ANOTHER GUEST POST FROM HERB LEVENTON
Traveling and photographing in India is so special because interacting with the people is so warm and human.
I have now been to India three times over the course of the last six months and my friends at home joke that I am now commuting there to work. I am starting to believe that if you go to India it will help you become a better person. Seeing Indians living in abject poverty will not help you appreciate things back at home because once at home you immediately fall back into your routine and self absorbed lifestyle. What India does do is help you step outside of your self and observe things and see things differently. I believe that how, and what you photograph is changed because of this.
Today was spent traveling across the parched northern zone of Gujarat. A few simple interactions along the way made a long ride a source of laughter. After two hours in the car we stopped at a small village where many tribal people and non tribe merchants live and work. Walking down the dusty main street everyone seemed to be smiling at me and random people would pull up along side of me and say in broken one word english, "German", "England", "America" all wanting to know where I was from. One guy made my day by asking me what village I was from. I said New York and he replied, oh, good village.
When checking into the hotel I heard that the drivers room didn't have a fan and I asked the receptionist why not. With out a blink she said because of the earthquake. I smiled at her and told her that that was in 2002. If this was back at home I probably would have asked her if she was crazy, here in India all I could do was smile. An hour later walking in beautiful, atmospheric Buhj the far northern city in Gujarat I stopped for an ice-cream. As I was eating it I saw two kids looking at me and I bought them ice cream as well on a day when the temperature hit 106. Within seconds about fifty kids were around me. I didn't buy them all ice-cream but did take lots of photos of them and they all seemed to be happy. The ice-cream vendor smiled at me and offered me another ice-cream and said it was an honor to give me an ice-cream for free.
As anyone who has ever been to India will tell you electricians have turned wiring a room up into an art form. In my room near the bed were six switches, each wall had two more, the bathroom had four and to figure out how to lower the a/c you would need to be a mensa. After fifteen minutes of trying to figure how to turn the light off in the bathroom without success and lowering the a/c I reluctantly called the desk and a sweet, soft spoken girl came up and I asked her to help me. Five minutes later she called downstairs to get help as she couldn't figure it out either. Within minutes another girl came up bearing towels. I told her we needed help with the lights and not towels. She said she didn't know anything about the lights in the room but extra towels always make guests happy. I think I will go sleep in a freezing room with the lights on.
Must be running on adrenaline I woke up my second day in Ahmedabed at six o'clock in the morning and immediately went outside to smell, taste and breathe the air. One of the guide books I have said it was one of the most polluted places on the globe but the air quality was excellent this morning. After eating a breakfast of foods that I can't pronounce but sure tasted good the road trip began.
First stop was the Adalaj Vav step well located 30 minutes outside of the city. Great sign when you start a trip and you are the only car on the road. This totally intact, massive 4 story well was built in 1040 and the pillars and symmetry lent itself for some good architectural photography. Catching the right angle with the correct lighting was difficult but I did find a place where I saw some strong shadows. A few workmen were sweeping the structure and I brought them over and we had some laughs posing with our arms out or above our heads. The shadow shots came out great and the guys didn't want to go back to work and wanted to continue the photo shoot.
Next stop was the Hindu temple an hour away by the name of Bechragi. Our local guide said that the temple was interesting but I would probably find the Hijra's who spent their days there of more interest. This group of people are called the third sex in India and are marginalized by Indian society. My guide knew the chief mother, Lila, and introduced me as his Amercan friend. Not feeling comfortable focusing my camera on them I tried to engage them in a little small talk via the guide as a translator. Some had heavy chains on their ankles a few growled at me and Lila let me know that if I wanted to photograph them the conversation would be over. I explained that I would be bringing a photo group over in January and doing a tribal tour and saw them as a tribe. Lila seemed to like the way I put it and soon enough we were negotiating the plan. I promised to buy sari's for the akha"community" and a small camera for Lila. I was then given permission to shoot some portraits of the group. Some smiled, some teased and some primped.
