Dusk descends over the concrete expanse of London’s Southbank arts centre. London, U.K. ©Tom Pietrasik 2013 Tweet Its that time of year in Europe when the days grow longer, summer beckons and the hours of dusk seem to last an eternity. When I lived in India, spring was a season to dread, notable for the onset [...]
Vasanti Shinde, at home with two of her daughters Vrinda, 8 and Shruda, 10. Maharashtra. India ©Tom Pietrasik 2008 The struggle against the over-zealous patenting of life-saving drugs was dealt a victory in India last week. So it seemed an appropriate time to revisit my photographs, commissioned by UNDP, of Vasanti Shinde, an HIV-positive mother [...]
Two weeks ago the story of an Indian rice farmer attracted much attention in the Guardian. John Vidal described the experience of Sumant Kumar from Bihar who saw a hectare of his land yield 22.4 tonnes of rice – over four times the norm. Kumar had achieved this incredible output by the use of a [...]
Administering the polio vaccination at a clinic inaugurated by the local Imam outside his madrassa in Moradabad. Polio eradication efforts are improved with the blessing of local community leaders. Moradabad, Uttar Pradesh. India ©Tom Pietrasik 2006 Two weeks ago India announced that 12-months had elapsed since the country last recorded a new case of polio. [...]
Unexpected events and unforeseen circumstances are an inevitable part of a photographer’s life. Such moments can be the source substantial stress and it is important to minimize the likelihood of them happening. But surprises also have the potential to transform a mundane moment into something very special. I held on to this positive thought while I photographed Dita von Teese.
Think of an Indian farmer and it is likely that you will conjure up the image of a man, dressed a dhoti – or perhaps wearing a turban – toiling in a field of wheat or rice. But as Neelam Prabhat of AROH pointed out to me last week, it is women who shoulder the burden of 70 to 80 percent of the agricultural work that takes place in India.
Jason Mikian is a researcher with the Peace Research Institute in Oslo and, together with award-winning journalist Scott Carney, he has just published an article on Indian mining in Foreign Policy Magazine. Miklian and Carney’s story documents the shocking conditions forced upon local people in the name of progress and development in both Jharkhand and the neighbouring state of Chhattisgarh.The published article features a few of my photographs too.
Defined by their sexual-orientation, Aravanis are rarely accepted by India’s largely conservative society. As a consequence, many are tormented by the disapproving gaze of others and suffer a lonely existence from which they seldom find solace. The transgender gathering I photographed in the Tamil town of Koovagam is one such occasion when Aravanis are able to emerge and take centre-stage – if only for a few short days a year.
The Guardian Weekend Magazine recently commissioned me to photograph Divya Thakur’s beautiful apartment, housed in a 100 year-old colonial building in Mumbai’s Colaba neighbourhood. Thakur runs Design Temple, a graphics firm she established ten years ago.
The only means to avert the menace of rhesus monkeys appears to be securing the services of a langur monkey. And this is precisely the solution employed by British High Commissioner. I don’t make a habit of visiting the High Commission but a few years ago I found myself relaxing on the ample lawn of the residence when I noticed a short man approaching me. Strolling alongside him was a monkey tied to a leash. As the man got closer, I realised that his companion was almost the same height as he was. This monkey was very different from the small rhesus variety that I had seen menacing my neighbourhood. Instead of the ubiquitous limp and incessant scratching that seem to be the curse of all rhesus monkeys, this creature walked with an elegant gait and wore a beautiful grey fur coat that appeared entirely fitting given the opulent surroundings.
Ela Bhatt is founder of the Self Employed Women’s Association of India (SEWA), a union which represents the rights of over one million workers. She lives in the west Indian city of Ahmedebad and while I was there to photograph her last month she took me to meet some of SEWA’s members among the vegetable vendors of the city.
According to Sahay then, I should have come across a lot of enthusiasm and hope among this population who either directly or indirectly [depend] on the Bokaro Steel Plant for a living. But I didn’t. Instead I photographed a poor and dejected community, eking out a living on the fringes of a mine that employes few local residents. I saw women collecting coal as lumps of it toppled from the huge trucks exiting the mines. Close by, families living in grotty hovels, were selling plastic bottles of petrol to passing motor vehicles. This was trickle down economics at work, honouring those who’ve been forced to sacrifice their land in the name of growth.
What makes this kind of photography exciting for me is the notion that these moments happen all the time. As Elliot Erwitt, Webb’s colleague at Magnum Photos, says, “You can find pictures anywhere. It’s simply a matter of noticing things and organizing them.” Of course for the most part, these “pictures” pass the world by because no one was there to capture them.
