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Heroes in a 100 Faces
A project 5 years in the making
Greetings from Bangalore, India!
I’m incredibly excited to announce my biggest project yet - Heroes in a 100 Faces.
It is a compilation of 100 portraits and stories from across India, taken over the last 5 years. It is the crowning jewel of my people photography (for now…).
I have been overwhelmed by how well this project has been received. I woke up the next morning to find every inbox (Gmail, Instagram, Twitter) BOMBARDED with messages telling me how much they loved the piece. I had a mini celebrity moment when I had to figure out a 100 different ways to say thank you to all these wonderful souls.
I go into more detail about the project below.
Here are some links I enjoyed this week:
- , who is also a passionate reader of my newsletter! Read it whether or not you’re interested in the book. It’s worth it.
Greatest Studio Ghibli Soundtracks: Need some music to get you into the flow? This Studio Ghibli piano compilation really works…
City Nature Challenge: Exploring neighbourhoods for citizen science: An article on citizen science in Mumbai by my friend and budding conservationist Malaika Mathew Chawla.
If you support my work (and want a free reading list), SUBSCRIBE!
I am reminded of a story. I was flying from Bangalore to Delhi when I was seated next to a man and his daughter. In the spirit of politeness, I engaged them in a bit of small talk. Amiable pleasantries, nothing more.
The girl was spoilt, constantly asking her father to entertain her. But to no avail, for the father had taken a great liking to me. At once he started talking.
And he didn’t stop.
After 45 mins, I gently thanked him and put on my headphones—the universal symbol of LEAVE-ME-ALONE. But he didn’t get it. On and on he rambled. For the entire flight, I had to listen to his life-story; how he was an alpha-male in college, how he had 6-pack abs and how he ADORED his Royal Enfield bike. Those 3 hours were the most bizarre I’ve felt in a long time.
I left the aircraft with an important insight - everyone has a story they want to share, but no one to share it with.
They just want someone to hear them out.
As part of my passions, I travel to all sorts of places. To buzzing metros like Tokyo and Hong Kong to remote villages like Majuli and Peechad. (Ever heard of it? It isn’t even on Google Maps!)
During these travels, I meet so many people from all walks of life. And one thread I see across is that everyone has a unique tale to share. I mean, there are 8 billion people in the world. 8 BILLION. Think of the number of stories! Man, I get shivers thinking about it.
Another observation I’ve made is that we, as a species, have grown too obsessed with looks. There is an entire industry dedicated to products that cover up skin blemishes and “imperfections”. Social media, movies and magazines all cater to this narrative of “perfection”.
I say, embrace your blemishes. Let’s show off these imperfections. It is in our pimples, wrinkles and asymmetrical faces that we find beauty. In our uniqueness. Whatever you walk of life, your position in society, we are united in our diversity. It is feminism, equality and believing in ourselves-all rolled into one.
In this project, I tie those threads together. In doing so, I hope to celebrate ordinary people, with all their imperfections. These people might not be pretty. Heck, they might not even be nice (one person I shot physically harassed me after). But they are beautiful in their own right. And there is a difference.
It is time we celebrate authenticity. My friendcaptures this in this one simple line - There is no beauty standard, there is just beauty. It lives within all of us. ( Her latest issue is about accepting our beauty. READ IT)
For this project, I’ve deliberately focused on working class people. Ordinary people that most overlook. We need to acknowledge them. We need to validate them. They too have an important place in this world. Emulating one of my favourite authors Hajime Isayama, “we all are special because we are born into this world.”
I have an ambitious vision of Heroes in a 100 Faces. I’m throwing my stake in the ground here. The values I hope to embody through this project are a key part of what I and my work stand for. I hope to continue shooting with this vision, and seeing where it will take me. I will continue shooting ordinary folk. Maybe a photo-book is waiting for me in the years ahead…
Many people know me solely for my work and enthusiasm around the natural world. While that is one of the major parts of my life, it isn’t my ONLY passion. Humanism is another subject dear to my heart.
I want to thank everyone that has been part of this endeavour. Know this:
I’m just getting started.
If you support my work (and want a free reading list), SUBSCRIBE!
(For those of you missed last week’s issue, I share my primary inspiration behind this project - Mihaela Noroc. She is a Romanian photographer who travelled the world, photographing its diversity of women. Her work - The Atlas of Beauty - celebrates the incredible array of beautiful women of our world. I am incredibly touched by her work and message. )
“Real beauty has no bounds. One can find it anywhere, in a village or in a skyscraper, in a gesture, in an intense gaze or in some wrinkles: Real beauty is in our differences.
While traveling, I noticed that there’s a lot of pressure on women to look and behave in a certain way. In some environments it is the pressure to look attractive. In others, on the contrary, it is the pressure to look modest. But every woman should be free to explore her own beauty without feeling any pressure from marketing campaigns, trends, or social norms.
Real beauty comes from inside, inspiring serenity and humanity, so if our outsides are natural and authentic, our insides will be more visible. We need to learn to be ourselves, but to do that we also have to learn to let other people be themselves.”
One of the portraits/stories that did not make it into Heroes in a 100 Faces.
He was a man I met while roaming through a vegetable market in Bangalore. I’ve found that these places are where you can interact with regular, middle-class people. They are some of the nicest folks you’ll ever meet.
I complimented him on his bright mask, which brought a wide smile onto his face. I couldn’t see it, but the crinkling of his eyes told me so…
“Breaking into the room. I could not breathe. I could not feel my presence on the Earth. That is what a breathless moment is, does, and there is nothing like it.” - James Tippins, my friend from Write of Passage who writes theSlayer of Sadness, Stormer of Brains
Have a creative, energetic and inspiring week!
If you’re new, welcome to The Owlet! My name is Ishan Shanavas, and I am an Artist, Photographer, Writer and Student of the Natural World.
Here I talk about my work, along with curating the most interesting ideas on the internet. I confine them to topics like Nature, Culture, Photography, and Art but often fall prey to other genres.
I would greatly appreciate it if you shared my newsletter and work with your friends. It really helps me out :)