New Portfolio - India

It takes time to work on such a large collection of images. India was so photogenic and I went a little crazy photographing many people. It was hard not to. So here is my new portfolio, split into several sections.

And then I wasn’t well. Fatigue from the constant hustling, fighting always against the will of the driver who was receiving back handers from carpet shops we didn’t want to go and see, and hotels we hadn’t arranged to stay at. Everyone wanting my attention, and always for the same outcome - to relieve me of money. Illness set in shortly after our driver had left us. It didn’t take much to wander of the ‘safe’ road of good food stops.

But as much as India is a crazy place, I feel I’ve given it a bit of a bad wrap here. It’s incredibly beautiful in ways you can only experience first hand. Just be on your guard. It’s an overwhelming place to visit and you may seek to find some space for a break (there is no sense of space in India).

I was a little worn down by the end of the trip, and I couldn’t face dealing with the mountainous task of working on so many images, so I decided to put them away and let them just sit there.

The portfolio is a ‘representation’ of what I shot. I have too many images to be digested in one sitting on a web site, so I’ve cut them down - I had to.

Anyway, that’s my ‘people’ shots over for a while. I’m back on to Landscapes from this point on, with my workshop to the Scottish island of Eigg coming up in just over a month.

Hope you enjoy the India collection. I’m just glad I’ve finished it.

Last Indian Portrait

I'm almost done with working on my Indian portraits. One of the biggest snags for me is knowing when to stop.

I have around 99 rolls of film, and it's quite an endeavor going through each contact sheet, often revisiting the same contact sheet - just to check that I've not overlooked some golden nugget. Some image that will add strength to the final collection. I'm sure there will be one or two that will get away from me.

A few years down the line I'll stumble upon my films from India and revist them, only to sit in wonder as to why certain images were omitted. It's just the way of things.

Distance allows us time to be more objective about our work.

So here is a quick contact sheet of the images I propose to put into my india portfolio. It could change. It may stay the same. I may find some more images or decided to halt work for a week or so only to come back to it all with fresh eyes and decide there are much more images i want to include.

I took a lot of shots of Prayer objects while in India, and one of the thoughts that I'm having right now is to create a seperate portfolio of these 'strange objects'.

Perhaps I sound unsure of what I'm doing, perhaps you think I'm just playing around. I think it's neither. It's just part of the creative process. I like to visualise my images while I'm out there shooting, but it doesn't stop at that point. It continues when I get home and start to slowly build up the collection of images into an entity that has its own personality or character. I'm never sure just where the creative process is taking me and that's always exciting.

Then there are the images which I feel don't fit into any category. They're memorable to me though, because they remind me of just how strange a place India is compared to my home land of Scotland.

Varanasi

I love it when sometimes I just turn around, and there's a little scene going on which is just begging to be captured. This was shot in the holy city of Varanasi.

Following on from yesterdays posting. This shot has plenty of colour, but I think for me, it's the girl in the purble shawl who has got my full attention. It's the way she's leaning on the other girl and she's intent on her praying.

Photography is a complete revelation for me in the taking and the making of an image. I shot so many images whilst in India that I've simply not been able to remember most of them. So it was with great delight today when I saw this on the contact sheet.

Colour

I think that what India represented for me in photographic terms, was colour. The place was full of it and sometimes colour got the better of me. Perhaps there wasn't a picture to capture, perhaps there was.

I think the garments that many of the people were wearing often prompted me to trip the shutter. In both these images, I'm sure an integral part of the photograph is made up from the clothing. Texture and colour again. But as was discussed yesterday, a photograph can be read on many levels. It's not always just composition, or just colour or a 'moment in time' we're capturing. It's often a combination of these elements and perhaps more, perhaps things we can't define, which make us want to make pictures.

Colours and Textures

A few weeks ago I posted some thoughts on portraiture, and how I feel there are a great deal of similarities to making landscape photographs. I've just started work on my Indian images in haste now, and thought I'd post these two images to discuss the merits of applying some 'landscape' principles to people photography.

This image was shot in Jodpur, the blue city, not a few feet away from the hotel I was staying at.

When I'm shooting landscape images, I think there are two main directives for me : form and colour.

