Traveling through India for a couple of months, I’ve been roaming the streets, got lost in the slums and had some nice conversations with people I portrayed. Whether it was a big city, a small village or out in the country; there’s one and a half billion people and they all had a little story to tell. Like I said in one of my blogs, this is how I try to understand the world.
To keep challenging myself and to learn even more, I also need to change perspective every now and again. Most of the time this happens unexpectedly. Coming to Khajuraho, that opportunity presented itself quite clearly. The first day I still did what I always do. I walked the little streets, had some fun with the kids that ran around me, when roaming through the outside neighborhoods.
(picture by Maartje Grond)
But Khajuraho is known for its temples. Even though it’s a very small village, it even has an airport to fly in the herds of tourists coming to see the Kama Sutra temples of Khajuraho. So there was no way around it. I had to pay my entrance fee and see what the fuss was all about.
After five minutes I already noticed… this is not what I’m looking for. I can see how impressive the buildings are. I can even be overwhelmed for a minute by the idea that everything is build by man, some 1000 years ago. But this moment of astonishment only takes a very short time. It’s probably why I don’t do architecture photography, or product photography. (Although I like to work for real estate agents… but that’s because I can snoop around in people’s life just for a couple of hours or so.)
My curiosity towards the “typical” groups of tourists on the other hand is something that immediately made me grab my camera. The way these herds of white-socked people, with safari hats and huge amounts of camera gear move, is something that intrigued me right from the start. It may sound like a huge judgment if you read that last sentence, but it’s not! I think it’s great people travel the world to see what other countries and cultures have to offer. And I really couldn’t care less how they do it. It’s just that “their way” of traveling and exploring is completely out of my comprehension as well. Therefor I did what I always do when I don’t understand. I photograph.
To see the complete series, both the streets ánd the temples of Khajuraho, check my Flickr page.
Steve Huff, one of my favorite photography bloggers has put up my guest blog today!
Most of the time when traveling, I find myself going from city to town and back to a city again. Sometimes I almost forget there’s more than that. When I hired a little motor bike and just cruised out of the town Pushkar, I noticed everything changed. Landscape, there’s no surprise, but also the contact with the people I met along the way.
There was no hassle, asking for money or trying to sell me anything anymore. People were open and friendly, inviting and very photo genetic. I wrote a blog a while ago, about sending a private driver back home and taking the bus between destinations. I’m still very happy i did, but after a day driving around on my little moped, I guess next time I’ll be traveling with a drivers license for a motorbike. That way I can buy myself a cheap motor and travel the country on my own. Bringing only my small Leica kit - same as I have with me now - and some necessities like underware, there will be no trouble with luggage and it will bring me at places I’ll otherwise won’t see.
So, at least I have found my reason to stay traveling and go back to beautiful India again and again! ;-)
If you like to see these pictures and some more in higher resolution, check my Flickr account
As the albums on my Flickr page and my facebook are starting to become a bit abundant, I decided to start selecting a bit stricter. Also I decided to delete some of the pictures in my facebook albums. Not that they are bad, but some others are just a better and in the end you only want to keep the best.
For me it’s one of the hardest things to do: “killing your darlings”. Especially because they are not only my darlings, they are also part of my journey. Of course I don’t throw them away, But in the end nobody wants to relive the hours and hours you spend behind a projector at your grandparents. And nobody really wants to see the wedding book with 750 pictures of your uncle dancing the cha cha cha or your nephew spoiling tomato soup on his mini smoking. Most of the time 50 pictures is enough, after that, attention most of the time decreases rapidly. Often less is more, so choices must me made.
What makes me decide which picture stays in and which one goes, is hard to tell. Most of the time it’s a gut feeling. It’s easy to select the ones that have to stay in for sure. The diamonds. Thing is; if I only leave those, I’ll end up posting maybe 5 pictures out of all (not each) albums. I’d like to think I’m my most critical judge. So after selecting these I go on.
I try to look at the balance in my story. I can have ten women sitting in their door opening, but I only need one. Again everything is just a gut feeling. Which woman gives me the feeling I can’t leave her out. Because of the way she looks, or her colorful sari or the beautiful woodwork of the doorposts. Looking at the light, composition, technique is another way to get rid of some of my babies. Even though sometimes it’s the one that breaks all the rules that stays in. Just because the “feel” is right.
