We’ve been following a lot of subcultures and tribes as of late, as we find it fascinating to see a slice of their life through the lens of documentary photographers. Such series takes us to places that many of us have possibly never heard of, and tell us about the vibrant life of its people. The latest of these is the portrait project of Indian photographer Shawn Jacob Stephen, who introduces us to the Toda Tribe of his hometown in the Nilgiris District in Southern India.
Living in the “beautiful hill station that is the Nilgiris all his life,” Stephen has found a deep sense appreciation for nature, and from what we can see in his Nilgiris Portrait Project, a great respect for its people. ” With an inherent appreciation for landscapes owing to where I’ve grown up, I found myself best able to express this appreciation through photography. Which essentially is where my journey began,” he proudly said on his Behance bio.
Armed with his Canon 5D Mark IV, Stephen collaborated with the Nilgiri Adivasi Welfare Association (NAWA) and embarked on a photographic quest to document all the tribes that call the Nilgiri landscape home. His goal is primarily to celebrate their identity and culture, beginning with the Toda Tribe. This series, which he described as “An ode to a people who have called these mountains home for centuries,” tells us about one of the oldest settlers of the area.
As with many of the documentary portrait projects we’ve seen before, Stephen photographed his subjects in a location that best tells about their home. In the case of the Toda Tribe (and all the other tribes he will photograph for this project), it’s also to highlight the splendor of the Nilgiris landscape. This combination has produced such a striking imagery, in which the vibrant tribe is complemented by the dramatic scenery that serve as their backdrop.