Gujarat is not on the tourist trail so finding a lunch spot with a western sense of hygiene was a chore. We eventually ate at the temple dining hall. Chapati, beans and potatoes and a prayer that I wouldn't get sick was on the menu. The lighting was great and the photo opportunities in the cavernous hall were terrific. Everyone smiled and wanted to have their picture taken while eating. You can call this food photography on a photo trip.
Next stop was the town near the Balaram Palace Resort where we would be staying for two days. The barber shops, women in sari's, cattle in the road, the dust and sand kicking up and the camels pulling carts all created a photo buzz. People kept on running over to me smiling and saying "from where" 'from where". It was like I landed on the moon and was the first foreigner to ever be there. The only person who was really fluent let me know that they would be talking about me for weeks. No one asked for money for having their photo taken and the hassle factor was zero. They loved being photographed, especially the guys in the barber shops. It appears that Indians love going to the barber.
Sharing the road with cattle, watching the shepherds bringing their sheep in from pasture, and watching the tribal women balance water pails on their heads let me know that this was a great destination for a cultural immersion photo trip.
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I just commented on this image posted on Facebook by Lisa Brockman. What I really liked when I first saw it was the color palette – the subtle browns, tans, silvers and bronzes. The image had it all. Then it struck me that there was one thing missing – movement. Lisa could have chosen to add motion blur by reducing her shutter speed to around 1/15sec and panning with the car, but that is a completely different image (and there was probably not time to make the adjustments in the fleeting moments as the car passed by).
Enter technology. I remember using a technique a while ago which entailed adding some radial blur to the wheels in Photoshop, Filter > Blur > Radial Blur to enhance the feeling of movement. Remember to use enough feather on your circular selection to keep the selection invisible and do not overdo the blur effect. Use just enough to give the car the motion you need.
Recently, when I received a B&W image to assess from Ron, a former client from one of my Cuba tours, I studied it and then wrote back to him asking if he would send me the original RAW file so that I could work on it the way I would have done it.
This he duly did, and once I had optimized the RAW file in Camera RAW (which included desaturating it, adjusting the B&W tones with the color sliders, and making final adjustments to exposure and contrast), I ran it through Nik Silver Efex Pro using my Havana Nights recipe. I then made some local corrections and tweaks to arrive at the example on the right. The added contract and rich blacks really accentuated the character of the old woman as well as emphasizing the beautiful quality of the single source "window light".
Though Ron's image conversion was solid, I think that by comparing the two treatments side by side shows how "grey" his image was in comparison to the version made with Silver Efex.
I have included the Havana Nights settings below. If you would like to try it, download the file and import it into Silver Efex Pro. have fun!
Travel partner Herb Leventon of Epic Photo Tours is presently in Gujarat scouting for our upcoming tour in Tribes of Gujarat, Jan 9 - 21, 2015. Here are his impressions of Ahemdabad during his first 8 hours there (pics to follow).
Great first day, didn't see another foreigner along the way. No english spoken, zero hassle factor. Great street photography; cattle on the streets, interesting architecture, henna on hands, ankle bracelets, nose piercings, friendly shop keepers…
Left the hotel at 7:30 am and drove directly to the ancient gated part of the city. Walked down narrow, winding paths where the 2 and 3 story crumbling wood and cement structures were connected and the windows and door frames had intricate carvings and wound up in a section where all of the women were washing their clothes in buckets and beating them on the pavement. Before I even entered the path I knew what the the sound was, clothing being slapped on the pavement. Other women were using straw hand brooms and sweeping the paths and then piled up the rubbish and made their way to the small dumpster truck. Smiles everywhere, everyone happy to get photographed. Stopped at a coffee stall and had a small cup of energy.
Continued walking and heard the sounds of women chanting. Followed the trail to a Jain temple. Men on one side, women on the other. About 100 smiling faces motioning me to sit down. Found a staircase and went up to shoot down on the crowd. The Jain's are as devout as they come in the Hindu world. No shoes, no possessions, don't eat root vegetables and the main Jain had a thin white cloth over his mouth when he spoke. That was to prevent him from swallowing a bug and engaging in violence.