In the end it’s all just a matter of taste. Which ones do I like the most? Which ones give me the uncontrollable urge to show them to the rest of the world? Which ones do I think people like to talk about? Which ones do I think tell the story?
Luckily, here I can make a separation again. Here on my blog, I tell you how I work and what problems I encounter. I show you some of the shots that either clarify my story or some that I just think you should really see. At my facebook page, I now show you the ones that I really think are good. This differs from time to time. I add pictures and I take some of. Same goes for my website, only on my facebook, I also give you updates about the trip, some behind the scene photos and every now and again a link that I think you should check. On my Flickr account I post a lot more. This is the place where people tend to go to browse pictures, just like they browse youtube for videos. So make your pick, or check them all… Hope you like what you see!
Sitting in a car heading for Rajasthan, I had the feeling that I had made a wrong decision. It’s a great way to travel through Rajasthan -the part of India I’m traveling now - but it’s just not me. I need to be amongst the people.
Not exactly sure what it was that made me feel this way I endured a little bit longer. I don’t mind changing my mind all of a sudden, but I do want to know why I change it. It wasn’t the driver. Even though his English was very poor, he was very polite and he had no problem taking me wherever I wanted. This was the reason I took the car in the first place. The idea of not planning a train ahead, being able to stop at every location on my way sounded very appealing and practical for my photography. A flat tire even gave me a sudden feel of adventure, although it was solved quickly.
I think it was the fact that everything was going smooth. To smooth. He took me from city to city, hotel to hotel. The hotels were good, even though they had weddings going on with loud music, had good restaurants and great rooms. The driver used B routes so there was plenty to see during our long drives. It was perfect and easy.
I think my decision is best compared with the Leica I’m working with. The driver and his fancy hotels were like my old Nikons on program mode. Everything was great, effortless and without trouble. But if I compare the pictures I took with my DSLR while traveling, they tend to have a lack of story. They are good photos but they miss some sort of depth.
If I read back the blogs about the time I started with the Leica M9 in Cuba, I struggled. But it’s that struggle that made the journey. It’s the cursing and the discomfort that makes me want to see and learn more. My first trip in India was a 37 hour bus-ride to Kashmere and I remember vividly how things looked, smelt and how I was feeling at the time. Now, nearly 2 months later, it has been one of the best parts of my trip. Maybe not photography wise , but definitely when it comes down to traveling India. Of course I did take some pictures in the towns that the car had dropped me. This is something I can do where ever I am, and independent of how I got there. A few I’ve posted here and the rest is on my fb page or at my Flickr page. I even grabbed the Leica M9 a couple of times instead of the Monochrom. Not because I was doubting, like I did before, but because I like to change things up every now and again.
After two days in the car, I send the driver back to Delhi and booked myself on a train from Bikaner to Jodpur. Instead of traveling through Radjashan in a car for the upcoming two weeks, I’ll be struggling and cursing while booking train-tickets. There will be families cramped up against me in a bus, little children that follow me around through the streets and beggars asking me for money. And I’m looking forward to it!
Framing is quite an important part of photography and I guess it’s something that comes with practice. (like everything else ;-) All over the net or in any bookstore that sells “how to” books, you can find information on how you can or should frame your pictures. Rule of third, Diagonal rule, when to shoot horizontal or vertical, leading of lines etc etc.
To be honest, I’ve never really bothered to read all that stuff. I just shoot the things I see, making sure that everything that is of interest to me is in the frame. Sometimes it’s not until afterwards that I see something that really ads to the picture, or that makes it suddenly a useless one. In this picture for example the boy in the back just started to take a wee. I didn’t really notice when taking the shot. I was to bussy with the two boys on the left side playing and the serious boy making strange faces. It’s a detail that you don’t even see in the low resolution on this blog… but if you check it here, you’ll see it in full. To me, it finished the shot.
So then I started to wonder if it’s just luck if you have these moments. Many would say it is BUT… is it still luck if it happens more often than sometimes? When is the point that you can honestly say you make your own luck?
