Central to Gauri Gill’s work is the power of images, especially portraits, to shape one’s perception of society. Fundamental to her practice as a photographer is the sustained observation of her subjects over extended periods of time. In the late 1990s, Gill began an ongoing effort to photograph the people and landscape of Rajasthan. When a local non-governmental organization hosted a Balika Mela (fair for girls) in 2003, she was invited to organize a photographic project. More than 1,500 young women between the ages of 12 and 20 from villages in the region gathered in Lunkaransar to engage in various activities and learn skills in a safe and playful environment.
During the fair, Gill set up a makeshift studio in the desert and invited young women to have their portraits taken. Props were sourced locally and the subjects were asked to choose how and with whom they wished to be photographed. Gill also led workshops teaching basic photographic skills and darkroom techniques. In 2010, she returned to a second fair to exhibit her portraits and take new ones.
Nearly life-size in black and white, Kanta and Raami, with their direct gazes and spare compositions, are two of the most compelling portraits from the first Balika Mela series.