Photography Training in India

The Blue City Jodhpur

Day 1 Delhi

My second visit to India with the Hope Foundation and Nikon Training School to Kolkata for some Photography Training In India began with an unexpected day in Delhi after getting on, and then getting off the right train and watching it depart for Jodhpur without me on it! After a rather hairy Tuk Tuk ride (hoping that my case and camera stuff was not thrown from the roof as we bumped, lurched and ricocheted our way) to Delhi Central station to purchase a ticket for the sleeper Mankor Express.

Delhi Train Station

Delhi is an assault on the senses after a long journey with no sleep; the chaotic streets and how the people are living on top of one another, the endless sound of car horns and the smells of a hot and busy city visually and mentally overwhelm you. I found a hotel to grab a few hours sleep but didn’t waste the opportunity to go out and about and photograph the Delhi streets. One of my favourite shots was captured from the back of a Tuk Tuk, I really like the frame created by the rear window.

Tuk Tuk

Back to the station, this time Delhi Central that is as chaotic and busy as it’s streets. Dinner was McSpicy masala chicken burger; yes even Delhi is home to the golden arches, grabbed before getting on, and this time staying on, the train to Jodhpur, sleeping class 3 tier. I was jealous of the locals who managed to sleep the length of the 11 hour journey, and was grateful I had pre-booked first class for the return trip. Saying that, train travel is incredibly cheap and is definitely an experience!!

Day 2 Jodhpur

The hotel owner had sent a Tuk Tuk to pick me up from the station, unsurprisingly he spotted me straight away, a white face lost in a sea of locals determined to make there way to work. A Tuk Tuk ride is like no other, you find your self holding on, breaking, closing your eyes and praying as the drivers beep and push there way out into the road, it seems like a total free-for-all and you wonder how many accidents they must have every year, not to mention the road rage, but we are in India, a calmer gentler race who’s use of the horn is more of a greeting to say ‘here I come, let me through’ rather than an expletive!

Iandian Worker

An early drive through Jodhpur, and the market around the clock tower was still empty and quiet, a complete contrast to my later visit there, so I quickly arrived at the old merchant house hotel, The Kings Retreat, beautiful traditional Indian guest house with charming staff and the owner, Vishal, also our guide whilst in Jodhpur, a truly lovely guy – I highly recommended you stay here if you want to visit the Blue City of Rajasthan. (Website link) A traditional Indian breakfast of paneer parathas whilst the room was prepared and then my first real taste of Jodhpur by bike to check out the city for locations to shoot my street photography.

Indian Girl Jodhpur

I was eager to find the blue buildings recorded in Steve McCurry’s renowned pictures of the city but in addition Vishal took me to some other places that I knew I could capture some amazing storytelling pictures. I captured my first photograph of the indigo painted walls at a friend of Vishal’s house with a family portrait. The afternoon included a visit to a local family spice shop where the mother will teacher you to cook and share some of her family recipes. She taught us how to make the perfect chai, you must boil the milk 5 times, and it was the perfect taste of India in a cup.

Blue City Jodhpur

Day 3 Jodhpur – the Blue City and water steps

Today started early to catch the perfect morning light. Children in the standard blue shirt uniform of the government schools walking through the streets whilst the stall holders arrived and set up their goods unfolding giant cloth parcels of saris and bangles, and wheeling their carts into position, laden with fruit and vegetables collected from the farms in the villages. The small front begun to open their shutters and hand out their goods and the chai man filled the air with sweet smoky spicy milk.

Two places to visit in Jodhpur’s old city are the Fort where the queens used to bathe and the water steps where apart from the hundreds of steps forming tiers of diagonals and squares, the young boys can be found jumping into the cooling water. I particularly love the image I captured of two men in their simple robes waking on the steps, creating a focal point on the symmetry of the steps, going up and down across the central third of the image.

I photographed a local man sitting on some steps against the blue walls of a house, behind him the legs of another man walking on the stairs.

Jodhpur

Day 4 Jodhpur – the rural villages

With a guide I visited the rural villages of Jodhpur, travelling from the old Blue City, across the main highway that defines the end of the old city and the start of the new, where the young and upwardly mobile families are settling and making their lives, according to our guide, a lot of the young adults living in the new part of the city have never ventured into the Blue interior as even for them it is a cultural distance. Then out past the university, based on the design of England’s Oxford University, where both the Indian architect and his father had studied, then along single-track roads turning to dust as we drew further away into the outlying villages of rural Rajasthan.