One of the things that helps a lot with practicing the framing is feedback of others. Sometimes you’re so caught up in what you’re doing, you start missing things. Last week I was asked to provide a horizontal photo that would be used for a magazine cover. It would take both front and back of the magazine. I asked a friend at Transcontinenta, to help look for what would be a suitable picture. After checking out a fair amount of pictures he pointed out that if you use a picture that way, your main point of interest should be in the right side of the picture. The left side is going to be at the back of the magazine anyway. And suddenly I was aware that a lot of my picture actually have the main subject on the left side of the picture. Let me start by saying, this is not on purpose. Most of the time I just see something and I’ll take the shot. Often it’s not even possible to frame it from the other side, due to uninteresting topics that I want to crop out while taking the shot.
It’s not that I will think about this anymore then I used to… I figure that the more I think during my endless walks through cities and slums, I’ll just get distracted of what I’m supposed to do… take photos. But I am aware now. Specially when I know I need a picture for a certain purpose like the cover one or for example one that needs a heading in the picture. I think this is what they mean when they (the books and tutorials) tell you to know the rules, so you can then bend or sometimes even brake them.
I ask myself every day: “Why do I take photos? Why do I feel the urge to record what I see?” And the answer is more or less the same every day. I don’t feel that urge to actually document what I see, at least not for myself. The only reason I use my camera is to make contact with a world I understand less every day. I use my camera to interact with people, to force them and myself into making contact. At the same time the camera helps me to keep a safe distance of what ever is happening. So I can look at it without any judgment or even without forming an opinion. I merely try to observe and hopefully understand whatever it is I’m looking at.
So why not use an unloaded M6 or M7 ( analog Leica cameras working with film, for those who don’t know) instead of the Leica Monochrom? Here’s the tricky part. I would love to do that. It would safe me a huge amount of time in terms of selecting, post processing, uploading photos etc etc. On the other hand… I need to conquer my place on earth, find a way to make a living and - for some weird reason – I feel the need to be seen as an individual just like everybody else. I’m also trying to give meaning to my life in some way. I try to get better at the things I do. I hope to be more successful everyday and I work hard trying to exceed the expectations people might have of me.
I guess this is what it comes down to: “Making sure other people confirm my existence.” I’m pretty sure this is what everybody does. In my case, people give me conformation by saying my pictures are beautiful or that my blogs are shit. Whether they recognize my work or condemn it doesn’t really matter, either way they confirm whatever I’m doing and therefor that I am alive. (I prefer the positive conformation above anything else by the way, like most people would.)
Isn’t this what everybody does? Whether you are a successful businessman, a caring mother, praying to a God, or begging for food, drugs or alcohol. Everybody is just searching for the same thing in a different context: “a way to give meaning to their lives and an acknowledgement of them actually being alive.” I feel truly grateful to have found a way, which comes closest to what I’d like to think I am… an observer.
I’ve been traveling India now for about one and a half month. I’ve seen a lot and there’s many more to come. On the program are Amritsar, city of the golden temple, Rajasthan with it’s blue city Johdpur and its pink city Jaipur, countless colored saris and the endless yellow sands of the dessert. The white sandy beaches of the Andaman Islands are still a place I want to see and there is so many many more.
The crazy thing is, I’m going to show you all these places without color, as I have totally fallen in love with the Leica Monochrom. There were some times I wanted to grab the M9 again, sometimes I even did… but even most of those pictures I ended up converting in Silver Efex Pro. To me the lack of color, takes away the distraction of just that same color. All is suddenly stripped down to emotion, movement, light and energy. Yes color is one of the most obvious in India, but what is left when you take away the most obvious ends up to be often a lot more interesting.
The fact that the Monochrom is so very defined in its dynamic range - specially in blacks - and that it is amazing in sharpness, makes this camera an absolute treat to work with. Because of the high ISO possibilities, combined with the Summicron 35mm it’s pretty much all I need to carry around, no flash needed.
I guess I’ve made the change I wanted to make, from DSLR to rangefinder. I now cary a small bag, light on my shoulder. It replaces the heavy load of 2.8 zoom lenses and 2 pro Nikon bodies. A bag that would easily top 10 kg. But I’ve taken it one step further. One step closer to, what to me has become the very basic of photography: One camera, one lens and a monochrome image. I feel lucky and grateful. I can roam the world, looking at it’s beauty and capture this in exactly the way I observe it. In its naked, vulnerable, most honest way. To me that’s in black & white… in Monochrom.
