Sara Hylton on how a portrait shows “the truth of a character or community”

Photographer Sara Hylton has been based on and off in India since 2010. Having left her birthplace of Canada the previous year to undertake an MA in International Conflict Studies at King College London, she has spent the past decade or so documenting human rights issues the world over as a freelance photographer, but has found herself drawn back to India time and time again. Today, she’s based between Mumbai and New York and her recent work is an extension of her intimate, considered approach to documenting the world around her.

In previous years, Sara has travelled to India to dig into a particular story, while at other times it’s simply to “reconnect with myself in a place where I feel at home,” she says; “most often, it’s both personal and professional.” When she returned to India last March, she arrived just as “the country was slipping into a devastating second wave, and I felt a responsibility to be there,” she recalls. Familiar with the photojournalistic and documentary photography community in and around Mumbai, Sara knew there were many talented practitioners “doing a powerful job documenting the reality on the ground, working tirelessly, and risking their lives and the safety of their families to show the world what the country was experiencing,” so instead, she looked for something a little quieter. “I had something to do that wasn’t necessarily about the country being ravaged by the virus,” she explains, and went onto create a large ongoing body of work throughout India, Pakistan and much of the subcontinent.

Initially, however, Sara was unsure what that story could or would be. But she allowed her camera to figure it out for her. “I looked for threads that could reveal something about the deeper fabrics of urban survival during this moment in our collective history,” she says. “I didn’t know what I would find, but I began just going out each day to document quiet scenes on the streets, and eventually found myself working on a project about female domestic workers and their experiences during the pandemic.” This involved but was not limited to, shadowing the Londhe family over several months as they navigated life in Mumbai, in a densely populated settlement that made social distancing or staying home near impossible. “It was a gift to witness their resilience in the face of such a traumatic time in the country’s history,” she adds.

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