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Before I die I want to go to New York." "Before I die I want to buy my own home." "Before I die I want to learn to dance." "Before I die I want to be a millionaire." "Before I die I want to cook." "Next birth, I want to be born as a man, not a woman." These are the wishes scribbled by people from all over India below their Polaroid mug shots. This is part of a project that has spanned two countries, India and the US, by two young American artists, Nicole Kenney and KS Rives.
In early 2008, when Polaroid announced that it would discontinue the production of its iconic instant film, the duo decided to talk about mortality on the "dying" medium and turn it into a quirky cultural study. Kenney, armed with her grandfather's SX-70 Polaroid camera, and Rives, with her Spectra Polaroid, took pictures of people, and asked that eyebrow-raising question, "What do you want to do before you die?"
After taking around 600 photos in the US, Rives and Kenney came to India. From January to March 2009, they travelled to Delhi, Ahmedabad, Udaipur, Mumbai, Goa, Kerala, Punjab, Varanasi and McLeodganj. "Literally halfway around the world from our home, India gave our project a much larger context," says Kenney, a 29-year-old from Brooklyn, who studied fine arts and creates autobiographical artwork. "Americans were generally more sceptical, while Indians were willing to talk to us and have their photographs taken." In India, Kenney and Rives met around 300 people — housewives, the blue-collar brigade, rickshawpullers, beggars and businessmen, among others. On their site, you will even find a picture of a bride, who strangely seems quite happy at being asked the morbid question on her wedding day. Under the picture, which shows her in a white gown in front of a church in Goa, the line goes, "Before I die I want to do something for my family."
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