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Raising Funds and Awareness through Photobooks: Bhopal

Cover of Bhopal: Second Disaster
Bhopal: Second Disaster with photographs by Alex Masi, is the second book resulting from the annual FotoEvidence Book Award. The grant supports and encourages documentary photographers highlighting human rights violations and social injustice, ultimately publishing their project. The second publication is designed and sequenced much as the first, Javier Arcenillas' Sicarios: Latin American Assassins, with black paper-wrapped cover printed with one of the artist's images on front and back cover, opening essay, plates, interview with the artist and plate listing. Aside from branding of the book and the work fitting in with the mission of the grant, the images are quite different. Masi uses color as his medium and he captures a region half-a-world away from Arcenillas' subject, but that also suffers from the aftereffects of a manmade tragedy. As the name suggests, Masi focused his energies in India's Bhopal, where on December 3, 1984, 30 metric tons of methyl isocyanate (MIC) leaked from a Union Carbide (now Dow Chemical) plant killing thousands of people. Since the manmade disaster, thousands more who were not killed in the initial wave have faced many challenges. One of the greatest issues of the remaining pollution are birth defects resulting from the contaminated environment.


Bhopal: Second Disaster
Bhopal: Second Disaster

 Masi shows the lives of those struggling in the region surrounding the defunct skeleton of the Union Carbide plant. Many of the images show female caretakers, wrapped in scarlet reds, turquoise blues, mustard yellows. Each lovingly feeding, clothing, washing and treating the children who suffer from varying degrees of neurological and physical disorders. Masi started the project in April 2009 and two of the children photographed have since died. His photos are documents, but also poems: Fourteen year old Faizan -one of the children who has passed away - sitting in his home holding a flower above his malformed legs; six year old Poonam faces skyward as the monsoon rains fall around her. The medium of color adds to the vibrancy that I associate with India and does not detract from the seriousness of the subject.


Bhopal: Second Disaster
This medium also lends itself to the next section of the book where Masi features his view of hope in Bhopal. Masi show us children participating in a "Puja" ceremony for an auspicious beginning, in this case of a new tailor shop; celebrating at various Indian and Hindu festivals and playing in the surrounding water and rain showers. The reminder of the pollution is all around: in the plant, in the water, and the children whose genes did not escape the pollutants, but the people still persist. As of the book's publication, Dow Chemical was still resisting responsibility for the cleanup of this region. Masi hopes this project "will become an active catalyst for the promotion of awareness, action and change for the people of Bhopal." Documentary photography maybe losing some of its power to affect change as it had in years past, but this publication should bring much needed attention to a tragedy and region that has long been forgotten by much of the world, but that is still in need of attention of those who can help.

Bhopal: Second Disaster
Masi has received many grants to fund the project, including the Getty Images Grant for Good, Focus on Humanity Fellowship and The Photographers Giving Back Award and hopes to do a second book and documentary on the project. Masi has also worked with the NGO The Bhopal Medical Appeal that offers education, medicine, physical therapy and other treatments to the many children who are still suffering. Information about this organization can be found at www.bhopal.org.

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