In my mind I feel I build a spacial map of how all the main components of the scene are laid out. With portraiture, it's very much the same for me. I'm drawn to form and colour and also how each of the main objects in the scene are 'balancing out'.

In the scene above, there are for me three or four components: the grey cloak, the face, head scarf and the background. Each of them have different proportions and when I was making this shot, I'm sure that in the back of my mind, I was calculating out the spacial proportions of each of these objects in relation to each other.

Despite the fact that the cloak is taking up quite a considerable proportion of the scene, it's not the main point of focus, yet it is not distracting. Why is that? Because it's form or texture is very non-demanding, as is its colour. If the mans cloak had been a very brilliant, dazzling object in its own right, then I would have probably felt it was distracting too much from the main point of interest, which I feel is his half hidden face. His face is interesting because I know he's smiling, despite his mouth being covered.

Then there are the colour combinations. His head scarf is very colourful but it adds, rather than distracts from his face. And the background of red makes for a colourful image, yet the textures there aren't overly demanding.

So I think we subconsciously read images on many levels at the same time. For me, I'm weighing up the proportions along with working out priorities of what is most interesting coupled with texture and colour.

I love texture and colour and sometimes that's just enough for an image. This old woman had plenty of colour in her clothing, and her face had plenty of texture too. But sometimes shooting someone up close is not as great as perhaps shooting them in context to their surroundings. There's lots of texture in the door in the back, the paving stones and there's plenty of colour there too, but it's fairly muted. I always end up back at the old woman. And then there's the composition. I like how her foot at the lower left of the frame leads me diagonally up towards the top right of the frame and then back down again. And we have an opposite diagonal going on with the edge of the steps that shes sitting on.

I feel I make these decisions in Portraiture as well as landscape photography. They're not really that different after all. But I guess for most of us, we feel they are because dealing with people can be challenging in a way that a landscape is not. I feel I've overcome that hurdle in the past few years and I now embrace shooting people because of the richness of the interractions I've had. But there's still something very satisfying about shooting landscapes too.

Monochromatic Colour

I shot this in Jaipur, at the hotel I was staying at. There's nothing posed about it from my recollection and as far as I remember, the girl was very happy to have her photo taken, but she's got quite a strong stance in the image. There's almost a defiant expression there and it certainly took me back when I saw my contact sheet for this - I took so many pictures of people while I was away, I've found that I seem to have suffered blank out periods where I really can't remember anything about the interaction.

But I guess that is a good thing, because it allows me to take the image for what it is, rather than what I wanted it to be. That's the beauty about a bit of distance between shooting and processing.

Now, the reason why I wanted to show you this image is because I think it's fairly mono-chromatic. All the tones are sort of reddish-brown. Personally, I love it (but I'm apt to like my own work - it's what I do - so no surprises there). This is one image that would be very tempting to turn into a black and white because it just has different shades of the same colour, but then again, there's nothing wrong with having a colour image that is mono-chromatic. There's a lot of warmth in those tones and that is something that would, I feel be missing from a black and white image.

Khuhri Portrait

The desert village of Khuhri is where I made this portrait. It's one of those 'moments' in my trip where my mind 'registered' a distinctive face.

The village in question is one of the major Camel ride starting points far out in west Rajasthan. Memorable to me because we'd spent most of our time in India trying to get out or avoid the prospect of riding a camel. My father had already suffered greatly in Egypt, and I'd already spent two hours (which was two hours too long) riding a camel in Morocco.

The pressure was enormous to go on a camel ride, and when after the n'th time we'd made it clear there was no way we were going to 'cameley', the villagers took on a solemn look of dissapointment. I hate to dissapoint people, but in this occasion, I was just much happer to 'no cameley' rather than 'to cameley'. So I took this portrait instead.

Wedding Girl?

My encounters with the people I photograph can sometimes be fleeting. Take this image for instance. One minute I'm wandering the 'blue city' area of Jodpur and I've passed several places of worship with sounds of music and clapping.

Then I turn a corner, and this little girl is on her way with her mother somewhere. I don't speak the language, but I'm able to open a dialog and quickly we're on the same page and i'm able to make this shot.

