When we last left the story, I just arrived in New Delhi and got bombarded with my first visual taste of India. I was zipping along in the back of a Tata automobile driven by Mr. Kumar. I was frantically shooting street scenes from the back of the moving vehicle and I arrived safely at my hotel after a short stop at the India Gate. I mentioned previously that I hired a driver for my short stay in the Delhi area. I went through a company called Indian Panorama who arranged everything for me. The transportation between all the places I wanted to visit, a private driver and tour guide to pick me up and drop me off at the right places and even my hotel in New Delhi were all arranged by the tour company. They did a great job and I highly recommend them. For the hotel in Delhi I requested Indian Panorama to find me a 3 – 3 1/2 star hotel in a safe but interesting neighborhood. I told them that I wanted to be near a market place where I would be safe shooting photographs at night. They found the Florence Inn in the Karol Bagh section of New Delhi. After checking in, I quickly organized my photo gear for some street shooting. I had to get up early the next day so I wanted to shoot for only an hour or so and get to bed by around 10pm. I headed out the door by myself for some night-time street photography.
The neighborhood was surrounded by modest but clean-looking hotels. About a block away, there was a lively area of shops with many people on the street. The streets were dirty, broken down and generally a mess but the area didn’t seem dangerous. There was nothing I encountered that made me worry about my safety. At least at 8pm – 9pm, the streets were full of people of all ages, shopping, eating and having a good time. It seemed exactly like the place I wanted to street shoot. A dense mix of interesting places and people and with sufficient grit to make me realize this is unlike any place I’ve been before. Everywhere, people seem to be shopping, picking up the daily necessities both from stores as well as street vendors. This was not a typical tourist area catering to foreigners, there were no high-end luxury goods here. Just the stuff that the average Indian would need on a daily basis.
Wedged in between stores, I saw Hindu temples and places that sold flower garlands. There were slightly nicer stores right next to stalls that sold shoes and everywhere there were vendors that setup temporary displays on the street. I even saw a McDonald’s amidst the local shops. It seems like capitalism was alive and well in India and everyone had their little niche to make some money and survive. The street life was lively with an inexhaustible supply of people walking around. The density of people was similar to what I see on 6th street in Austin during the weekend party scene but here in Karol Bagh, the people were not partying or being rowdy. They were just going about their business as a small group of tourist wandered among them. The cars, motorcycles, 3 wheeled Autos, bicycles and pushcarts all slowly weaved between the people walking on the street. At first It seemed overly chaotic but it didn’t take long before I mostly ignored the traffic and shot the world around me. I’m not sure how someone from a small town in the U.S. will react to all this. A lot earlier in my life, I grew up in some large cities on the East Coast so I’m somewhat used to the crowds, though the dynamic here is certainly different from, say New York City.
I must have walked 5 or 6 blocks from my hotel when I decided to head back. I didn’t want to risk getting lost and besides I needed to get to bed early for the big day of sightseeing. It didn’t take me too long to get a feel for the place but there were things that were certainly different from other places that I have visited. This is the first time I’m in a developing country so I don’t have a lot of context. I don’t know if other developing countries have similar characteristics. While I can understand that there are a lot of litter on the street, I was fascinated by, what appeared to me as, random piles of dirt. They look like piles of dirt you seen around construction sites but I saw these in places where I saw no signs of construction. I also saw a lot of stray, skinny dogs but I don’t recall seeing any cats.
I’m sure it is no surprise that there is still a lot of poverty in India. I don’t recall many people asking me for money that night in Karol Bagh. Maybe I turned on my dispassionate New Yorker mode and chose not to see it. Or maybe my purposeful street shooting kept them at bay. There was one situation that I do recall that took me by surprise. Off near the side of the road there was an old, skinny lady, crouched down. The street scape was dark enough that she nearly blended into the background and I almost stumbled over her. I decided not to take her picture since I felt self-conscious of shooting people who are down on their luck. I also didn’t want to give a distorted view of the place since she seemed like the exception. This shopping district was dirty and chaotic by Western standards but it was far from squalid. There was a vibrant energy and I hope it comes though in my street photographs. I felt a bit of regret for not giving the old lady any money. But I console myself that I really didn’t have any spare change with me. As you may recall from the previous India entry that I didn’t bring much cash with me on this trip. Yeah, it is a lame excuse but it is the only excuse that can justify my actions. There are certainly homeless people in Austin and the rest of the United States. And I usually do not give them handouts either. But somehow, this felt different. The lady was so tiny, forgotten in the corner of this busy street. She was not even actively looking for any help.
