If you happen to be in Vermont…

We are so happy to announce a solo show of this work will be opening at Reciprocity Studios in Vermont (USA) on june 3, 2011. If you are there, or know some one who knows someone who is there, please visit. Laura El-Tantawy will unfortunately not be there herself, but you can

Opening Friday June 3, 2011 Reciprocity Gallery, Vermont



“Not Yet” she said…

I hate goodbyes.

Somehow I have spent most of my life saying goodbye in one place and hello in another knowing this hello would soon be goodbye and the cycle will continue to churn with me right in the middle of it. You would think I would be accustomed to this emotional roller coaster by now, but in fact, the more goodbyes I make the more aware I become of what it really means. The separation, distance and the ultimate longing for one more day — one more minute.

In its essence, the work I am doing here is about hello and goodbye: life and death. It’s about time and how temporary it is. It was nearly three weeks ago that I arrived here and started to meet with families. The more people I spoke to the more perplexed I became. One mother said suicide was the only option left for her son as he owed too much money. The last family I interviewed I asked a widowed woman had she ever thought of committing suicide herself? she answered: “Not Yet”.

I felt paralyzed.

Today in the paper I read four people had committed suicide in isolated incidents, three of them in their 30’s (my age). The questions I have carried with me throughout this work I will by taking back with me unanswered:  Why is suicide the only option? Is the human spirit so invaluable? Do people feel their life is completely worthless, their condition so deplorable, they see no point in living?

Now my time in India is as its end and once again the hellos I made weeks ago have become goodbyes. With a heavy heart I bid farewell to Mangeesh and Tushar yesterday.

Mangeesh at dam © Laura El-Tantawy 2011

Tushar washing hands in Dham River © Laura El-Tantawy 2011

What can I say to these men except that I will remember them forever. Together we went on this journey and together we tried to understand. I felt some comfort when I discovered they too were as perplexed as I was by what is happening to the farming community here.

In the middle of nothingness Tushar & Mangeesh © Laura El-Tantawy 2011

Now I am reflecting on what just happened. All the nervousness and deep angst I felt the months and days before arriving here seemed to last forever and yet my time here went by so quickly. Again I think of hello and goodbye, but most of all I am wondering if I have done the right thing. Did I do this story justice? A sense of responsibility like non I have ever felt.

In the last few weeks it seems like I spent an eternity of time roaming government offices. I can’t tell you how many times I was told to wait 10-15 minutes and ended up sitting for nearly an hour or two waiting for the official to arrive or for the horizon to be lined up just the right way for things to work out. I also hate waiting and patience is my virtue only when I am behind the camera. But this whole idea of time and the concept of time I am very much aware of.

In a government office (1) © Laura El-Tantawy 2011

In a government office (2) © Laura El-Tantawy 2011

In a government office (3) © Laura El-Tantawy 2011

In Egypt things are exactly the same and getting anything done at a government agency means you have to dedicate at least an entire day and you should also pencil in a few more days because you will going back as nothing gets done. Employees are not at their desks and the scene inside the offices is reminiscent of the scene on the streets: chaos. you spend hour upon hour peeling through red tape and bureaucratic measures that can not be of value in this time and age, but surely they do to the employee who is not at his desk yet, but will be here in 10-15 minutes. Could this bureaucracy be a legacy of the British colonialists?

Archive in government office © Laura El-Tantawy 2011

With officers at police station © Laura El-Tantawy 2011

Yesterday I stood in a cotton field and tried to take in the smells and sounds. Cows mooing, birds chirping and a slight breeze, extremely hot to melt your insides, but still, it was a breeze amid excruciating temperatures and somehow it revived me. I knelt down and dug deep into the soil. I took a large chunk with me and I will return it with me to London. My own slice of India which I intend to cherish.

Toursitic diversion (1) at Gandhi's house in Sewagram © Laura El-Tantawy 2011

Touristic diversion (2) at Buddhist Temple © Laura El-Tantawy 2011

Now I fly to Mumbai for a few days. I will be hosted at my friend’s house and I am eagerly looking forward to seeing a familiar face after weeks of unfamiliarity. I will introduce you….

Laura / illdieforyoustaff.

The Solution?

Over the past three days I have met 17 families who have lost a close relative to suicide.

With the exception of three or four cases, all the families have lost someone last year or in 2011. I still cannot believe the extent of this epidemic and how it seems so strong to stop. No one has come up with a convincing solution to solve this — not the government and no one else I have come across. There are theories but nothing tangible.

Today I interviewed Dr. Vijay Jawandhia. He is a well respected figure in the community where I am working. Mr. Vijay comes from a farming family and he only moved to the nearest city from his village due to medical reasons. He fights for farmer’s rights. His opinion is the solution has to come from the government and what they need to do is subsidize agriculture in India. If this does not happen, the suicides will continue.

At home with Mr. Vijay Jawandhia & his wife © Laura El-Tantawy 2011

“The farmers are living because they are not dying,” Mr. Vijay said. It is true and it is something that has resonated through every family I have come across. They are living because living is all they can do and for those who have lost the will to live, suicide was the way out.

