Photographing the People of India

Portrait of a taxi driver at rest in the back streets of Kolkata, India

India is, to my mind, a land of contradictions. Extraordinary landscapes; incredible temples and monuments; and beautiful people. Yet corruption; extremes of wealth and poverty; and the vestiges of the caste system continue to hold this country back.

I've traveled to India four times since 1988. My oldest sister, Maree, traveled their in the seventies and my parents, Mary and Fred, have visited India many times since the late sixties.

It's interesting, as an outsider, to watch this great melting pot lurch forward into the modern world. It's well on it's way to becoming one of the next economic tigers, yet masses remain poorly educated and economically disadvantaged. A hindu country with more muslims than its neighbor Pakistan; the largest democracy in the world where powerless people, many of them women, could be said to be its most significant demographic; and a country where many of the nation's most significant sites ban photography, due to the perception that photos can be aids to terrorism.

India is a country where a visitor may have just as much exposure to touts, thieves, illness and incredibly frustrating bureaucracy as they will to grand monuments, breathtaking landscapes and meetings with the odd yogin.

Walk the Streets and Meet the People

The above photo was made in a Kolkata backstreet late one warm, smoggy afternoon. The taxi driver was a natural: friendly, with a welcoming smile. Rather than ask him to stand in front of his taxi cab, where it was likely his fellow drivers would tease him, I used the car door as a compositional device (i.e., frame within a frame) to help lead the viewer's eye towards him.

The taxi was quite a bright yellow/orange color, which provided a fairly striking contrast with his aqua/blue shirt. But it was his face that was of prime importance to me which is why I opted for the black and white rendering. Now the car, his clothing and the rest of the environment play second fiddle to his face. And that's how it should be.  

Why do I go back?

So why do I go back, again and again. Ultimately, it's the people. The resolute and patient way by which they go about their lives, their genuine openness and the spirituality through which many of them approach life is truly inspiring.

Outside of the very best hotels and the most extravagant tours India is a very hard country in which to travel. You need to remain strong and patient so as to put up with the hassles that you'll likely have to face, often on a daily basis. But it's those chance meetings, often the moments between events, with genuine and honest folk that make it all worthwhile.

I don't think it's right to ask if it's worthwhile going to India. It's probably more appropriate to ask yourself whether you're up to it. And, the fact is, many people aren't. We can't expect that life will be the same for us outside of our own environment. After all, that's why we travel. And, more than any other country I've visited, the notion of learning to bend like a reed in the wind was never more applicable than when traveling to India.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru