Faces fashion won't show you: Photography project casts migrant labourers as models

Did you say stereotypes?
Faces fashion won't show you: Photography project casts migrant labourers as models
Faces fashion won't show you: Photography project casts migrant labourers as models
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Wearing an off-white shirt and an indigo pyjama, Anivas stands tall with his hands comfortably tucked inside his pant pockets. With his right leg stretched out, he looks away from the camera while standing against a light blue wall. Without even a hint of a smile, his gleaming eyes belie his expressions.


Avinas is a migrant labourer from Manipur, who had come to Kerala in search of a job. At 26, he did his first modelling project in Thiruvananthapuram for a clothing brand DesiTude, away from the rubble of the construction site where he works. 

How it came about

DesiTude is a Khadi clothing brand launched over a year ago, which is primarily into Khadi demins. It is run by Siddharth Mohan Nair, a native of Palakkad. 

When Siddharth decided that his clothing brand should do a photography shoot for their apparels, he was clear that he did not want it to be the cliched ones, with only "good looking people."

"When we had the first set of clothes ready for photography, I had one thing in mind. That the people who wear these and pose should be real people with no cosmetic makeup. I did not want models or "good looking" people. I also wanted the photographs to be natural and raw. The idea behind this was that I wanted to try and make an attempt to break beauty stereotypes. Fair, slim and tall, with sharp facial features are the traits that any brand looks for in people who they want as their models. Only such people are shown to us as beautiful. There is pressure on other people to try and look like them, an attempt in which they obviously fail and then get disappointed. I wanted to try and break this through DesiTude's photography," Siddharth tells TNM.

While Siddharth had clarity on his requirements, the next step was to find a photographer who shared the same ideology as him. And this search wasn't all that difficult, he says. 

"When the first set of clothes were being readied, I was talking to a few of my friends about the need for a photographer who would appreciate and share similar thoughts and that is when one of my friends, Sara, told me about Anjali Gopan. The moment Sara and I spoke to her about this, she said yes! She was very excited about this. She said that though she had done fashion shoots for clothing labels before, none had come to her with such a demand. What you see today is all her work. Her aesthetics is something DesiTude is lucky to have a share of. Full credit should go to her," Siddharth says. 

And so, ordinary people, from school and college students to engineers, advocates, artists, domestic helps and migrant labourers became their models. People, who have never posed in front a camera, let alone for a photoshoot. 

"The message that we are trying to send is that every individual is beautiful. There need not be any pressure to try and look like "models" or "superstars." We want people to ignore what brands portray as beauty, and adopt body positivity and carry their natural individuality with pride," he says.


A post shared by DesiTude (@desitude) on

Choosing migrant labourers was however, a well-thought out idea. While Siddharth and Anjali were adamant that they wanted ordinary people to model for them, the idea of including migrant labourers came to them during the course of the shoot.

"There was, honestly, no thought of having any particular section of people in the beginning. The only criteria that Anjali and I had in mind was that ordinary people should pose without any cosmetic makeup. As the project progressed and as we kept discussing what we should do next, Anjali told me of a personal project that she wanted to do which included people from diverse backgrounds in terms of geographies, physique, colour. That discussion led us to thinking if we could do something similar in DesiTude. A shoot with migrant labourers was something that came up then. For me, getting them to pose for us was an attempt to give them a sense of acceptance in an alien place where they go for work, a place where they are treated badly, teased, even framed in crimes that happen. But for Anjali, it was all about representation and aesthetics; she wanted as many people as possible to be represented in our photography. She was and still continues to be fascinated by their personalities and is intrigued by the fact that their faces do not make it to billboards," Siddharth explains.

He adds that while migrant labourers come to Kerala in search of better jobs and do so much for the state, they are seldom treated with respect. When we approached these migrant labourers, they were pleasantly surprised. but agreed readily, Siddarth points out. 

How the shoots are done

Anjali is a Thiruvananthapuram-based photographer and so the shoots take place in the city. Anjalil approaches people she comes across on a daily basis. While some are eager to contribute, some others are skeptical and turn down her requests. 

Vijayalakshmi, a native of Tamil Nadu

The photoshoots happen mostly at Anjali's residence, Siddharth points out. 

"Anjali met Avinas at a construction site in Thiruvananthapuram and honestly, he was one of the people who agreed to work with us without a second thought. When she met him, Avinas was planning to leave Kerala and go to some other state to work. He told her that he had worked in many places in Kerala and he wanted to move on to other places. While we worked with him a couple of months ago, Avinas has now left Kerala," he says.

This is an ongoing project and the team hopes to get more people to shoot from diverse backgrounds, irrespective of their age, colour or nationality. 

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