While they wait for the Rain

PhotographerMyriam Cawston
PrizeHonorable Mention
Entry Description

This series of pictures was taken as I volunteered with a team supporting a charity in rural Tamil Nadu, in Summer 2014. The pictures comment on the dynamics between people facing a severe drought and those who are trying to help, and how the aid structures affect their daily routine.


"While they wait for the Rain" Summer 2014 was incredibly dry in parts of Tamil Nadu, Southern India. In the villages surrounding Dharmapuri, rain hadn’t fallen in 3 months and the consequences were devastating: no rice crops, herds of animals thinning by the day, and people’s focus shifting from business to survival. I was part of a group of volunteers assisting a charity run by an Indian lady. The complex included hostels for women and children, a medical centre and an aid distribution operation. 1. The ladies who came to collect a small amount of financial aid, once a month, were elderly and too frail to work. They often lived in tiny houses, made of four walls of mud – sometimes the ceiling was too low for standing. Yet they all came to collect their allowance impeccably presented, their hair tied perfectly in place, their jewellery on display and their colourful sarees looking neat. 2. The old man and the little boy were walking together. They wanted to be in my picture: the photograph felt like a solemn event. I wondered why so many people wanted to be in pictures they were unlikely to ever see. I realised there are still places and circumstances where featuring in just one photograph remains a meaningful act. I printed the picture and hope it made it back to the right family; maybe somewhere a mother now owns photograph of her father holding her child by the hand. 3. Another day, another village. A group of about 50 ladies, with chairs laid out for us as they sat on the ground. A lot of discomfort and wondering if we should accept the chairs or not. A few awkward speeches. Then our interpreter asked the ladies if there’s anything they’d like to say or ask – and there was silence. Only for a minute though, before someone brave spoke up: “we are suffering, we need water and food”. Rarely have I felt so powerless. In the end, we prayed for rain. 4. Once a month, the medical centre opens its doors to provide free consultations. Patients travel from all the surrounding villages to take advantage of the opportunity. Everyone is determined to get a precious ticket, to get through the queues, to see a nurse and then a doctor. 5. They are 13 and 14, one is cheeky and the other is more reflective. Vinod and Mathan have been living at the hostel since early childhood – they are brothers to each other. One evening I walked down to the patio where they took their dinner, and I let them play with my camera. They found the only light source around (a security light), and posed for each other. When their young photographer friend struggled with my complicated camera, I stepped in to take the shot. I remembered the old man and the little boy: a different relationship, different generations, but the same gravity in the act of posing for a picture.