But I don't know where they were going, or what the occasion was. Does it really matter I ask myself? I guess it doesn't, and in some ways, not knowing allows us to conjure up our own emotion and mood, our own idea of what was going on.

Portraits & Approach

How do you approach the making of a portrait? And more specifically, are there any golden rules in the approach, or is each image made under its terms?

I'm an emotional photographer. By that I mean that I'm not really consciously aware of what it is I'm doing - I tend to go with a gut feeling. My friends say that I'm an open book and that I tend to be aware of others feelings - emotional intelligence.  Without putting too fine a point on it, I think that this is really at the core of people pictures. You need to have a sense of empathy for your subject. I know that when I approach someone, I go in there with an excitement to make an image of them because there is something about their pose or aesthetics which has inspired me. But I also go in there with an appreciation that I am entering into someone else's life. And each and every one of us has our own thoughts, feelings, aspirations and agendas. I never really know for sure how my advance is going to be interpreted, but I feel confident that I'm able to read body language well. I can tell sometimes when it's not going to happen. They're either blatant at moving away, or it's more subtle - a stiffening of their pose, a hardening of expression.... I just get a feeling and I know if it's going to work out.

I heard two stories about Steve McCurry. One contradicts the other. The first is that he communicates with people on a body language side only. This I can appreciate because it's exactly how it works for me. Most of the time there is very little said in the exchange. It's all done in a non verbal way and like I said, if you show empathy and respect for your subject, then the karma starts to flow. The other story I heard just recently was from a couple who went to Pakistan and said that the village they were in were fed up with Steve, because he'd been there for three weeks, orchestrating them into doing what he wanted - and giving nothing back. I personally doubt that this is true - it would go against the grain and we would see it in his photos.

About my photos. Well, the first one at the top of this posting, is of an old man in Jodpur. I like nothing better than getting up early and heading out for a wander. I just roam and roam. Sometimes I see someone and think they're interesting - something catches my eye and with this old man, I'd specifically asked him for his photo. Many people go into a 'ridgid' pose as soon as you enter into a dialog (verbal or non), but he was pretty cool. I like his pose - he seems almost inquisitive as to what I'm doing. The head is tilted to our left, and his hands are carrying a bucket - but they're in a nice position to seal off the bottom of the frame. Then there are the colours - they're all very complentary.

The second image, that of the girl happened in an entirely different way. Just outside Jaipur there's a little village run by the Bishnoi tribe. We were taken on a guided tour and I came upon this girl just leaning against the wall. The dialog was non-verbal. She didn't change her stance or anything (which made me happy - as I could already see the photograph right there). I nodded, held up the camera and shot, then smiled and she nodded back and I could see the trace of a smile as her eyes creased at the sides. It was non invasional, and like I've said - if I'd approached and she wasn't happy, I feel confident I would have picked up the vibes. Sometimes that's all you've got to go on.

Tightrope

We came across a little girl walking the tightrope in Jaisamler fort, Rajasthan.

She's not falling, she's deliberately wiggling the rope from side to side while her torso remains in the same place.

Ganges

A mother and daughter walk towards the edge of the river Ganges with their shared offering.

With so much happening as part of the daily ritual of bathing in the river, I found it easy to be part of it, without attracting too much attention to those who were focused on their worship.

Each time I come home from a trip, there are certain images burned into my mind, and this is one of them. I guess it was the shared act, their hands cusping the offering and the fact that I was standing right behind them - able to capture what they were doing before the flowers had been set down on the water.

Pushkar Portrait #2

Well I did say I was going to be away this week, but as usual, my plans changed. So while I'm stuck at my computer today, I thought I'd upload this portrait.

Shot in Pushkar, a sacred city in Rajasthan, in January of this year, I made a black and white print of it this week which I felt was very beautiful. So this spurred me onto loading the negative into my trusty Coolscan 9000 to see what it looked like in colour. It was a complete shock to see all those vibrant colours in the lady's clothing. Such a different interpretation from a black and white print. If I can manage it at some point, I'd love to scan the black and white print - there's hints of silver in the highlights which I feel are not possible with inkjet prints.