It’s extremely depressing and there are moments over the past days where the intensity of this story has hit me right over the head. Yesterday I met a family where a young man had committed suicide. He was having a normal day, as described by the family, but at some point he went out of the house, drank pesticide, then started to scream. He said: “I drank pesticide. I am dying. My life is over.” He died in his four-year-old son’s arms. The boy, Sameer (below) started to cry when his mother related this and there I was — hit over the head with a hammer. I felt a sense of shame and responsibility this child, now six, had to suffer through this again. As if having his father die in his own arms was not enough.

With Sameer on doorstep to their house © Laura El-Tantawy 2011

In another situation I met a family where the father had committed suicide. When I asked how, they said he hung himself and pointed to the ceiling above my head. I looked up to find a piece of rope, still tied in a loop dangling from the ceiling. My imagination tried to picture this medium built man in his last moments as he tried to gasp for air while his neck choked under the tight piece of rope. What were his last thoughts? Last words?

I am overwhelmed by a sense of responsibility. Questions of right or wrong. I have no answers as of yet, but I am continuing to ask. when I stop asking I think I will become arrogant and I don’t want to be. Few families have asked me if the work I am doing will hurt them? Today one woman whose 18-year-old daughter had committed suicide cried and told me “We are poor people”. She said many policeman had come to their house, asking questions about this or that but not doing anything. What do I tell her? I wish I had answers in the form of something I could present that would take their pain away. I can not promise because the worst promise is one which goes unfulfilled but what if anything can I say…….

I want you to meet some of the people I have met here. I have come to fall in love with this landscape and the people who inhabit it. Despite the heat, this is a perfect time to be here. So many elements of nature are thriving and the farms are like slices of the jungle. I have seen monkeys, horses, camels, rare birds, hogs, cattle, sheep and then some. They all roam the fields and everyday on the road is a surprise, whether it’s the light, the encounters, the people or simply the smell. I am so happy to be here and must introduce you to my companions on this journey, Mangeesh and Tushar (below). Mangeesh is working with me as my translator and Tushar is the man behind the wheel throughout this exploration. I could not and would not have been able to do anything without these two men and together we are a team.

The Team (L-R) Mangeesh, Laura, Tushar © Laura El-Tantawy 2011

A Slice of the Jungle © Laura El-Tantawy 2011

Tomorrow I will be meeting a local musician singing songs of praise.

Now it’s half an hour from mid night and I need to catch some sleep. Back soon.

Laura / illdieforyoustaff.

Meet Shuvajit…

Shuvajit Payne © Laura El-Tantawy 2011

Shuvajit you will come to know well over the next few weeks. He has been a great help for me over the last few weeks – helping me get set-up with hotel in wardha (where i arrived this evening), translators, info about suicides, etc. He wants to learn more about photography and he will be going out with me on some of the shoots. I hope I don’t disappoint him.

So here are some pictures from the hotel I am staying. It’s a small village so not many options here. I think I will not be sleeping on the bed because the bugs have beat me to it. There is small leather sofa that looks comfortable and I have decided to settle there. The bugs don’t seem to like it much.

bed © Laura El-Tantawy 2011

shower facility in hotel © Laura El-Tantawy 2011

food and rolls of film © Laura El-Tantawy 2011

bed bugs © Laura El-Tantawy 2011

Tomorrow will be a key day. It’s when I will go out and start to actually work. I have a small boiler and a metal pot which Shu (nickname for Shuvajit – hope he approves) helped me buy. Him and the driver are concerned I will make it the next few weeks eating nothing but junk food (crisps, chocolate, juice, soda, etc), boiled eggs and ramen-style noodles, which I’m about to dive into a cup of now actually. Bon Appetite…..

So I’ll leave you on this note.

© Laura El-Tantawy 2011

Laura / illdieforyoustaff.

Back in India

I arrived in Mumbai early this morning. The minute I walked off the plane I was hit by that whiff of India.

I am now anxious to get to work. I have been sidetracked so much over the past few months that my presence here has been delayed for much longer than I had hoped. But on the positive side, I have never been to India in May and despite of the hot weather, which everyone has been keen to warn me of, I am looking forward to the villages this time of year. The crops will be at a different part in the harvesting cycle.

Mumbai street scene © Laura El-Tantawy 2011

I did not do very much today aside from going out to get a local sim card and make sure everything I need I have before going out into the rural areas. I intend to keep you posted here with all my updates and will only not do so if the internet is in short. So pls accept my apologies if this is the case.

Back to you soon.

Laura El-Tantawy / illdieforyoustaff.

Humankind – winning entries slideshow


New York Photo Festival just posted a slideshow today featuring all the winning entries featured in the exhibition. Such a diverse and rich selection. Please check it out and visit the exhibit if you are NYC-based. It’s open at the Powerhouse Arena in Dumbo until February 6.

“Humankind” exhibit – extended

Just heard from organizers of “Humankind” exhibition the show has been extended an extra two weeks. If you have not had a chance to see it, we urge you to try to check it out. It features an amazing body of work by about 30 artists from around the world — and of course if features “I’ll Die For You”. It’s at the Powerhouse Arena in Brooklyn , NYC. The show will be closing on February 6, 2011, so mark your calenders.

Thank you from the illdieforyou team.