It was a short street photography session but I feel like I captured that flavor of the area, But this was merely a warmup. Tomorrow was my first full day of touring and I was heading out of the city by train. The driver was coming to pick me up at the hotel at 5:30 so I needed to get to bed. And as you will find out in the next installment, there were some unplanned situations at the hotel before the night was out.
This post is part 4 of my travels to India and Singapore, Start from the beginning at, Quite possibly a trip of a lifetime and part 3, New Delhi, India: tired, excited and ready to shoot. Continue the story with part 5, The train to Agra, India – comfort, beauty and poverty.
I took these photographys with my Olympus E-PL1 with the Panasonic Lumix 20mm f1.7 and my Sony NEX-5 with the wide-angle adapter. Please make sure to click on a photograph to see a larger image and hover over the photo to see the exposure details.
See more images from India on mostlyfotos, my one photograph per day photo blog.
It’s April. SXSW Interactive, the Music as well as the Rodeo are finished. Austin is taking a breather after the activities of March and before the really hot weather comes in a couple of months. I’m switching back to my India trip that I took in February. My blog coverage started a month ago in a post called Around the world in 11 days where I was busy shooting colorful corridors at O’Hare Airport. After a quick 14 1/2 hour flight directly from Chicago to New Delhi, India, I arrived at the largest airport I’ve ever seen. The airport, square footage wise, may not be the largest but the corridors and waiting areas were scaled so large, it felt more like a convention center than a typical airport. The place was clean, modern, huge and slightly disappointing. I was expecting an old, well-worn and crowded facility that would have been more exotic and romantic. It would have better fit my image of a developing country. Instead, I was treated to a very modern place. Welcome to the Indira Gandhi International Airport, a place similar to all the internationalist architecture, found anywhere around the world.
I didn’t take any photos when I got there since there were some vague warnings against photography. Not wanting to start some incident upon arrival, I keep my camera in the bag. After clearing customs, I passed through a large duty-free area that sold the usual alcohol and perfume. So far, no sign of India. I whisked by the baggage claim since I managed to stuff all my belongings into two carry-on bags, which I’m really proud of. That’s 11 days of clothing in one bag, and all my electronics, computer, camera gear and extras in another. I passed though all the check points in record time and I was off to find my tour guide. Ever been to the airport and see those guys, just past baggage claim, that hold up signs with people’s names on them? Well for the first time, I was searching for someone with my name on display.
I found my tour coordinator quickly and I was off to exchange some money before I left the airport. Except, it turns out that I didn’t bring much cash, maybe about $50. Cash is something I rarely use in the United States these days and with all the preparations I neglected a small detail, like money. Well, I’ll just get some money from the cash machine. Except, I had unloaded all my extra cards at home, for safe keeping. I travelled light in the wallet and I basically just had my MasterCard. Somehow, my only form of payment did not spit out any Rupees. Something about a PIN code which I never set up. Oh, well it’s off to meet the driver and head into the city. Other than a need for some foreign currency, the place did not seem to different, yet. Many of the signs are thankfully in English and the people I encountered mostly spoke English. I was introduced to my driver, BJ Kumar, and the tour coordinator handed over all the tickets, papers and documents. Luckily, I had contacted a tour guide from the U.S. and had prepaid for most of my travels, I wouldn’t need much money, at least right now.
