Zana Briski is best known for her delivering insights into an unseen world through her work in film in photography.
Born in Britain in 1966, Briski’s interest in photography started at the early age of 10. She later went onto earning her master’s at the University of Cambridge; she also studied documentary photography at the International Center of Photography in New York.
Briski went on to creating an Academy Award winning documentary feature for her film, Born into Brothels: Calcutta's Red Light Kids (2004). The film’s inspiration was born out of trips Briski took to India in the late 1990s. In 1997, Briski finally gained access to live in a room inside a brothel within the red light district of Calcutta. Briski, a self-identified photographer, went to the red light district to photograph these women living in brothels, to capture their living conditions and life.
However, as life so often does, Briski’s purpose in Calcutta began to shift in a surprising way. The more Briski interacted with the children of the prostitutes, the more she realized that “something special was happening,” she said in an interview with journalism.com. The children began to take an interest in her cameras, and wanted to learn photography, and so she began to teach them with basic point-and-shoot equipment. “I had never picked up a video camera before, but I bought one and started filming as I was teaching the kids and living in the brothel."
Shot with hardly any budget, Born in a Brothel, conveyed the sad reality that not all children grow up in a place where they believe their hopes and dreams will ever come true. The film focuses on eight children, who are now young adults. Some have gone on to school. Some never made it out of the brothel.
Not only did Briski’s time in India blossom into an Oscar winning documentary, but it led Briski to found the nonprofit, Kids With Cameras to help pay for their schooling. Kids with Cameras went on to establish a safe house, known as Hope House, outside the redlight district for children born in brothels.
Returning to the Still Frame
Though Briski’s documentary received high praise, she returned to her original passion -- photography.
After having a dream about a praying mantis, Briski began her next project. For the last 10 years, Briski has photographed and filmed insects in the wild. The result? REVERENCE, a traveling exhibit that presents insects as “sentient beings.” The project, housed in a transportable 10,000 square foot structure, travels to city parks around the world featuring large-scale photos, film and music.
In her interview with journalism.com, Briski said that REVERENCE is not so different from the work she did in the brothels. She said, she’s still “bringing attention to those who are feared, ignored [and] abused, from their point of view."
- Lisa Zimmermann