Kristian Bertel | Photography
Archive story
In this archive story we are wandering at the Dharavi Main Rd in Mumbai, India.
Read the background story of this archive photo by the photographer.
This portrait of a smoking young man was taken in the Dharavi area of Mumbai in India and is one of the world's largest and most concentrated slums. Dharavi's streets are a living canvas, painted with the hues of survival. Here, the photographer encountered faces that defy adversity, eyes that have witnessed both hardship and hope. As you lift your camera, remember that each portrait carries a thousand untold tales.
This portrait of a smoking young man was taken in the Dharavi area of Mumbai in India and is one of the world's largest and most concentrated slums. Dharavi's streets are a living canvas, painted with the hues of survival. Here, the photographer encountered faces that defy adversity, eyes that have witnessed both hardship and hope. As you lift your camera, remember that each portrait carries a thousand untold tales.
Kristian Bertel, Photographer By Kristian Bertel, Photographer
– Updated on March 22, 2024

Dharavi Main Rd portraiture

As you wander Dharavi Main Road, your lens will frame stories of struggle, hope and tenacity. The narrow alleys, vibrant colors and bustling activity offer endless photographic opportunities. Seek out the play of light and shadow, the laughter of children and the lines etched on weathered faces.

How do you approach with empathy as a photographer?

Before you click the shutter, engage with empathy. These are not just subjects because they are people, mothers, fathers, children, artisans and dreamers. Seek permission, exchange smiles and let your lens capture their essence. Remember, a photograph is more than pixels it is a connection.

The unconventional neighborhood
Dharavi, often dubbed as one of the most unusual places in India, defies conventional notions of poverty. Nestled within the sprawling metropolis of Mumbai, it occupies a mere 2 km² but teems with life, creativity and enterprise and this densely populated area is home to an estimated 2 to 6 million people, which is the highest population density in the world.

Portraits of Dharavi with faces etched in time
Despite their challenging circumstances, Dharavi’s residents have woven intricate networks of support. The slum boasts over 100 temples, mosques and churches, reflecting the diverse fabric of its inhabitants. Women sell colorful clothing on dusty sidewalks, whiledogs sniff at plastic bags. A gnarled banyan tree seems to embrace one of the houses and a shrine honors the revered Indian guru Sai Baba. It is a microcosm of resilience, faith and survival. As a photographer, you will encounter the resilient faces of Dharavi's slum children. Many of them migrated from rural areas with their families, seeking a better life in the city and these youngsters live and work on the streets, their days often spent in many shifts at plastic recycling units. Education is a luxury for them, as they juggle work and survival. Only about 10 percent manage to secure stable jobs, such as selling goods at street crossings or working in tea shops.

"Dharavi juxtaposes poverty and industry, tradition and modernity. Document the makeshift workshops, where artisans craft leather goods, pottery and textiles. Capture the essence of survival – the determination etched in eyes that have seen both hardship and joy"

Dharavi's youth with resilience in every step
Dharavi's main street, lined with shops and small businesses, pulses with energy. Vegetable traders, hardware stores, convenience kiosks, a bank, a supermarket and sari sellers all coexist. Here, Kristian Bertel | Photography encountered a tapestry of humanity such as the young, the old, women, children. They shop, run errands and go about their daily lives, each step etching their stories into the pavement. In the labyrinthine alleys of Dharavi, children walk hand in hand, their laughter echoing against the concrete walls. Bicycles laden with cargo weave through the throngs of people with motorbikes swerving, vegetable stalls bustling. Amidst this orchestrated chaos, the youngsters find their rhythm. Remember, Dharavi is not just about poverty – it is about craftsmanship. Photograph the leather tanners, the potters, the recyclers. Their hands tell stories, their fingers stained with color, their tools worn but purposeful. These unsung heroes deserve their spotlight.

"Dharavi's youth defy stereotypes. Some are born here, while others migrate from rural areas with their families, seeking a better life. They live in slums or on the outskirts of the city. Their playgrounds are sewers, pipes and narrow lanes. These resilient souls work in the streets, often in 9-to-6 shifts at plastic recycling units. Education remains a luxury for many because only about 10 percent secure stable jobs, selling goods at street crossings or working in tea shops"

Beyond poverty in Dharavi
Dharavi. The name alone conjures images of stark poverty, cramped living conditions and desperatin. As a traveling photographer, he had mixed feelings about visiting this infamous slum in Mumbai. While he was eager to capture its unique story, he was also wary of contributing to voyeuristic tourism and his journey through Dharavi, however, shattered preconceived notions and left him with a profound respect for its resilience and spirit.

