Brent Stirton Burns Capital Of The World

A young girl plays with a kerosene flame inside a poor household in rural West Bengal, India, 2013.

Kumkum Chowdhary, 12, plays by herself on the roof of a small donor-funded hospital in Varanasi, India, 2013.

Ragini Kumari, 10, was badly burnt by a kerosene fire when she was two years old. She is seen at her home before surgery in Muzaffarpur, India, 2013., Hasselblad H4D

Ragini Kumari on her journey to Dr Subodh Singh’s clinic in Varanasi, India, 2013.

Renowned plastic surgeon to the poor, Dr Subodh Singh, examines a young boy with infected burns at his clinic in Varanasi, India, 2013.

A young burns victim waits nervously to undergo further surgery that will allow him greater movement in Varanasi, India, 2013.

An impoverished man who was the victim of an exploding kerosene lamp sits waiting for further surgery at a burns hospital in Varanasi, India, 2013.

Dr Subodh Singh examines 13-year-old Kumkum as he works out how to perform life-altering surgery on her, 2013.

Dr Subodh Singh operates on burns victim Ragini Kumari in Varanasi, India, 2013.

Kumkum Chowdhary, 13, photographed on the roof of a small donor-funded burns hospital in Varanasi, India, 2013., Hasselblad H4D

Artist's statement

India is the nation where the highest number of burns victims are found. People live in close proximity to each other and the primary source of light in many villages is paraffin lamps. These are easily knocked over, especially by children, and the building materials are easily set alight.

Despite over six million people being burnt every year, India has very few burns facilities at clinics and hospitals and the best of those are very expensive, especially for the complex and multi-layered surgeries that burn victims require as well as the plastic surgery afterwards. This is particularly tragic for impoverished women and girls. The ability to marry is very important in India, in large part because of the dowry price that is attached to the marriage and how that can uplift the bride's family. Dr Subodh Singh is a very talented plastic surgeon who made a deliberate decision to build a clinic for the most impoverished burns victims. He offers free surgery to them and runs camps where he can locate those most in need and provide transport so they may come for surgery. In many cases, the amount of money required to travel to a hospital is beyond the means of many rural families, let alone the cost of surgery. In this work I covered the surgery of a very brave and determined girl Kumkum Chowdhary, who was terribly burned when a gas canister exploded when a flame was held to it by an ignorant village boy. I saw Kumkum three times in two years and watched her endure what has been a painful but meaningful transformation from years 12 to 14. She is hopeful of being married now. I went to West Bengal to meet Ragini Kumari, 10, who was badly burnt by a Kerosene fire when she was 2 years old. She has had to grow up with a terrible constriction in her neck and shoulders due to the burns and how they reshaped her body. I travelled with Ragini and her parents via train to Varanasi. Dr Singh freed her surgically in the space of an hour, rebuilding Ragini completely will take more time, one visit a year for the next three. Dr Singh’s small hospital is always full and he is always happy to see it so. He says he dedicates his clinic to his father, who taught him to always be of service to those less fortunate than himself.

About the artist


Durban, RSA


South African

Based in


Brent Stirton is special correspondent for Getty Images, and regular contributor to National Geographic magazine, Stirton specializes in documentary work, generally photographing at the intersection of man and the environment. He works regularly for Stern Magazine, Human Rights Watch and with The Environment Investigation Agency and LAGA as well as the Gates and Clinton Foundation and various UN groups. He has received many awards, including multiple awards from the Overseas Press Club, The National Magazine Awards, The Peabody awards, Pictures of the Year International as well multiple awards from the World Press Photo Foundation. His photos have also appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Le Figaro, GQ, GEO, and other respected international titles.