Anja Bonhof – ‘Bahak – The Weight of Things’, Kolkata, India 2012

The Bengalese word for “load carrier” is bahak. It seems that no load is too heavy or too large for these men to transport it with pure muscle power through the narrow and overfilled streets of Kolkata (formerly Calcutta). Be it on their heads, over their shoulders on a yoke, on bicycles or tricycles, or with the help of a pulled rickshaw, all kinds of goods and commodities – from furniture, construction materials and charcoal to groceries and books – are towed, hauled, carted and at times quite adventurously manoeuvred from one place to another. The loads, which are often piled artfully high and balanced with millimetre precision, are usually incredibly heavy. Once in motion, every stop also means a risky manoeuvre to get the loaded vehicle moving again.

Bahak – this means a life as a day labourer at the bottom of the social pile: exploitation and hard work for low wages, a daily and dangerous battle on the streets of Kolkata, little recognition for feats of strength, all of which can lead to excessive exhaustion. They are nevertheless indispensible when it comes to moving gigantic flows of goods within a mega-metropolis, the streets of which are generally too full, too congested, and too narrow for the efficient use of motor vehicles.

On the sides of these roads, Anja Bonhof set up an improvised photo studio for a few weeks and asked load carriers to stop for a brief moment so that she could make portraits of them, individually and detached from the constantly moving masses of busy people: an expression of an astonished admiration of the visible virtuosity that can be part of the moving of things from A to B.

Anja Bonhof was born in Hagen in 1974 and currently lives in Dortmund. For decades now, the medium of photography has been a key component in the live of Anja Bohnhof, who began training as a commercial photographer at age of 15. This was followed by her studies of Photography and Fine Art at the Bauhaus University in Weimar, as well as by eight years of continuous teaching activity in the field of Photography/Editorial Practice at the University of Applied Sciences in Cologne.

Her independent artistic projects have taken Bohnhof to many corners of the globe. One focus of her work in the past few years has been India, where numerous book and exhibition projects were developed. For many years now, her works have been exhibited, published and collected internationally. Anja Bohnhof has also received numerous grants and awards for her works. In 2015, she received the Gisela Bonn Award from the Indian Council für Cultural Relations in New Delhi in recognition of her contribution to German-Indian relations.