Photographing Hope on India’s Lifeline Express

Are photojournalists unduly focused on the dark side of life — dead bodies, conflict, misery and the like?

Many people seem to believe this. They think we would climb over loving couples, cooing babies and content grandparents just to shoot the only negative scene at an event.

Maybe this is true for some, but I know many photojournalists who work just as hard to find positive stories.

The Lifeline Express

A doctor performs a middle ear operation on the Lifeline Express, a traveling hospital in India.

In my current project, for example, I am examining not only the challenging aspects of village life and the sometimes damaging impact of modernity and globalization around the world — but also the joy, rewards and improvements that modern life has brought to villages.

A great example of the latter is India’s Lifeline Express, a train that has been converted into a traveling hospital. The train travels across remote villages to treat those with few, if any, other medical options. Doctors and staff from India and overseas donate their services.

On this occasion, the train had parked at the Wardha railway station in the state of Maharashtra. The staff carried out operations and treatment for polio, cleft lips, cataracts, and middle ear and dental problems.

It was amazing to watch and be part of.

Patients and their families wait in a tent which has been erected on a railway platform as a temporary medical waiting room.

Worth the Wait

Often, stories of hope like this one are a long time in the making, because documentary photography can be a slow process where patience in abundance is required. But the end result is worth it.

As Magnum photographer Jean Gaumy once put it, it’s “like fishing. You find the location, check your bait and cast the line. Sometimes you’re lucky and sometimes you are not.”

A woman awaits her operation.

Photos © Michael Coyne.

2 Responses to “Photographing Hope on India’s Lifeline Express”

  1. Hear hear Michael - I could not agree more. I think many photojournalists seek to find drama as it adds to the image. But then we need to show life 'as is' and during my recent work on mental illness and downs syndrome I sat down at one point disappointed that I wasn't seeing 'pain and anguish' as if that was what was expected of me! Thinking it through and being true to what I was seeing my images reflect the happiness I see.

    So pleased you raised this point and pleased to know at least one other photographer feels the same way I do.

  2. Agreed Michael, my photographer and I had a very humbling experience on the Lifeline Express in April this year and rather rapidly knew that this was not the kind of place where drama was the attraction. I wrote a piece here which I hoped would offer a sense of hopefulness even though it did sometimes feel like trying to empty the ocean with a teaspoon.

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