Title: Witness Kashmir 1986-2016 / Nine Photographers
Photographer(s): Meraj Ud Din, Javeed Shah, Dar Yasin, Javed Dar, Showkat Nanda, Altaf Qadri, Syed Shahriyar, Sumit Dayal, and Azaan Shah.
Writer(s): Sanjay Kak
Designer(s): Itu Chaudhuri
Publisher(s): Yaarbal Books, New Delhi, India
Size: 18 x 24 cm
Binding: Hardcover, Swiss binding with string
Print: Naveen Printers, New Delhi, India
Nation(s) and year(s) of Protest: Kashmir, India, 1986 - 2016
kyoorius blue elephant award, 2017 | cii design excellence awards, 2017
Witness, published by Yaarbal and edited by Sanjay Kak, in presenting select frames of nine of Kashmir’s leading and emerging photojournalists (there are other equally good photojournalists in Kashmir, the process of whose work to include in the book must have been like the framing of a photograph, it focuses on what is inside the frame, but what is excluded is as important), not only documents the period between 1986 and 2016 in the ever-turbulent valley, but also subtly joins in the search for answers to these questions and more. Early on, one of the more intriguing feature of the book that catches the eye is the fact that despite coming from very similar backgrounds and being subject to almost the same social and political forces, the photojournalists whose work appears in the book present an array of approaches to photography. Yet there are enough similarities to cast a hopeful net for an aesthetics of Kashmiri photography. They are all men, self-taught for the most part, with the period of armed insurrection and India’s bloody counter-insurgency playing a big role in shaping their personal and professional lives. Only Sumit Dayal can be considered an outsider, but only at first, until you realize that the political conflict in Kashmir is not always merely the solid objects in the photograph, but also the long shadows creeping into and out of those photographs, agitating the frame.
background As a photobook, Witness collects the work of nine photojournalists whose work spans the three tumultuous decades that have made Kashmir—known as “Paradise on Earth”— just as famous as a disputed area, a theatre of war and a site of protest framed in its aspiration of ‘azaadi’ (independence). Curated by a documentary filmmaker, himself a Kashmiri, the project rests on his interest in uncovering the work of these photojournalists, engaging with a conflict zone that they call home, yet being professional ‘witnesses’—giving the book its title. objective Conceptualised during Kashmir’s unrest of 2016 (the aftermath of the killing of a militant commander by the armed forces) this book was an opportunity to departs from the expected Kashmir photo book, and reflect Kashmir’s complex and agitated state. Unlike a news publication where these recurring images of violence appear individually and transiently, the challenge for the book was to create a cohesive narrative of Kashmir. structure For the reader, this book intends to be a document compiling fragments of the lives of the Kashmiri people, that disturbs, moves and informs. A careful edit of the images was done to reveal the ‘new normals’ of unrest in Kashmir, that is hidden from daily news, but is important to the story of resilience and sustained conflict. As a document that gathers pieces of the personal as well as the collective memory of Kashmir and it’s people, the design attempts had to be evocative but not stray into becoming overtly sentimental, distracting from the journalism aspect of the images. design and layout The physical form of the book suggests a casefile, as if to collect and preserve for memory a bundle of evidence of the conflict, over the decades of 1986–2016. The design of the book as an object physically engages the reader, making him a part of the volatile and all consuming nature of life in a conflict. Gatefolds, postcards and foldouts form peaks of surprise, shock and unease within the level flow of the narrative. Varying formats, crops of images, and sub-narratives pace the narrative and in a cinematic manner, draw the reader closer or avert them. A reference section, on yellow paper offers a detailed caption for each image. They are chronologically arranged and also refer to certain repetitive yet sustained subjects of Kashmir’s conflict like counterinsurgency, elections and disappearances.
By the Designer