García Rodero: dignity in the midst of poverty

 The exhibition is in Calle Alcazabilla, Malaga, until 3 August.
The exhibition is in Calle Alcazabilla, Malaga, until 3 August. / SALVADOR SALAS
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  • "India is a country that wins you over," says the famous photographer about the display in Malaga’s Calle Alcazabilla, which is organised by Fundación La Caixa and Fundación Vicente Ferrer

Cristina García Rodero says she used to "play the clown" when she first went into a hospital, a school or the homes of some of those families. And then, with the help of her translator, everyone, if only for a moment, "would fall about with laughter".

They were in one of the poorest regions on the planet, but even so, there was hope.

"India is a country that wins you over, and the people, with their simplicity, won me over even more. Above all, you realise that it's not difficult to relate to people," says this legendary photographer about the project Tierra de Sueños (Land of Dreams), which has been organised by the Fundación La Caixa and Fundación Vicente Ferrer and can now be seen in Calle Alcazabilla in Malaga city.

Cristina, who boasts the World Press Photo (1993), National Photography Prize (1996) and Gold Medal of Merit in Fine Arts (2005) among her many other awards, talked to us about the origins of the project, which will be in Malaga until 3 August, and is part of the Fundación La Caixa 'Arte en la Calle' programme.

Fighting poverty

"One day some people from the Fundación La Caixa and Fundación Vicente Ferrer came to see if I would agree to do a book and an exhibition. I had been working in India since 2001 and didn't need much convincing, because it seemed like another good way of helping the Fundación Vicente Ferrer through what I do, taking photos," she says.

So García Rodero, who was born in Puertollano, Ciudad Real, in 1949, returned to India for a month and a half to photograph the everyday life of women in Anantapur, in Andhra Pradesh state, one of the most vulnerable in the country, where the Fundación Vicente Ferrer has been fighting poverty for decades.

Charity work

"The hospital they have set up there is wonderful. They attend to hundreds of people every day, free of charge, and the work they do there is impressive," says García Rodero, who was the first Spanish female photojournalist to work for the Magnum agency,

She was the author of the famous 'España Oculta' project in the 1970s and 1980s in rural parts of Spain, and this time she focused her attention on the women of this region of India.

"Women are not valued. They are considered a burden, because their parents have to pay the dowry when they get married and then they are left without their daughter. There have been many abortions and that's why, in India, when a woman is pregnant, they never tell her the sex of her baby, to try to prevent these abortions," she explains.

"When you're there, it is impressive to see how they have gradually adapted to the needs of the population and tried to improve the things they need most.

"For example, they have been building schools for children with different disabilities, and have taught many women who have had polio a profession, so they can have some independence and freedom. When you're there, you can also see how Vicente [Ferrer] managed to convince people to donate and help those most in need," she says.

"I went to seven Muslim, Christian and Hindu weddings and everywhere people were very generous to me. It's true that the project posed a lot of difficulties, but we got round them in the end," the photographer adds.

She explains two of the obstacles: "From a technical point of view, there were two basic problems. The light in India is very harsh and also, nearly everyone was sitting down all the time and I wanted to see movement."

An exhibition and a book

Despite everything, García Rodero produced Tierra de Sueños, comprising a book of 140 photos and this itinerant exhibition with 40 photos taken during her stay in Anantapur.

"I remember a lot of girls used to work at night as telephone operators in Bangalore, which is a region about 200 kilometres away and is becoming a place where a lot of people work for the big technology firms," she says.

She has seen many examples of achievement and strength during her trips all over the world.

"In the end you realise that people know how to live with their problems. They know how to put them in perspective. I remember when I was in Albania during the war in Kosovo, and the children played at war with everybody. They were children with a lot of problems and they wanted you to play with them. They have a resistance that seems almost superhuman," she says.