India-based photojournalist Prabir Talukdar has been awarded the 2015 Trust Women Photo Award, a joint initiative by the Thomson Reuters Foundation and Microsoft.

Prabir’s work was selected from nearly 500 submissions received from countries as diverse as Egypt, Kenya, Spain, and Brazil showcasing inspirational women who take the lead to advance their families, communities and society at large.

The Creative Invite, launched earlier this January, challenged aspiring photographers and photojournalists around the world to submit images capturing the lives and stories of remarkable women in their communities. #WomenMakeItHappen reached six million people on social media.

In March, 10 finalists were selected by a distinguished panel of experts, including: Finbarr O’Reilly, Yale World Fellow and award-winning photographer; Carla Eid, Global Head of Social Engagement at Microsoft Mobile; Belinda Goldsmith, Editor-in-Chief of the Thomson Reuters Foundation; Roger Anis, 2014 Trust Women Photo Award winner; and Laura Bates; Founder of the Everyday Sexism Project.

Finalists were asked to submit a portfolio of images shot on a Microsoft Lumia 930 device illustrating women’s empowerment. From these 10 portfolios, the judges picked Prabir as the selected artist.

“Prabir’s photos beautifully illustrate the strength and resourcefulness of women battling poverty, illness and discrimination in India, a country where women are constantly challenging deep-rooted views about traditional gender roles and the lower status of women,” added Belinda Goldsmith, Editor-in-Chief of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, which hosts the annual Trust Women conference.

“I was moved by Prabir’s ability to create beautiful stories through his photographs. These are stories of women’s strength, their perseverance, and their passion,” said Carla Eid, Global Head of Social Engagement at Microsoft Mobile. “The women in these images are advancing their status in society while often proving to be the glue that holds it together. We see a seamstress, a weaver, a fisherwoman, and two embroiderers. But we also see mothers, wives, role models, and providers. Prabir brings their reality to life for us, so that we might all learn something from their experience.”

In addition to the Award, Prabir will receive an all expenses paid trip to attend a week-long professional training course on Mobile Journalism organised and run by Thomson Reuters Foundation, and a Microsoft Lumia 930 phone. Prabir’s work will also be showcased at the upcoming Trust Women Conference 17-18 November in London. Trust Women is the world’s leading conference dedicated to putting the rule of law behind women’s rights and to fighting modern-day slavery.

We spoke to Prabir about his career and the challenges facing women in India. Read more below.

How did you discover your passion for photography?

When I was a boy, I played with my father’s camera all the time. I bought my first digital camera at the age of 17. I studied engineering, but I was always doing photography on the side. So my father told me: “do whatever you think is best for you.” I transformed my passion into a profession, and delved into photojournalism. I began to report local news and cover events for different NGOs. Whenever I travel, I take pictures. There are so many underreported issues to be covered in India, and very few photographers to cover it.

I live in Assam in the northeast of India. Every year, there is flooding. For the villagers in Majuli, the largest river island in the world, their livelihood gets destroyed over and over again. The first time I went to the village and saw what was happening, I realized I wanted to cover these stories full time. Very few people dare to go and document these classless people. So I did it on my own. That experience has given me an extra push to pursue it as a full-time profession.


As a photojournalist based in India, what do you think is the biggest challenge facing women in your country?

Many women in India are still miles away from a basic education, which results in inadequate knowledge about their own rights. Things are changing, but I believe that advocacy through the media is one major step forward. We need to spread awareness about the lack of literacy.


How do you approach your subjects?

I cover stories and subjects in far-flung, remote villages. So when I take photos, I just go out to the location and get to know the people first. I will spend an hour or even a full day with my subjects to get fully acquainted with them. And only after all that will I ask them to take a picture. I am not a stranger to my subjects by end of the day.


Mobile phones are everywhere now. How are mobiles changing the field of photography?

Mobiles have changed photography for the good. I can’t imagine reporting all of my subjects with only my big DSLR camera. My mobile phone gives me portability and invisibility. I don’t always want to interrupt my subjects, so mobiles are very useful and fun to use. The Microsoft phone is more than just a phone, it’s a very powerful camera and I loved using it. I am looking forward to take more pictures with the handset.


Do you have a favourite photo?

I have two favorites, but will tell you about one woman: Birubala Rabha, an elderly woman who is a crusader against witch-hunting. She lives in a village on the outskirts of Assam, a state where witch-hunting is quite common. Many young women are thrown out from their families and villages for being “witches”. These women have nowhere to go. Birubala Rabha gives them shelter and livelihood. She has saved a lot of souls and, not surprisingly, has achieved a godmother celebrity status. It was quite tiring tracking her down, so I was so glad I got to speak to her. She is very down to earth.


Do you think photography can help empower women? How?

Photographs are a powerful visual medium. There are many women in India who have amazing stories but no way to tell them. Photography brings these stories to light and gives them exposure and the credit these deserve. This is an important step in breaking social models in a male-dominated society.

I think this award is a great achievement for the women that I have photographed. They let me capture their amazing stories, and I just reflect their stories and their achievements. The credit goes to them.