The Sleeping Beauty project is a collaboration between an Italian photographer and an Indian who photographs dead people in Varanasi and it is less macabre than it sounds, writes Alice Sharma
Death is that time which nobody wants to memorize, but people call Death photographers to capture their beloved deceased in Varanasi. 26 years old Indra Kumar Jha, who lives and works on the sacred River Ganges—where approximately 300 bodies are cremated daily is one of the few Death photographers of Varanasi. He works 16 hours a day and earns anything between 1500-2500 Rs per day.
Not caring much about the social stigma attached to his job, Jha click these pictures with a canon camera and then prints them in his small photo lab. The photos serve not only as an enduring memory of the loved one for families, but also as a kind of death certificate to prove the family member is dead. The bodies come from all over India, often tied with a rope over cars and auto rickshaws.
Matteo De Mayda, an Italian photographer worked closely with Indra, photographing him at work for one of his project which later turned into a series called Sleeping Beauty.
De Mayda, a photographer and art director who focuses on good causes through collaborations with NGOs or by making documentaries, knew he’d found his photographic story. The initial idea was to photograph Jha at work at the “burning ghats” (funeral pyres) of Varanasi. But when de Mayda saw prints on Jha’s shop wall, he quickly realized that the most interesting part of the work were his images.
The most astonishing part of Jha’s work was his style. Mayda was taken aback by the fact that without any prior training he was into technicalities. When Jha was 17 years old, he bought a small camera and began shooting without any previous photographic education.
De Mayda places Jha’s death photography in the tradition of the post-mortem photography that was common with infants and young children of Victorian Era because childhood mortality rates were extremely high. A post-mortem photograph might be the only image of a child the surviving family members would ever have. De Mayda says that the title of his and Jha’s collection is a nod to the Sleeping Beauty book series that explores this culture. Check out some of the images below.