On the way to the village the guide was keen to stop and show us the local wildlife at the reserve, a lake with bison, antelope and many birds including those migrating from Russia. I photographed one family in their round house with their children and goats.

Tribal Girl

The neighbouring children were interested in the strange visitor taking pictures and came to say hello and ask for their photos to be taken as well. Although western tourists are not a completely regular visitor they are already making the link between posing for a picture and receiving a few rupees. As we drove he pointed out the sacred trees growing wild and explained that these have to be worked around so in the middle of a man made lake you will find a little island raised up with a tree at its centre.

The Bishnoi tribe who live by the 29 rules (bush meaning twenty and not meaning nine) are dedicated to defending all living things, and 300 were killed as they defending the trees, hugging them as they were felled. He took us to meet a Bishnoi family, only the head of the family wears the turban, which he unravel to show over 9 meters of cloth then with warped and turned it round his head to complete his headdress. We were invited to watch him carry out a traditional ceremony with thanks given to Vishnu on a tiny wooden shrine.

Indian Pottery maker

The guide took us to see some of the local craftsmen demonstrate their skills with an opportunity to buy their crafts directly from then rather than in the tourist shops in the city. Clay gathered locally then sieved before being made into workable clay spun on a manual wheel, tradition Indian wooden block print material made into throws and ‘duries’ hard wearing rugs made for guests to sit on the dusty floors made by hand on looms.

On the return to the city we visited a cooperative where local people were engaged in recycling material into patchwork designs for new items including wall hangings, bags and cushions.

Day five – Bankli

Nomad Tribe India

Jodhpur_0016

Another early start with a 180km drive out of Jodhpur to Bankli along the toll roads towards Pali and Soihro, to meet with a landowner who would take us to meet the local tribe of Riaka’s, recognise sleep for their white robes and red turban. As we drew near we spotted a lone Riaka walking with his herd along the main road. The picture of old meets new India as he produced a mobile phone!

On the farmland two nomad families had made camp, carrying everything they own including the wood to create a pen area for the animals at night. Distinct areas created in their makeshift homes on the harvested land, their valuables stored carefully on the roofs of their shelters and a doorway defined to bottles on the ground. They looked at us with as little understanding as we looked at them, trying to make sense of who and what we were doing there.

We then met with 2 Riaka herdsmen that posed happily as we took their pictures. They controlled their herd with whistles, and sat to eat under the shade of a tree. Their figures provided an imposing image of white and red against the farmland. My favourite image was of the elder man as he sucked on his chillum pipe. The Riaka then accompanied us back to his home where his wife prepared us chai made with their goats’ milk and he shared with us his chillum, his wife laughed as I coughed and spluttered. I was so taken their generosity of spirit and warm welcome that they gave to us.

Tribal Indian Jodhpur

Their meager lifestyle and yet willingness to share with us who have so much is very humbling. Driving further out on a jeep we stopped at a local school where the villages are encouraged to send their children by the provision of 3 meals. The teachers were keen to show their student’s work, pages of beautiful handwriting in both Hindi and English, both student and teacher alike proud of their hard work being recognised. In a separate building the local women were gathered to be provided with information and education to enable them to work.

Indian School

A staggering walk to the top of the local mountain to visit an important Hindu temple of Shiva made on the site of two caves was a breathtaking view over the farmland and villages that we had driven. Back at the converted farmhouse, now a beautiful guesthouse with marble floors and tended garden with lawn, we were treated to a tried India feast and the opportunity to watch the sunset over the mountain from the rooftop.

Day 6 – goodbye to Jodhpur

Before leaving this beautiful city I visited the renowned Mandore Gardens with stunning ancient temples, the home to the mountain monkeys. It was a shame to see so much rubbish and empty fountains. I was surprised that the government has not stepped in to protect this important monument.

Jodhpur Market

Over night train to Delhi this time in the relaxing surroundings of a First Class coach, perfect for an eleven-hour train journey although it would have been nice to watch the countryside go past. With cases bulging, the temptation was too much, feeling super smooth after a razor blade wet shave for only 40 rupees (40p!) and a relaxing cool kingfisher beer it was time to go.