The photographer's curiousity led him through bustling marketplaces overflowing with colorful spices, freshly baked bread and handcrafted goods. Here, life pulsed with an entrepreneurial spirit. Families huddled together, sorting recyclable materials with practiced efficiency, their faces etched with determination, not despair. In a tucked-away corner, he witnessed a group of women meticulously hand-painting intricate designs on silk scarves, their artistry adding a touch of beauty to their harsh reality.

"Stepping into Dharavi was like entering another world. Narrow lanes wound their way between tightly packed structures, their corrugated metal walls adorned with vibrant street art. The air thrummed with the symphony of everyday life – the rhythmic clatter of workshops, the melodic calls of street vendors and the laughter of children playing amidst the chaos. Poverty was evident, yes, but it was not the defining narrative"

Countless smiles and curious glances
As he navigated the labyrinthine alleys, he encountered countless smiles and curious glances. Children, their eyes sparkling with mischief, offered to pose for photographs, their unbridled joy a stark contrast to their surroundings. Elders, weathered by time, shared stories of their struggles and aspirations, their resilience palpable in their weathered hands. Their hospitality, despite their limited means, humbled him deeply. The experience was not without its challenges, because the living conditions were undeniably difficult, the sanitation inadequate and the constant struggle for basic necessities evident. Yet, amidst the hardship, he witnessed a community bound by an unwavering spirit and neighbors greeted each other with warmth, children played with boundless energy and small businesses thrived on ingenuity and grit.

Leaving Dharavi, he carried with him not just photographs, but a newfound understanding. Poverty may be a harsh reality, but it does not define the human spirit. Dharavi's residents are not simply statistics – they are individuals brimming with resilience, creativity and hope. The photographer's visit was not about capturing poverty, but about showcasing the extraordinary spirit that thrives within it. This experience has transformed his approach to photography. It is a reminder that true storytelling goes beyond aesthetics – it delves into the human experience with empathy and respect. Dharavi taught him that the most powerful photographs are not just images, but windows into the souls of those they depict. And that, perhaps, is the most valuable souvenir he brought back from this remarkable journey.

"It is crucial to approach visiting Dharavi with respect and sensitivity. Responsible tourism involves choosing ethical tours operated by local organizations that give back to the community, avoiding photographing individuals without their consent and being mindful of your impact on the environment. Remember, you are a guest in their community and treating them with dignity is paramount"

See this video about Dharavi in Mumbai made by She' Walkin.

The photographer's own experience being in Dharavi
"- As a photographer, focus on their eyes,the windows to their souls. The old man's eyes crinkled with wisdom, the young girl's eyes brimming with dreams. Capture their vulnerability, their resilience. Each gaze tells a chapter of survival against the odds. Dharavi's youth aren't just statistics – they are the backbone of micro-enterprises. Leather tanners, potters, recyclers – these unsung heroes shape the slum's economy. Their hands, stained with color, work tirelessly. Document their craft, their determination. You should remember, these portraits aren't mere pixels – they are lives. Seek permission, engage with empathy. Respect their privacy. Your lens should empower, not exploit. Share your work with sensitivity and consider giving back to the community that welcomed you. Dharavi's streets pulse with the heartbeat of its youth. Frame their faces, let their stories unfolld. Through your lens, celebrate their resilience, their dreams and their unwavering spirit", the Photographer says again.

"- As a traveling photographer Dharavi Main Road isn't just a physical route – it's a journey into the human spirit, where you should embrace its contradictions, celebrate its resilience and honor the lives etched into its walls. Through your lens, reveal the beauty that emerges from adversity. So, step onto Dharavi Main Road, adjust your aperture and let its stories unfold – one click at a time"
, the Photographer says again.

Read also:  Garments of India

Garments of India

Read also:  Garments of India

More archive stories

India is a land full of stories. On every street, on every corner and in the many places in India, life is rushing by you as a photographer with millions of stories to be told. In the archive story above, you hopefully had a readable insight in the story that was behind the photo of a young man in Dharavi. On this website of Kristian Bertel | Photography you can find numerous travel pictures from the photographer. Stories and moments that tell the travel stories of how the photographer captured the specific scene that you see in the picture. The photographer's images have a story behind them, images that all are taken from around India throughout his photo journeys. The archive stories delve into Kristian's personal archive to reveal never-before-seen, including portraits and landscapes beautifully produced snapshots from various travel assignments. The archive is so-far organized into photo stories, this one included, each brought to life by narrative text and full-color photos. Together, these fascinating stories tell a story about the life in India. India, the motherland to many people around the world, a land of unforgetable travel moments. The archive takes viewers on a spectacular visual journey through some of the most stunning photographs to be found in the photographer's archive collection. The photographer culled the images to reflect the many variations on the universal theme of beauty and everyday life in India. By adding these back stories the photographer's work might immensely enhanced the understanding of the photographs.