West Bengal Teacher Wins CGAP Photo Contest

A primary school teacher in India’s West Bengal state, Sujan Sarkar was on his way to class when he captured the winning picture for CGAP’s photo contest this year. It was monsoon season, but fortunately the rain had let up. Sujan first chatted to the family working in the field and then raised the camera to his eye – a camera he almost never leaves home without.

“Life is a struggle for these people,” said Sujan, a self-taught photographer who most likes to photograph people, their daily lives, struggles, customs, and environmental and social issues. “But working together as a family on their own field, growing the crops and then harvesting that crop, brings a feeling of joy and satisfaction on their faces,” Sujan said in explaining the photograph.

Farmers work in a rice paddy Farmers work in a rice paddy

Photo by Sujan Sarkar/CGAP Photo Contest

Sujan does not know whether the family he photographed has access to formal financial services such as loans, mobile money accounts or savings. But many in their situation do not. Worldwide, 2 billion smallholder farmers, laborers, and other low-income individuals do not have access to the kind of financial tools that could help them to save, start or grow a business, and potentially withstand shocks such as natural disasters or family crises.

The panel of judges for this year’s photo contest were unanimous in choosing Sujan’s “Paddy Cultivation” for the grand prize, which includes a $2,000 voucher for camera equipment. They described the photo as painting-like, remarking on the composition, framing, and color.

“You can really feel the texture in this photo,” said one of the judges. “I know what the mud feels like just from looking at it. It also plays with scale.”

And another: “The picture brings so much beauty to the act of farming, which others would say is dirty or uncomfortable. The hoe, which frames them in the photo, symbolizes their livelihood and how they support themselves as a family.”

Sujan’s photo was one of 3,303 submissions to this year’s Photo Contest and one of 27 winners selected by the judging panel. The CGAP Photo Contest awards six regional prizes and focuses on four themes that are critical to advancing financial inclusion: Digital financial services and mobile banking, women’s use of financial services, microfinance for small business enterprises, and smallholder farmers and their families.

Photo by Bülent Suberk/CGAP Photo Contest

The winning collection transports viewers from the coastal sand dunes of Vietnam to the side streets of Kolkata to the hillsides of Ecuador. The images open a window into people’s daily lives: a married couple exchanging a laugh, a father and son laboring to bend iron bars, a mother planting crops with her baby asleep against her chest. They show hard working people contributing to their local economies, even our global one, and most importantly to the wellbeing of their own families.

For many of the photographers, their submissions are very personal. This year’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia regional winner,  Bülent Suberk, said he appreciates what the working people in his home country of Turkey are doing to overcome poverty. That’s why he photographs them. Explaining the effects of inequality and poverty on migration and conflict, he said lifting people out of poverty is “the most common and important problem of the low income countries.”

Thanks to photos from Sujan, Bülent, and others like them, we are able to document the lives of the working poor in challenging, poignant and often beautiful settings. Enjoy the gallery of winning pictures.  


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