In conclusion ….. I’ve fallen for Rajasthan and its amazing Blue City, Riaka tribe and local welcome. Not only have I got some outstanding images to edit when I get home but I’m totally inspired to bring some UK photographers back here next year for a great photography experience.

Day 7 Delhi to Kolkata

Kolkata Sreet

Arrival in Delhi was greeted by a misty presence clinging to the buildings and horizon but an amazing amber-rose moon in the sky as morning broke.
A few hours to kill in the airport before a short flight to Kolkata. I have to recommend Air India,  so far very impressed by the quality of service.
The Hope Foundation had organised our pick up from the airport and drop off at the Tolly Gunge Club, a step back in time to Colonial India as part of the British empire. The drive through the city was madness, Saturday night in Kolkata City, horns beeping, lane changing traffic, but it was interesting to see everywhere  decorated in anticipation of Diwali, including a Big Ben and Eiffel Tower, alongside more traditional lights to represent divas and peacock feathers. Happy to find a lovely room with an amazing hot shower, I must admit was very welcome,  before a good nights sleep.

Day 8 Kolkata Nikon training and Hope foundation a good start

Preparing for Diwali
Feeling refreshed from a good nights sleep and shower we hit the road to complete a reckie to finalise the plans for the Kolkata Nikon street photography training course. I nearly got in trouble with the army when I tried to get in their jeep rather than the one provided by Hope!!!
Definitely felt the change from the romantic Rajasthan to the fast pace and heat of the city. Gora, our local guide, took us to the key locations I had already identified, as well as a few other great spots for street photography.
Diwali
The city is in the grips of preparations for Diwali and unlike most of India, the Bengal region of Kolkata worships Khali, so we visited the area of the city where the local artisans are busy making the many models that will form part of the celebrations before they are cast into the Ganges, structures made of bamboo, then straw and covered with clay gathered from the Ganges, and painted, hundreds of them, these were incredible to photograph. We walked down to the Ganges, I have to say it didn’t look that sacred or spiritual as ferries worked their way up and down as it made its way through the city, but got a great shot of the men working on one of the boats collecting clay.
The River Gange
Diwali figures
We drove through the old colonial centre with some amazing buildings including the Victoria Memorial, a stunning piece of architecture in white marble surrounded by lush green lawns, the opposite of the crowded street communities along the railway that we drive through and will return to shoot.
The rest of the day was all about some down time, massage and driving range at the Tolly Club,  dinner and g and t’s.

Day 9 Punorjibon Boys Club

After relocating across the road to The Executive Suites my afternoon was spent at one of The Hope’s local projects, providing shelter, rehab and education for young men. The project aims to develop their skills and raise their self esteem by introducing them to new opportunities, including photography.
I met with a group of seven young lads to talk about my work and give them some advice about developing their own photography.
Punorjibon Boys Club
They listened attentively and were eager to know how to get the best shots and improve their work. I shared with them some of my photography from India and also introduced them to my other street documentary projects from around the world to discuss how I get my best shots. I explained that I am also a professional wedding photographer and showed them some of my favourite pictures, they were all fascinated by the bride taken in the snow, something none of them have ever seen or experienced.
I was really impressed with their skills and knowledge that they have developed so far. It was a real pleasure to give up some of my time to meet with them, they were so polite and enthusiastic, and all wanted to learn more. I have asked the boys to select one image each to send to me so I can give them some feedback and to develop their editing skills. Next year I am going to plan in a day where I can take the boys out on a practical session.
Punorjibon Boys Club
For some of the boys they really wanted to take the opportunity that Hope had provided with them to develop not just a hobby but a career in photography, a really positive result of the Foundation’s ongoing work in the area, changing lives.

Day 10 first day of the Nikon Street Photography training in Kolkata

Last night a couple of the guys and I went out just to shoot the streets locally as a warm up to the course starting today.

After everyone had slept, acclimatised themselves to India, and had a good breakfast we met to do an introductory talk and welcome. If you’ve not photographed in India before there are a few top tips to remember, I also wanted to ensure that they were all prepared for the first days street shoot so they could get some great documentary street shots.
Kolkata Railway line Slum
We were dropped off us at the Chetla slums, a thriving community that has established itself along an old waterway and railway line. We spent four hours recording the daily lives and living conditions of the families here. We were accompanied by two local girls who work for the Hope Foundation who talked to the families so we were able to photography them naturally and get great candid documentary photographs.
We then shared Tuk Tuks back to South City, one of Kolkata’s renowned shopping malls, not to join the shoppers though, but to take the walk back through the streets, so that we could capture the street vendors at work as evening drew in.
Each night two of our training party will be going out with the Hope night watch on the Kolkata streets.

