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Sunday, February 22, 2015

BILLINGS MONTANA PHOTOGRAPHER – STREET PHOTOGRAPHY INSPIRED BY INDIA

Travel is one of my favorite pastimes, and I was very fortunate to spend 17 days in India this winter with my family.  It was my third trip to India and it seems to get better every time I visit.  For someone who grew up in Nebraska, India is a different world to me, and I find it endlessly fascinating.  Curiosity makes for great photography and I kept my camera handy.

These photos feature my wife’s hometown, mostly at night.  Most of them were made one evening when I tagged along with my wife’s parents for a quick trip to the market.  But my favorite photo of the set was made next door to my wife’s house, in a building that was under construction.  I noticed that each day some of the workers would start little fires in the lower level to keep warm as it cooled off in the evening.  I’m not sure if they were cooking with the fires, or if they were camping out in there over night, or just using the fires to heat themselves up at the end of the day.  I never found out.  But I did stop by one day at about the right time and made a few frames.  I didn’t realize there were three people sitting around the fire until I got home and looked at the photo on my big screen.  There is a lot going on in this photo and I can’t wait to print it really large to show off all of the little details.

Thinking about going to India? 
Here are more of my thoughts about travelling to India:

India is an amazing adventure for me.  It never gets old or boring and I really enjoy my visit every time.  Although, I might be unusual because like venturing into the unknown and experiencing things that are foreign to me.  For me the journey is the fun part, not necessarily the destination, and if I get to travel with my loved ones then it’s all the better.  Every part of India amazes me, not just the pretty parts.  There are lots of beautiful places to visit, history and culture to learn about, and happy people everywhere.  But there’s a lot in between that is not pretty.  India is far from the perfect vacation destination and while I think everyone would benefit from the perspective India offers, it’s not a place that everyone, especially Westerners, will enjoy visiting.  India is not like what you see on TV, and if it is, it’s a lot more like Slumdog Millionaire than Eat Love Pray or any Bollywood flick.  It is crowded, polluted, smelly, and noisy.  The poverty and pollution is shocking for someone from the US.   The result is a unique blend of sensory overload and culture shock that I can’t imagine you’ll experience anywhere else in the world.

If you’re patient and open minded, you’ll get a new appreciation for things you take for granted.  In my wife’s hometown for instance, the electricity regularly goes out for several hours a day.  The internet comes and goes, although a lot of places have Wifi now.  Just walking down the street can be difficult with chaotic traffic of all kinds, including lots of livestock and dirty stuff to step in.  It’s common to walk past piles of trash and sewage along the city streets, making for some very unpleasant sights and smells.  Crazy traffic makes travelling by car very slow and the roads are in poor shape outside of the major cities.  Water is a big issue, most tap water needs to be boiled before it’s safe for drinking, so you’ll need to buy bottled water everywhere (which is sad because it contributes to a huge plastic pollution problem).  If you’re not from India you’ll have to be careful about what you eat too, even though no amount of caution will likely help you avoid a 24 hour bout with “Delhi belly” (travelers digestive problem).  It’s happened to me all three times, and it has happened to every American I’ve traveled to India with.

The language barrier complicates things too, even though English is a national language.  In my experience, the type of people you rely upon for travel do not speak English much at all. Cab drivers, restaurant servers, street vendors, hotel, train and plane attendants, may or may not speak English, and these are the people most travellers are most likely to interact with. Often there is someone around that speaks at least a little English, but I’m always surprised by the extent of the language barrier and I’m thankful to have my Hindi and Bengali speaking wife or family with me at all times.  If you’re not going to have the luxury of a translator I’d highly recommend learning some Hindi before you go and you’ll have to be a lot more vigilante in your preparation so that you always know where you’re going.  Westerners stick out like a sore thumb in India and beggars, pushy street vendors and scam artists are quick to prey on what they assume to be rich foreigners.  With all of the chaos and culture shock it is easy to get taken advantage of, especially in the big cities.  I’m lucky to have family in India and they keep me safe and healthy, but I think it would be pretty difficult to visit India on my own, especially for the first time.

Despite all of these difficulties, I think it’s more than worth travelling to India if you are up for an adventure.  Spending time in India will open your eyes and give you a new perspective on life.  You’ll forget about the troubles of your daily life as you are immersed in a foreign new world.  You’ll be inspired by the people you meet, the sights you see, and the things you take for granted.  And you’ll come home enriched by an experience that you can’t even imagine until you see it with your own eyes.


Study your craft!  As I’ve become more educated about the masters of photography like Henri Cartier-Bresson and W. Eugene Smith, I’ve gained a new appreciation for street photography and photojournalism.  I especially like the black and whites of Eugene Smith and Sebastiao Salgado’s photo essays from around the globe.  I think it’s easy to see the influence of my new education in these photos, even though I have not dedicated a lot of time to these genres and generally dedicate more time to studying the master portrait artists of the discipline, not street photographers and photojournalists.  I owe this influence to and have to thank my good friend and mentor Ken Jarecke as he has undertaken the painstaking task of educating me about my own craft.  Without much effort Ken has taught me an overwhelming amount in the last year and a half.  All it takes is for him to make a reference to a famous photo or photographer that I should know, and ask “have you heard of them?”  The answer is usually an embarrassed “no.”  I used to get nervous and embarrassed frequently when chatting with Ken, but I’ve figured out now that I wasn’t embarrassed by not knowing the answers to his questions, but rather, it was the lack of effort that I had put into serious study of my craft that embarrassed me.  Well it turns out embarrassment is a great motivator, and I don’t feel embarrassed when I talk with Ken anymore, I feel lucky to be learning from one of the greats.  I’d be adrift in the sea of photography education snake oil if it weren’t for Ken’s lessons.  Now I can’t wait for him to give me another name or photo that I haven’t heard of so I can continue to learn more.

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