Supranav Dash, a New York-based photographer who grew up in Calcutta, around the street contortionists and snake charmers who roamed public spaces.
Dash points out that this newer generation’s pattern doesn’t just follow logic and financial opportunity. It’s a mechanism for escaping stereotypes reinforced by the traditional caste system. While photographing subjects who are perhaps the last practitioners of their professions for Marginal Trades, Dash asks them about their circumstances. Some aren’t entirely positive why their metiers dwindle. Others are brutally aware:
“The broom maker and seller, he would be reduced to just being a broom seller. He will not be able to make his biodegradable brooms out of Paddy plants. Instead they will be made out of plastic in a production line. The street typist is already replaced with the MS Office-enabled cyber cafes. The water carrier has been replaced by packaged mineral water suppliers. The band party boys are finding it hard to compete with the DJs and their techno beats. Local farmers producing vegetables and coming to the city bazaar to sell their stuff will be losing to the big malls where people will go to get their daily groceries.”
Photographers often cite the difficulty in capturing Indian culture with a camera. It’s a country that endlessly fascinates the western world with its vastly different colors, population density, slums, traditions, wildlife, and so on–often to cliché or patronizing effect. Dash took a more original, less outsider approach by bringing his subjects into a studio space, rigged with a generic backdrop. By removing environmental visual cues, the photographer gave every professional and profession equal weight.
The photos almost look like standard American school portraits: a bit unnatural, with nowhere for the subject to hide. And, like a second grader’s bespectacled, pigtailed class picture, these photos are a record of a fleeting moment that might be impossible to see again.
See more of Dash’s work here.