Northern Images

I miss the wait, the anticipation of developing my film when I return home from a long photo shoot. A hotel room is my darkroom. It doesn’t smell or feel the same. Too bad. I’m posting another loose edit of images, all from Varanasi (Banaras) and were shot after my last photo post.

I enjoy photographing street life. People in their everyday groove, doing what they do, going about their business. Of course my presence alone is enough to alter the moment. It’s such a game. I don’t stand much of a chance of blending in and I’m certainly not going to hide or sneak up on people, so I usually work with boredom. If I hang out long enough people lose interest and move on. Maybe they think I’m inept and can’t operate my camera? Who knows?

Along with street images, I’ve focused a great deal of my time and energy on the skilled workers, primarily traditional crafts people, in each region documenting differences and similarities in process and product. It’s been quite the education. I have to credit Bishaka, our wonderful travel companion, for the majority of that education and access. Without her help I would never have seen or met many the crafts people in my photos.

Having seen the Southern saree weaving process and product in detail, the opportunity to contrast and compare the famous Northern Banaras Saree was a must. They’re made primarily in the Muslim areas of Varanasi and seem to have more flash and dimension than the Kanchipuram textiles, which are lovely in their own right. The silk is beautiful and the weaving, dying and design process is impressive. Unintentionaly (to some degree) we also gained the opportunity to witness the what is becoming the death of the hand-crafted saree: Chinese automated saree weaving machines using synthetic materials. A traditional saree takes about 9-11 days to produce and requires a team of skilled workers. The machine saree take about an hour, pumping out 8-12 per day and needs only two technicians to run the operation. They’re cheaper and the marketing behind these synthetics is strong. How can the traditional producer compete? It’s a question that we continue to discuss, with little expectation of a good answer. Experiencing the mechanized process was important.

This morning was spent walking the streets of Mumbai, including the Arabian Sea coastal drive. It’s a giant cosmopolitan center with an overly-apparent Western influence. Although it’s a humid heat in Mumbai, the 92 F heat is a welcomed 25 degrees cooler than Varanasi. Yes, we were enjoying 117 F degree days in Varanasi. At that point you don’t care if it’s “dry” or “humid” you just burn. We’ll shoot a little bit more this evening and then prepare for the long series of flights home.


A quick note from Varanasi

(updated with images) Tuesday, June 16th, 5:30 p.m. (8 a.m. EST), Varanasi, India

– In the final week of our trip, we land in Varanasi, one of India’s holiest cities. Every stop has been unique and this one pulls no punches. The streets are small and winding, with just enough room for about three people side-by-side, so naturally people drive their motorcycles on them. Watch your step. A walk along the Ganges nets about a thousand questions (about me) and just about the same number of photos. It’s beautiful, mysterious, majestic and not so clean. It is truly the heart and soul of this city and in some regards all of India.

I will be posting some catch-up images from Kancheepuram and Jaipur along with a few new ones from today. We took a boat ride on the Ganges around 5 a.m. That was amazing. So much so, that we’re taking an evening ride at 6 p.m. One more full day in Varanasi after that and then we head to Mumbai, midday Thursday. More to come.

A rush to post photos

I’m taking what may be a final opportunity to post images before I reach Mumbai on Thursday evening. This is just a sampling covering a little bit of my time in Chennai and Jaipur. Simple street life images. They’ve been added as a gallery to my previous post (The middle of the road). Please check them out when you get a chance.

The middle of the road

At the midpoint of my Indian adventure, I am now in Jaipur, the “pink city” in the northern region of Rajasthan. My time up to now has been spent in the south: Chennai and Kancheepuram in Tamil Nadu and Kochi (Cochin) in Kerala. Karthik, Jon and I chose to skip Auroville due to time constraints. The photo opportunities in Kancheepuram were too rich to pass up and making time for Auroville seemed to pale in comparison.

Chennai, my first official stop, is a bustling, near-tropical large city. As an American, the density of people, traffic and housing is initially a bit shocking, but it all seems normal now. I think.

The highlight of the 24 hours in Chennai was a beach carnial-meets-market. The people were responsive and kind, and quite curious. This was also a good break-in period before we hit the road. The deeply religious southern city of Kancheepuram was next.

Karthik arranged for a room in the hotel were his grandfather works. He was a wonderful man – sweet and funny. He and Jon got along particularly well. In the three days in Kancheepuram we experienced incredible crafts, especially sarees and stonecutting and carving. In fact we were able to access the grounds of a temple being built, year eight of a 13 year process. The work was amazing and the conditions they worked under made it even more impressive. The other two highlights, amongst many shoots, was the home factory work on sarees and the opportunity presented by a famous Swamiji to record (for the “first time ever” according to the Swamiji) the formal Pooja. It was impressive.
From Kanchi we returned to Chennai to catch a night train to the south western region of Kerala in the city of Kochi.

The Kerala region is lush, tropical and in the midst of the monsoon season. We didn’t get hit too hard. Aside from photographing the chinese fishing net techniques of the Fort Cochin fisherman we primarily traveled to Kerala for Karthik’s brothers (Hari) wedding. It was beautiful and we were honored to be invited. It was also wonderful to meet Karthik’s friend Giri who guided us around and laughed at our silly questions while Karthik was busy with the wedding. Following several days of festivities Jon and I split from the group and headed off on our own to Jaipur on the morning of the 12th.

When we landed at the Jaipur airport it was 107.6 degrees. Lovely. Bishaka, a former student at the NID school and specialist in textiles is joining us for our remaining stint in the north including Varanasi. She is wonderful – well travelled, smart and fierce. We’ll get along quite well. More to come as the adventure continues. Perhaps some pictures (I have about 4000 to choose from right now) if I can get this janky, slow internet connections to work. We’ll see.