Day 11 – the spirituality heart of an Indian city

In Hindu India there are over 330 million Gods and the locals refer to it as a very flexible religion, there are shrines every where including their own houses, and many Gods to choose from. The second day of this street photography training had 2 religious centres of focus today, Kolkata be g in the Bengali region of India, the Goddess of  choice is Kali, often represented in black and adorned with a garland of skulls, and a skirt of disembodied arms, she represents liberation from the ego and body to a higher spiritual form.
Kolkata Street Food
We spent the morning photographing the streets as the local potters sculpted hundreds and hundreds of Kali statues in preparation for Diwali. Bamboo is used to create the basic structures, then bound straw to flesh the figures out are covered in layers of clay that are smoothed and dried in the heat before being painted. In the narrow street we were able to photograph these artisans at work as well as the many statues in their different stages of being. Kali is an unmistakeable figure. In addition there are structures being erected to create makeshift temples facades and as you walk the streets children are playing on the bare constructions like climbing frames, others as tall as the tops of the street lamps find adult standing and building upwards. The statues will be placed on the Ganges and the clay and stray will wash away back into the river, leaving the bamboo structures to be collected and reused for the next festival, the ultimate in recycling.
Kolkata Street
We also visited the Jain temple, an elaborate mosaic tiled building decorated with marble, silver and intricate designs studded with tiny mirror tiles that catch the light. Inside the temple, in an inner sanctum, there is a statue of the deity Lord Shitalnathji, with a diamond studded forehead. For the guys on the course though, their interest was captured by the streets surrounding the temple, the guy selling sugar cane juice from a hand cranked press, a passing barefooted rickshaw wallah, still common place in Kolkata, and the local community going about their daily lives.
We finished the day off with a late lunch at the Life Skills cafe run by the Hope Foundation, incredible food with delightful service, a must for any travellers to Kolkata. I highly recommend a glass of lassi, a welcome cooling drink after photographing the streets all morning. Be careful not to order too much, the pakoras are particularly good, but the staff will give you a knowing look when you order too many dishes – just ask Andy!

Day 12 – The flower market

An early start for today’s shoot to catch the light and record the traders at the Malik Ghat flower market situated at the east side of the Howrah Bridge. This is one of the perfect locations for documentary street photography in Kolkata. Men and women carry huge bundles of flowers, leaves and petals on their head to be traded by the stall owners, receiving a mere 10 rupees for their efforts. Individual blooms are thread onto long strings and set into ornate arrangements, marigolds, lotus flowers, great bag full of petals, a sweet smell of roses in the morning air. In the early hours flowers are bought daily for businesses and hotels, and then smaller street traders come to buy their choice to sell on the streets.
Kolkata Street Food
The market leads onto the bathing area along the Ganges, here people are washing clothes, cooking pots and themselves, as well as taking bundles of holy leaves into the sacred water to be washed in preparation for being taken to the many temples and shrines around the city.
Two men were completing a hindu ritual recognising the thirteenth day of mourning following the death of a parent, their heads shaved, incense burning, sacred words chanted and being submerged in the holy waters of the river Ganges.
The afternoon was time spent catching up on some editing. One of the keys is being able to edit hard, on an average day I would expect to shoot 100-150 photographs and then edit these down to 5-6 wow images to work on this can be really hard to do and their are a few key things you an look out for to gel speed the process up, such as cutting off hands and toes, these immediately are ignored.
Kollkata
In the evening we had the honour to be invited as guests of the Hope Foundation to the British High Commission to a special screening of BBC film ‘Kolkata’ which was presented by Sue Perkins which was originally screened as part of the BBC’s Indian season in September. The founder of the Foundation, Maureen Forest said a few words about their continued work in Kolkata. It was interesting to watch and talk about the film with some of the locals and get their views of how they and their city were portrayed.
India and Kolkata is developing and changing and it is important that the world changes their preconceived views and attitudes as well. As one of the local businessmen and photographers told me, Kolkata is no longer all Mother Teresa and the ‘Black Hole’.