The driver started my journey away from this modern, generic place in a late-model, white,Tata automobile, the Indian equivalent to a Toyota Corolla. Soon as I left the airport, a scene that seemed congruent with what I expected from a developing country began to emerge. Any sense of order and uniformity disappeared. What I saw on the road was heterogeneous mix of all manner of conveyances. From people on foot, to bicycles, people powered rickshaws, auto rickshaws, motorcycles, scooters, trucks and of course cars. They all weaved in and out of traffic with the constant honking. The honking of horns were used to inform and not used in anger. They were saying “yes, I’m here”, “behind you”, or “I’m going to pass you”. I think in the first 10 minutes, I’ve heard more horns that I’ve heard in the 20 years I’ve lived in Austin. The few street markings were usually ignored and I saw a distinct lack of traffic signals. First impressions might have you think the Indians are terrible drivers but I’ve come to realize that, in fact, the Indians are fantastic drivers, only a bit crazy and unstructured. They weave in and out of traffic so close to each other but they manage not to touch. Granted, I was only in the country for 5 days however I never saw an accident. I enjoyed the entire experience and felt lucky that I was only a passenger and I didn’t have to drive these roads. I wouldn’t have lasted even a few minutes on the crazy streets of New Delhi. The excitement was a perfect way to boost my energy after the international flight. I frantically tried to photograph the scene that unfolded around my car but alas, either my skill level or equipment was lacking. The combination of the dark and fast movement made it difficult. I all but gave up the notion of a clear, focused, action stopping images. I instead, decided to go for movement and abstraction. The image at the top of the post was blurred on purpose to give a sense of movement and a slightly abstract feel. The one below also has a decent amount of motion blur but I like the angle and the feel of this black and white image.
Particularly interesting was a colorful and bright wedding party that paraded though the street. The guy at the end on the horse is the groom. I’m told that late February, with its mild weather, is the perfect time for weddings, I saw several, highly decorated tents that formed the entrances to where these ceremonies and parties are held. Indian weddings can be very elaborate and long. Short ones last 3 days and country weddings can last up to 21 days.
Everywhere that I went I saw these ubiquitous green and yellow three-wheeled vehicles. I called them Tuk Tuks which is what they are called in South East Asia but Indians called these autos, short for auto rickshaws. I don’t know why but I was really drawn to these things. They looked efficient yet exotic. They are so common in India but totally non-existent in the U.S. I constantly tried to get good shots of these autos, but mostly failed. The one below is one of my favorites. It shows a speeding auto amidst cars and motorcycles and a yellow line that is clearly being ignored by everyone.
Before going to the hotel, BJ offered to show me around the city and stopped at the India Gate. A large triumphant arch, similar to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, it was built to honor 90,000 fallen Indian soldiers during World War I and the Third Anglo-Afgan War. We parked nearby and walked to the memorial. There was a park surrounding the area and with a large and festive crowd taking a stroll on a nice clear night. This was my first encounter with a large crowd in India. I didn’t know what to expect but the scene was comforting. Street vendors sold snacks and ice cream. Young couples and teenagers took pictures of themselves in front of the arch, using cell phone cameras of course. I had arrived half way around the world and the people acted like they probably do in any other place. The enjoyed each other’s company and the comfortable evening temperatures. I settled down, setup my tripod and proceeded to do what I came here to do. I shot 3 exposures from several different angles with the plan of blending them later into a HDR (High Dynamic Range) photograph. I was shooting architecture, something that I like to do and find relaxing compared to street photography or photography out of a speeding car.
The image below is one of my HDRs. The golden arch made even more golden with post processing. As I finished the processing of this photograph and the writing of these words, I’m reminded of that first night in India. It was only a couple of hours since I landed and there were so many new things that I had seen and experienced. Writing these entries and snapping these images, hopefully, will be of interest to my visitors. But I think they are also for me. So that my memories of this place do not fade too quickly and I can savor the experience.
This post is part 3 of my travels to India and Singapore, read part 1, Quite possibly a trip of a lifetime and part 2, Around the world in 11 days. continue the story with part 4, Street shooting in Karol Bagh market, Delhi, India.
The photographs were taken with my Olympus E-PL1 with the Panasonic Lumix 20mm f1.7 and my Sony NEX-5 with the wide-angle adapter. Please make sure to click on a photograph to see a larger image and hover over the photo to see the exposure details.
See more images from India on mostlyfotos, my one photograph per day photo blog.