I feel I'm moving into the realms of traditional black and white printing. There's something organic about this process and many friends who have seen the results so far have commented that there's 'something special about a real black and white print'. I agree.

Shot on 645 Contax with 80mm lens at f4, it has a nice shalow depth of field - the background is nicely isolated. I love Portra film, it does tend to have a warm tone to it - slightly reddish, but hey - that's the beauty of film, each one has its own character and it would be folly to fight it.

Sadhu

I'm going to be going off the radar for the next week or so. Heading back up north to Skye to do some research for some future workshops for my business, but in the meantime, thought I'd leave you all with one of the new images I've been working on.

Shot in Jaisamler in Rajasthan, earlier this year. I took this with a Contax 645 and standard lens shot at f2. Sadhus are holly men, but I often felt that they had become so used to generating a nice income from the local tourist trade. I will put it another way, often I didn't have to approach Sadhu's for pictures, rather they would approach me whether I wanted to take their photo or not.

But they do make excellent subjects. I had made some more black and white contact sheets today and this shot was just so gorgeous I had to make a large black and white print of it. I had no idea just how it looked in colour until I chose the same negative to scan when I got back to my home.

I feel I've hit the tip of the iceberg in terms of potential images. Somehow, I think I needed time away from these images when I got home from India. The entire trip was so overwhelming. Space, a little bit of distance and all of a sudden I'm ready to take the task of working on 100 rolls of film on board. I feel very wary - I've got to becareful I don't rush, as I may pass an image which has great potential. I think it's just going to take a lot of time.

Taj Mahal Portfolio

I've just put my images from the Taj Mahal up on my main portfolio page. Some of you may have seen the Taj Mahal podcast I have, but it's always nice to see the images on screen outside of a podcast because they are not compromised by the conversion to video.

Looking for the Taj Mahal

It was an interesting portolio to work on. Sometimes you go to a place with great expectations and I certainly thought I would come away with some great sunrise shots. But the smog in Agra is choking, and I was not prepared for zero vilibility. Still, I'm very satisifed with these images - some are abstract, having taken advantage of the smog to isolate objects and people. I also like the muted tones from shooting in such (artificial) soft light.

Podcast : India's Taj Mahal

I've not even begun to work on my Indian images yet. But along while back, sometime in February when I got home, I started to collate all the usable images from my visits to the Taj Mahal.

Please click on the image to play the podcast

It's quite an incredible landmark and it didn't disappoint me. Photographically however, I was restricted : they won't let you in with a tripod or any recording devices. Still, I did manage to smuggle an audio recorder past the entrance gates. So in this podcast, you can hear ambience from the surrounding gardens. It's hard for me to explain, but it was just so calming to be there, despite the fact that I was there with 1000 other people at 6am in terrible smog.

My throat and lungs ached after spending a couple of hours there. So bad was the pollution.

However, the Taj Mahal is simply one of the most beautiful buildings I've ever seen. It did not disappoint.

I went perhaps three or four times, and the last time was enough for me. Going in the evening is the worst because everyone, and I mean everyone, is there. It was like Disney Land. Terrible. It's also a shame that the gardeners are onto touting the tourists too. After spending weeks being harassed by threatening touts, I thought I was going to get some peace in the gardens. So I was pretty frustrated when I had to tell the gardeners to leave me alone in peace.

I think the Taj Mahal has to be enjoyed in silence, with time to reflect, it's a beautiful special place, more so because it is a reprieve from the madness of India.

You cannot rush

I've just started work on some images from the gardens around the Taj Mahal. I knew when I was there, roaming the gardens in the industrial smog that was shrouding the entire complex, that I would have to be very, very careful with how I edit and work on these.In the gardens of the Taj Mahal I tend to go for saturated images and contrast. A punchy image. But these ones are begging to be left alone, or more to the point, desaturated, left to be misty and vague.

It's early days yet, but I feel that what I've got together from my velvia shots alone is coming together nicely. I have a large light table at home now, which means that I can lay out all the images that make some kind of impact on me. Once they're all there on the same table, with the light illuminating them from the back, I'm able to see more clearly the 'story' of what will come.

