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In Conversation With Purnima Sahgal

Nirmala Garimella
11/20/2014

Purnima Sahgal is a freelance graphic designer and presently at CHA-VoV program for her second year placement. She is a student at the Simmons College of Social Work and a MSW Candidate May 2015
Her activities and societies include Dean’s fellow and a recipient of distinguished Deborah Feldstein Bartfeld Memorial Scholarship, 2014. Purnima recently exhibited a photo essay depicting paths of compassion: the soul of social work.

How did you get interested in photography? Give us details about your recent photo exhibit?
I have always been interested in photography. I used to do a lot of b&w while I was at RISd, including experimenting with pinhole photography. For the last five years have been using a digital camera.It was held at Simmons School of Social Work. 35 photographs were exhibited called paths of compassion: the soul of social work,, a photo essay that seeks to connect the viewer with the gravitas and compassion visible in the auras of so many who are otherwise economically and socially underprivileged-September 2014.

What inspired you to do this and where did you find your subjects ?
Ever since I can remember, I have always been curious about people I saw or encountered on the street and wondered what the narrative of their life was and how they might describe it. I took these photographs, two years ago on a trip starting in Nepal, where Shakyamuni Buddha or Gautama Buddha was born, and then through our travels in the eastern INDIAN state of Bihar, where he had spent many years meditating on the sufferings of life and finally attaining enlightenment. 

Any interesting anecdote or story behind any of these ?
I think the photographs speak for themselves. Social work is rooted in empathy and compassion and meeting the client or person in front of us as he/she is-without judgment or prejudice of any sort. Throughout this trip, I encountered numerous individuals who were born in varying degrees of impoverishment. But what struck me with most of them was this inherent dignity of life and a spiritual grounding that I often miss seeing in the Western world. My hope was to capture this through the lens of the camera, not to distort the lens of their being, but to see it as it really is, with an empathetic eye and also a reminder to take with me their life state of acceptance and contentment in an empowering way. I hope you enjoy seeing these photographs and they also awaken your curiosity about the lives of others.Most of the photographs were taken after speaking with the person/s. They all had a story. 

Any other community activities you are involved in?
At the moment I am consumed with college and my clinical placement. I practice Buddhism and have leadership responsibility for Cambridge.  I spend a fair bit of time supporting other practitioners.



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