From there made my way to a regular Hindu temple. Many of the men and women had cotton bags over their hands and were counting the chaka beads inside. I saw some really spiritual expressions on peoples faces. I wandered off and lost my local guide and tour operator so I made my way back to where I hoped the car and driver was.He was there but his english was minimal but we he knew enough to call th guide and find his coordinates and I jumped in a tuktuk and zoomed over to them.
The rest of the morning was spent walking through the "poles' which are the neighborhoods behind the houses built in courtyards. Then moved along to walk through the spice market, stationery and book market, and embroidery markets. Bought a white Ghandi cap for myself and my 70 year old local guide. Definitely a smile getter and ice breaker wearing that cap. Makes it easy to photograph people when they see me with the Ghandi "topi". My tour operator says that I don't look like an idiot with it on.
Sitting on a stoop were a few masculine looking women who my guide said were hajiras. They are transgender, eunuchs, and called the third sex in India. I took a few shots and then had my guide engage them with the idea that I could find out where their "akhra" community lives and I can do a photo shoot with them. They didn't really like him so I had my female tour operator work them and got a phone number so that I could visit them tomorrow.
By noon it hit 95 degrees and I was zoning out so we took a tuktuk to a possible hotel choice and had lunch. Labor centric India at its best and worst, I think we had about 8 waiters fussing over us. Checked out the rooms and decided that the location was really convenient so I will have the group stay there the first 3 days in Ahmedabad. Totally out of steam, we drove back to the hotel where we are staying at now. Really luxurious, I will save to for the last night of the trip as it is out of the way but will be a great place to end the trip.
Nik's Silver Efex Pro is pretty impressive software. Here is a selection of images made using it to make the conversions.
You walk into a dark space lit only by an open door at the back of the premises and you are immediately assaulted by the reek of pepper. Within seconds you are coughing and it is hard to breathe. As you head towards the light a breeze blows around the dust stirred up by the sifted pepper. Another coughing fit before you rush outside.
These women work in this environment for six days a week, 9 - 5, protected only by a strip of cloth wrapped around their mouths and noses. They spend their days sifting and sorting the various grades of black pepper in an unventilated environment. It is incredible that there is not even a fan on the premises.
I speak to Maria, a practicing catholic, and she is happy to pose for a few photograph for our small group. For the next few minutes the lives of the spice girls in this particular warehouse are interrupted with smiles and laughter as we try to capture their beautiful spirit through our photos.
As our tour to South India draws to a close I would like to share some of the images that we have taken on this two-week journey. It has been a great trip – the Southern Indian people are warm and friendly and they love to have their photos taken. As soon as you show them the image on the screen they uniformly respond with, "super!"
On a recent trip to india I watched a Bollywood movie on the plane called Marina. The video below is the theme song "Chennai". Here is the plot:
Ambikapathy ('Pakoda' Pandian) is a orphan runaway who escapes from his cruel uncle to Chennai and eventually ends up at Marina beach. He earns his livelihood by first hawking drinking-water packets and later poached chickpeas to the public visiting Marina beach. His calm and matured manners win him the admiration and later the friendship of other boys employed at the beach. Ambikapathy has a passion to be educated, so he works in the day to save money for schooling whilst trying to study at night on his own. His ultimate dream is to be enrolled in a proper school. His passion also slowly begins to rubs-off on the other children on the beach.
An old man (Sundararajan) and postman (Jithan Mohan) are the guardian of sorts for these street-children. The beach is also the got-to place for many lovebirds. One such couple is Senthilnathan and Swapna Sundari.
I remembered really enjoying the film so yesterday, while spending the day in Chennai before the beginning of our tour, I made an effort to go down to Marina Beach where I photographed a small slice of life – perhaps these boys were influenced by the movie!
I just spoke to 3 of the Emirates flight attendants who will be on our flight today. One was from Brazil, one from the Netherlands and the other from New Zealand. I've heard great things about this airline and it is my first flight with them – bound for Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India.
Jeremy Woodhouse is a professional photographer and traveller. He leads photography trips to all corners of the globe