"Eye Contact: Windows on the Soul of India," Alan Brigish, The Brigish Collection, Vineyard Haven, 2007, 75 pages, $75 ($35 tax deductible).
"All across India, eye contact is one of the first things you notice," writes photographer Alan Brigish in a forward to his most recent book, "Eye Contact: Windows on the Soul of India." Through a collection of 66 compelling images, the photographer introduces us to men, women, and children from countless walks of life across India. Far from viewing these people as foreign "others," we quickly begin to see them the way Mr. Brigish does - as distinct, striking, individuals sharing in our common humanity. Reading Mr. Brigish's words and looking at his carefully, lovingly captured photos, it is evident that he does not distance himself from the subjects by using his lens as a shield or disguise. Instead, his camera becomes a tool for connecting, appreciating, creating relationship.
The South African-born photographer who now lives in West Tisbury found that his own connections with children of India moved him to do something to improve their lives. He hopes to raise $25,000 from sales of this limited edition of 1,000 copies to take 40 children out of sweatshops and pay for their living expenses and education for one year.
It is one of the rare gifts that a shopper can purchase with the confidence that the money spent will go to a fine cause. What better way to observe the good will and compassion to all which marks this holiday season?
"Ever since we were fortunate enough to sell our publishing business back in 1996, I have traveled the world, feeling blessed to be able to do so, reporting back on what I find and looking for ways to help those less fortunate than I," Mr. Brigish says.
After a rich and varied career of some 25 years, applying information systems technology to online and electronic publishing, Mr. Brigish now devotes all his time to photographic endeavors. Along with "Eye Contact," he recently published "The Brigish Collection 2006: Limited Edition." He works exclusively in digital still photography; his freelance work has appeared frequently in The Times. Vineyarders will be familiar with his work that includes striking portraits of people, images of exotic jungle creatures, and beautiful far-flung landscapes.
After returning from India in 2006, Mr. Brigish met Vineyard Haven residents Len and Georgia Morris of Galen Films. Their documentary "Stolen Childhoods" focuses on a Delhi group, Bachpan Bachao Andolan, dedicated to fighting child servitude and improving children's lives through various means.
"I felt a kinship with what they do and asked Len to connect me with a solid, reliable third-world charitable organization," Mr. Brigish said, and his money-raising project was born.
His goal is also to bring about a shift in his viewer's perception. "To enable inhabitants of the Third World to be more visible to us in a new and positive light," "To connect...," and "To break stereotypes" top the list of his reasons for publishing the book.
Rather than casually flipping through the pages, it is well worth the time and attention to contemplate these subjects as the photographer did, to be open to the connection that can be gained by looking into these many pairs of glowing, dark eyes.
"I see my own reflection as we cross oceans and chasms of culture and geography and engage our eyes," the photographer writes about his experience with a holy man he has encountered.
The photographs are roughly divided into sections: children, elders, women, soldiers, street dwellers, pilgrims at the Ganges, brightly made-up performers, men in elaborate headgear, and others. They are interspersed by very brief essays, reflections by Mr. Brigish on the people he has met, and the revelations he experienced as he immersed himself in their culture. Some titles are "The Elegance of Women," "Workers' Pride," "The Tolerance of India."
Open the volume anywhere and at once your attention will be captivated by a compelling gaze: the patient eyes of a mother; the wise eyes of a wizened holy man; the steady, watchful eyes of a soldier; the tired eyes of a beggar man; the sparkling eyes of a beautiful young woman, or the laughing eyes of rambunctious children. Their movements, dress, and surroundings, are eye-catching too, themselves telling intriguing stories. But again and again, the story that is the most real, most eloquent, and most moving is that one found in the eyes.
For more information or to order a copy of "Eye Contact," e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit brigish.com.