Day 13 – College Street book market

Our morning was centred around College Street near many colleges in the heart of Kolkata. It is home to one of the largest second hand book markets in the world and is a centre renowned for it’s intellectual activity, especially the coffee house, a must visit for anyone coming to Kolkata, grab a book to read or take part in a lively debate, as it is always busy so service is slow. In addition to the book shops there are stalls and street traders all specialising in particular types of books, and several of the key Bengali publishers are based in this area too. Arrive about 10.30 for the best opportunities for street photography.
Kolkata Book Market
On the way back we visited the Victoria Memorial, a piece of colonial history built in marble between 1906-21, and now a place on the tourist trail. As for the locals, if you catch the area early in the morning, you will see cricket matches being played alongside herdsmen grazing their goats on the surrounding park areas. Standing looking out at the traffic of cars, buses, motorbikes and tuk tuks all vying for their place on the road and beeping their horns, it forms an island of green so separate from the daily lives going on around it.
Kolkata
One Kolkatan explained to me that to understand Kolkata was to accept its randomness, there are no rules and if there were then they would not be followed. In all the chaos and hustle there remains a calmness and tolerance, an acceptance of just letting things take its course, I wonder if that comes from India’s spiritual heart, but it’s a little bit of India I would like to be able to take home with me.

Day 14 – The Hope Foundation Projects

Today was the last of the street photography course in association with Nikon Training School UK and the Hope Foundation. Part of the fee for this course included a donation to the Hope Foundation, a charity set up by Maureen Forrest in Ireland, who have being working with the Kolkatan community to develop medical care, education, rehabilitation, homes, information centres and employment in the area for the most deprived and neglected children and young adults.
As you may have seen from the photographs posted alongside the blogs for this course, the slum and street population in Kolkata is something that really hits you as a visitor and all of us have been humbled by what we have seen and the generosity of spirit by those children and families that we have me as we have photographed them.
Hope Foundation Hospital
Today we visited a hospital supported by the generous financial support of Hope and their ongoing commitment by the staff to give the children a better chance and a sense of hope and belief. We also visited the girls and boys homes and were heartened by their smiles and laughter.
They say a picture can speak a thousand words, and if you know my work, you will appreciate that try to capture candid, natural story telling images with all their honest emotions. Today I will not be posting images of the children we met in the hospital and home as I want to respect their      safeguarding and well being, so I hope that my previous images and in this case my words will be enough to communicate what we saw and how we felt, and convey the story of the work that Hope do, everyday, to make a real difference to people’s lives.
Hope Foundation Nurses
It is easy to be overwhelmed by the poverty that you see on the streets when you visit India, and when you hear the stories from the hospital staff about the children they have saved and given a future to, you cannot help but be moved to do something more.
Of course, as we return to the UK and our normal lives, it is easy to forget what we have seen, but those children and families will continue living on the streets, in desperate need of help to keep them safe, healthy, and to educate them to enable them to have a future of hope.
So my final post is a request, on behalf of those children and families, if they have touched your generosity of spirit as they have ours, please make a donation to the Hope Foundation, every penny will go to making a real difference. A donation is just a click away!

Thank you Nikon and The Hope Foundation

Back Home and a big thank you to Nikon for allowing me to run this course, The Hope Foundation for facilitating the course and its brilliant staff for guiding us all around Kolkata to enable Andy, Keith, Simon, Karen, Alistair, Gerry and Steve to take their brilliant images as shown below.
Kolkata Street Training Photography
Back Home and a big thank you to Nikon for allowing me to run this course, The Hope Foundation for facilitating the course and its brilliant staff for guiding us all around Kolkata to enable Andy, Keith, Simon, Karen, Alistair, Gerry and Steve to take their brilliant images as shown below.

 The Following Images were taken by the attendees on this course

Kolkata Street ImageKolkata Street ImageKolkata Street ImageKolkata Street ImageKolkata Street ImageKolkata Street ImageKolkata Street ImageKolkata Street ImageKolkata Street ImageKolkata Street Image
Finally on behalf of those children and families, if they have touched your generosity of spirit as they have ours, please make a donation to the Hope Foundation, every penny will go to making a real difference. A donation is just a click away!
If this blog and pictures have inspired you please message me for more details and updates of Jodhpur a photographic adventure 2016.
Thank you
Mark
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