The Barefoot Photographers of Tilonia



A unique collective photographic treasure was discovered quite by chance. It documents the 34 years of existence of the Barefoot College.


The founders of Tilonia gave simple cameras in the hands of rural men and women. The villagers were to document their life at Barefoot College community from their own perspective. They cannot even be considered amateur photographers. Not only were they untrained and illiterate as photographers, they also did not have access to magazines, photo albums, exhibitions, advertisement and commercial photography or any other visual media related to mass communication.


The archive containing more than 100,000 black and white images, color negatives and slides is a unique phenomena in the history of photography. The dusted, poorly preserved and partly damaged stock of images on film were taken to the slow process of restoration in order to save the archive from total ruin. The first step is of restoring and cleaning followed by cataloging it as a computerized library.


To let the world see and experience the possibilities of a different kind of humanistic, compassionate documentary photography – not carried out by a trained photographer, but by an authentic insider, who is both the ‘eye of the beholder’ and its subject matter. The thousands of collective life and death images could fit into the realm of visual anthropology or sociology.


We believe that it should see the light of day and become an exhibition, not just because of the unspoilt beauty it possesses, but also because of the topical relevance and importance of the messages the Barefoot college is conveying through the ordinary eye of the villager on how to live simple and sustainably in a real world.



Varda Polak  Sahm