It's hard to describe, but I don't think I work with the intention of working on each image as a sole entity. It's the bigger picture I'm after. Does the entire collection of images I have fit together? Do they compliment, do they share the same tonal aspects?

This is when I can get brutal. I believe in quality control. I start by cutting my films down to what I think is good, and then I cut them down even further to the ones that I know don't niggle me in any way, or perhaps, I know they have faults, but I'm happy with them all the same. There's something pleasing in their imperfection.

Anyway, I digress. I'm working on them, but I think it's a delicate process. You cannot rush the birth of your creativity. It has to come to you at the right time, and that's not just when you decide to click the shutter. There are many stages to the birth of an image, and in this stage, I'm talking about how I decide to edit and how I decide to put my story together.

I'm off to the Isle of Eigg this week and then into a glen, to a friends cottage. So It's going to be a while before I have anything concrete to show, and even then, I'd prefer to sit with them for a while, live with my results, get used to them before I decide to share. I'm sorry, but this is perhaps the most precious stage of photography for me. I've got to know I did my best, and I've not stopped half way on an image.

Peeling under the layers

Well I'm back from India and Nepal, as of yesterday and apart from feeling the jet lag, it is now only possible for me to really understand where I have been and what I have seen. You see, I feel like a chameleon when I go traveling. Things are fresh and new.... for a while and quickly what was special becomes my new norm. My normal point of reference. Home starts to feel like a dream and I'm quickly immersed in my new surroundings so much so that I loose a sense of perspective. It is only once I am home and have adjusted to my cultural background that I am able to take stock of how culturally rich and strange the places I have been to are. _mg_5683.jpg

I met up with David DuChemin from the PixelatedImage whilst in Kathmandu. I was unfortunately fatigued and unwell, but we had a good chat about photography and it was really nice to meet him in person. I feel that David is someone we will be seeing a lot of in the future. He has drive and vision.

So I now have 99 rolls of film (I counted them this morning at 3am) to get processed. What can I tell you of the trip? Or the photos in particular? Well I think India was overwhelming in so many ways and I often felt that I needed to escape. Noise noise noise. People people people. Portraits portraits portraits. Yes, I think I'll perhaps have a new portfolio titled 'portraits of Rathjestan' but also a portfolio dedicated to the Taj Mahal.

I fell in love when I least expected to. Arriving at the Taj gates at 5am for sunrise to find I was one of a few thousand sunrise visitors, I felt that I would get nothing, and perhaps I should resign my camera to my bag. But the building was simply stunning and I'm not usually one for the normal tourist adverts. I'm unclear at this moment whether it was the Agra smog, eating away at the marble of the building and shrouding it in a ghostly fog that made it more special, or if it was simply a case of enjoying something with symmetry and order after three weeks of dust, dirt, grime, poverty you wouldn't believe and maddening chaos. Perhaps this did enhance my response to the vision of the Taj, but I went back three mornings to shoot there and now feel convinced that in those unprocessed films, I have the germs of a seperate portfolio.

I guess I love that about film. I slowly build up a mental picture, or perhaps more an emotional picture in my head of what the final results will be like. I often get a feeling when an image comes 'right' in the camera. Often at the point of tripping the shutter, and yet, nothing ever prepares me for the processed images when they land on my desk.

So what now? Well, apart from some sleep, and some decent food for a change, I need to get prepared for a workshop I am doing in Patagonia in around six weeks time. I'm also going to do the full Paine circuit while there - something I have yet to do in an attempt to get some photos from the highest pass in the park - the John Gardiner pass, which has panoramic views over the southern ice field (wish me luck).

But I also have a trip to Easter Island and this is really what the title of this post is all about. I've been to Easter Island before - around six years ago and I came home spell bound by the place. I knew then that I had only scratched the surface of the Island and I've had an itch to go back for a long time. I do feel that you often need to repeat a visit to a location. It's not always immediately 'understood' and it can take time to truly understand a landscape to get the best out of it. So I hope that this trip to Easter Island allows me to peel perhaps one or two layers away.

I'll sign off just now. Off to make a cup of tea and get those films processed. Expect to see some blog activity in the coming weeks regarding my Indian and Nepal photos.