Hong Kong-born Bonnie Chiu is inviting everyone to step into the worlds of garment workers in Bangladesh, sex workers in Pakistan and domestic workers in Hong Kong, by allowing us to see into their real lives through their eyes – literally.
In 2011, a chance encounter taking photos with four local Turkish girls in Istanbul gave Chiu the inspiration to start photography workshops: “The girls wore hijab and they were quite young, around 16-years-old,” she recalls. “The media has a certain portrayal of Muslim girls. It was just so interesting to see things a different way, which was somewhat contradictory to these misconceptions.”
Of the world’s 796 million illiterate adults, 64 percent are women. Another form of expression, photography is not always accessible in every corner of the developing world, so Chiu decided to encourage women to tell their own ‘herstories’ through the art. With two other girls also from Hong Kong, the 20-year-old set up Lensational to empower women emotionally and economically by providing recycled cameras, photography workshops and setting up exhibitions and photography sales all around the world.
Launched on International Women’s Day in 2013, and based in London and Hong Kong, Lensational now has long-term photography workshops in nine countries: Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Kenya, Cambodia, Indonesia, Philippines, Bhutan and Thailand – with more volunteers spread across the world, and plans to expand into Kenya, Ethiopia and Tunisia.
As shutters click from Pakistan to Bhutan, we are given a small window into various worlds where women can fulfil and frame their aspirations and we are reminded that as people we are all different, but all equal. Most come from marginalised communities and endure hardship and social isolation. The workshops help to rebuild confidence and enhance interpersonal skills.
Some women are interested in becoming citizen photojournalists. At one exhibition, ‘Unfurling Bangladesh: The Picture Through Her Eyes’, intimate snapshots seen from the eyes of the surfer girls of Cox’s Bazar and garment factory workers in Dhaka defy oppression in a locale where the textile industry remains haunted by incidents of labour rights abuses and surfing for girls remains frowned upon. Chiu loves that the art and universal language of photography creates empathy and understanding without geographical limits, and that for one of her students in the Philippines, taking photos of birds has given them “the courage to fly away”.
Bonnie Chiu, Co-Founder and CEO
United Kingdom (London)