However I have to admit to suffering a tinge of frustration because, as all photographers know, fog can make for dramatic pictures. This photograph of rickshaw drivers grappling with the cold was taken before dawn while I waited for my Delhi-bound train to arrive at Moradabad station in northern India. I’d spent the previous week photographing a polio vaccination campaign for UNICEF and though this picture had nothing to do with the commissioned work, it was perhaps the most memorable image that I captured on that trip. As is so often the case in photography, it was the incidental moment, neither planned nor anticipated that yielded the most significant result.
Jaipur’s fifth annual literature festival gets underway today. According to festival director and author William Dalrymple, writing in last Sunday’s Observer newspaper, the gathering is distinctive for it’s egalitarian spirit. Still in it’s infancy, but already attracting a long list of literary luminaries, Jaipur has apparently so far avoided the need for VIP enclosures and green rooms. Dalrymple proudly recalls the assimilation of Bollywood celebrities into the genial mood of previous Jaipur literature festivals. Having attended a few of book launches myself, I fully appreciate that maintaining this atmosphere of innocent bonhomie will be a difficult task. When I took this portrait of him just before Christmas, Dalrymple was already wearing his director’s hat and eagerly anticipating the literary excitement.
Ultimately, the Financial Times magazine editors considered the significance of the young couple’s relationship so fundamental to the story that their affection for one another had to presented visually. Consequently they chose to reproduce a number of “collect photos” from Gaurav’s camera and these formed the basis of the opening spread. As much as I would have liked my photographs to have appeared more prominently in the feature I was entirely sympathetic to the editors decision to place them behind Gaurav’s blurred snapshots. The relevance of these photographs lies not in their quality but in the awkward depiction of an innocent and apparently unexceptional relationship that is so difficult to reconcile with the horror of subsequent events.
Exactly five years ago, on the morning of December 26th 2004, I took a dawn flight to Chennai. I was looking forward to a bit of relaxation and had packed my swimming gear together with a couple of books and some Christmas gifts for the friends with whom I would be staying. It was two hours later, while disembarking with my camera bag that David asked why I had bothered to bring along all of my equipment. Surely, he wondered, a holiday wasn’t really a holiday if accompanied by the paraphernalia of work. As I explained, “what if something were to happen?” David didn’t seem particularly convinced by my argument.
I was lucky enough to escape last week to the east Indian town of Puri in Orissa for particularly pleasant beach-side holiday. I did very little but relax, breathe in the ocean air and stroll along the shore with my camera. It was, as they say, just what the doctor ordered.
A few days ago I was discharged from hospital after spending a week undergoing treatment for malaria contracted while working in eastern India. I could never have imagined that my own personal experience would provide such a stark confirmation of the pressing need to invest in essential public infrastructure like drainage.
If the enthusiastic splashing of the students I met in Sri Lanka could be replicated elsewhere, we might have achieved a significant step towards reducing the appalling rate of child mortality.
In the past twelve months I have been approached by three publications: America’s Art&Auction, the German ART Magazine and now The Times to illustrate features on the theme of Indian contemporary art. This alone is a measure of the recent international recognition bestowed upon Indian artists including Gupta who I have now photographed on two occasions. Of Gupta’s many wealthy patrons, François Pinault, who bought the artist’s Very Hungry God, is worth US$16.9 billion. It is a sorry commentary on our world to discover that Pinault’s fortune is greater than the entire annual wealth of Gupta’s home-state of Bihar (US$15.5 billion) with a population of 83 million people. It would be wrong to suggest that Gupta’s work helps us comprehend this injustice. But he is certainly one of those individuals whose life, work and success are defined by the disparity of our globalized economy.
When India’s high-profile politicians head into town, its difficult to ignore their presence. Chidambaram was in Cuddalore to launch a student loans scheme intended to encourage poor families to send their children into further education. I’m entirely supportive of such initiatives but I’m certain I wasn’t the only one in Cuddalore last week who felt that the well-being of students was a rather secondary concern to those elected officials eager to exploit the situation for a bit of self-promotion.
I have been traveling this past month so I must apologise for neglecting my blog. At the end of August I flew from Delhi to the Maldives where I had the pleasure of taking on a celebrity portrait assignment. The work was a success but beachside portraiture during the monsoon season presents its own unique challenges. I will write more about this episode after the photographs have been published in November.
This photograph was taken at the opening of a new university just outside Delhi last weekend. Beyond the red carpet, there were thankfully few other symbols to denote distinction among the guests. But it doesn’t take a great deal of searching to find loud pronouncements of status and social standing all over India.