I’ve been asked why I only take photographs of the slums and poor people and not of the richer part of India and the people who indulge in luxury. I’ve not only been asked here, but on facebook and Flickr as well. I even got asked so many times, that I thought it would be a wise idea to write a blog about it.
First I need to explain in this matter, that I don’t make this journey on an assignment. It’s my own trip, no rules, no expectations, nothing. I’m not earning any money with it, I pay everything my self - therefor I travel light and cheap - and I really like it this way. I like walking planet earth without having to go any where, without having to arrange things, to be honest… without even thinking to much. If I had to judge my own pictures, those are the best as well… the ones that I wasn’t really thinking, but I was just roaming the streets, seeing whatever I would see. Sometimes it’s hard to do it this way… Most of the time I do my best not to think of a budget, on how long I can last this way. Most of the time this works out really well… sometimes the “real world” kicks in and I do worry for a day or two.
Anyway, back to the story I wanted to tell. Why slums and poor people and not the rich in India. There are a few reasons for that.
First of all; I’m lazy. For me to photograph the rich people, I have to go out of my normal way. I have to look them up, often go to places that cost me money, and than try hard to get into conversation with people I think might be interesting. If I do get in this conversation, I have to convince them to let me take pictures.This isn’t really my expertise. And I therefor don’t really go to these places… Sometimes it can be nice. Once in a while - most of the time on invite - I like to go there… I even really like days and evenings like this. But that is only once in a while. At home, in the Netherlands, I occasionally get these invites. I get asked to photograph these kind of situations. I’ve even blogged about this in the past. When I do get there, I love it. I feel like a little kid looking at a movie from a distance. I can fit in, but don’t really feel part of it. Now traveling through India it’s the other way around. If I want pictures like this, I have to search for these places. I have to put in an effort. I have to ask if I can please take pictures during an event or at somebody’s house. I just don’t really feel the urge to have these pictures.
Second: The slums I can roam… I can walk around through the streets, see what happens. People come up to me, talk to me, offer me chai and often don’t mind me taking their picture. Interaction is instant and almost every time pleasant. Even if they don’t want me to take their picture, we have a laugh and a chat. I have to say, having a small camera instead of the big SLR does help here. Any way, this is different with richer people, specially the real rich ones. They live in bigger houses. Often these houses are behind fences and many times there even is a guard. They are just not that easy to approach. Here I immediately refer back to my first point… I’m lazy. I don’t really want, and certainly I don’t need, to go through all this trouble. It’s not that I’m doing this project on how all different communities in India live… I’m just sharing my journey with you and therefor the things that I see and find interesting. Things that happen without me doing anything to cause it.. other than saying yes every now and again.
Third: The few times I did try to go out of my way and document the working class - for example the Dabba Wallahs - or a real rich Indian person, things get complicated right away. I need to pay money or suddenly I am very limited in the time I get. Most of the time I’m all of a sudden not dealing with the person I want to photograph, but with three or four other people as well… who all want money. I’m not saying this is wrong or right, bad or good… I don’t really have an opinion on this, other than that I don’t want the hassle. And there’s the simple fact that I don’t really want to spend this money. Don’t get me wrong… If I really like to experience whatever they ask me the money for… I’m happy to pay for it. (As long as it’s asked in a respectful manner). Only this doesn’t happen that often. I don’t really HAVE to experience anything. When it’s there, it’s there… if not, no problem!
So there, I have tried to explain it. I’m not posting my pictures because I want to give you a full view of India. I’m showing my pictures not because I have a higher cause or a story to tell. The only story I’m showing you is the world that I see during my journey and the way I show you is through the lens of my camera. I hope you like it!
I don’t pretend to be even in the vicinity of a photographer as great as Henri Cartier Bresson, but every now and again I like to tell myself I’m on my way to get a little bit closer… small steps. Today I had a very slow day, photographically. But if there is just one shot you have been waiting for, suddenly is there… these moments make it all worth while! Hope you like it to!