Faces of Kerala: The Whole Picture

If you enjoyed my previous three blog posts about the portraits which I took while travelling the South Indian state of Kerala (starting with this one here), then hopefully you will enjoy this new set of portraits which I uploaded to my web site, Always Arriving. The set features a selection of 40 single and group portraits taken throughout my 10-day itinerary which took me from Kovalam to Trivandrum, Varkala, Kollam, Alleppey and finally Kochi. This my 12th trip to India was a very memorable one, I hugely enjoyed Kerala. The nature is spectacular, food is great and the people warm and welcoming, and I have come back from the trip with some very fond memories.

All photos were taken with a Fujifilm X-T20. For the portraits, I used exclusively the 35mm f1.4 lens, which despite its shortcomings (it is kinda slow) is still my go-to lens for street portraiture and street photography. While there are three black and white photos in the set, in India I very much enjoy shooting colour, as the very many vibrant colours are one of the defining visual aspects of India.

[Click here to view Faces of Kerala]

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Faces of Kerala: Meet Me On the Streets

The final part of this series on portraits of people from Kerala, India. I travelled the South Indian state for 10 days, travelling from Kovalam to Varkala, Kollam, Alleppey and finally Kochi before heading north to Kolkata.

This article features regular folks which I asked to pose around the streets of these various places; or as happened in at least one case, where I was asked to take a photo (see the photo of the gentleman with the many-coloured buckets below). Most of the photos I took in Kollam, a city that many people told me wasn’t worth a visit but which I hugely enjoyed. It was utterly devoid of tourists and I roamed its streets for two days, meeting and photographing these folks you see depicted below.

The images epitomise much of what I like about India and why I keep returning there (this was my 12th trip): the warmth and generosity of the people which make each trip memorable. It shows in the photos, in how the people not only trust this stranger in capturing their portraits but also rejoice in it, and even take pride in it. It’s such a welcome contrast to the mistrust one encounters when trying to photograph people over here in Europe.

The next trip, by the way, is already in planning…

Graveyard Guard, Kollam
The Proud House Owner, Kollam 
Fruit Vendors, Kollam
The Reed Weaver, Kollam
The Lady by the Harbour, Kollam 
Working the Streets, Kollam 
Handyman, Kollam 
The Proud Shop Owner, Kollam
Fruit Vendor, Alleppey
Man on he Train, Alleppey to Kochi
An Umbrella For My Pride, Fort Kochi

Camera: Fujifilm X-T20 with 35mm lens.

Faces of Kerala: The Group Pic

Group pictures are almost a subset of street portraiture, and at least in India, they are an inevitability. They happen generally like this: you ask people if you can take a photo of them. In general, they agree, or at least the men do – if there are women with them, they tend to slink out of the picture. While you take the photos, other people are watching this, and they then come up to you as well, as a group, and want their photo taken., which then may trigger off a chain reaction…

The other way it happens is that a group of mostly young men come up and ask if they can take a photo with you, which of course I always agree to, then I take their photo in return.

Group pics are difficult to get right. People in a group are likely to clown around, or else get all serious as if it was a formal family picture. It’s very much also a generational thing: older folks would look formal and stiff, younger ones fall into the Instagram cool selfie face mode.

Be as it may, here is a selection of group photos which I took in various places in Kerala.

Muslim youths in Trivandrum (through a misted up lens)

On the Beach in Korvalum

Varkala
Streets of Kollum

All photos taken with a Fujifilm X-T20

Faces of Kerala: Pandits on the Beach

Continuing the series of portraits from Kerala in India, where I am currently travelling, here is a mini-series of images which I captured on the beach in Varkala. In the mornings, priests, a.k.a. pandits, come here to sell puja, that is prayers. There are many devotees on the beach in the mornings, not just for the pandits, but also to give offerings to the sea or to take a (ritual?) bath.

In some places, pandits ask for money if you ask for a photograph; these here didn’t. A few asked if I wanted puja, but they didn’t insist.

Again, all photos taken with a Fuji X-T20 and a 35mm lens.

Faces of Kerala: In a Small Fishing Town

I’m currently travelling Kerala, a state in Southern India. This is the first post in a series of portraits of people from the region.

These photos were shot in a small fishing town, Vizhinjam. People are mostly welcoming photographers, some are even eager to get photographed. In return, one has to pose for photos quite often as well. But that is more than ok.

Kerala itself is a great place to visit. It is very green, with hills covered in tropical forests, quaint seaside towns, backwater channels and very importantly, with a very tasty cuisine.

Photography-wise, I decided to travel light: I brought the Fuji X-T20 with a 35mm lens, which I used on all the photos below, and a 16-50mm zoom lens in case I want to shoot buildings or nature.

Kolkata Travelogue

imageI recently got around to tidying up the Travel section on my web site, and at the same time posted new images from my last trip to Kolkata.

I first visited Kolkata back in 1986 (it was still called Calcutta back then). The trip was a nightmare. The friend I was travelling with ended up in hospital with dyssentri, and instead of travelling around the country, we were stuck in the city which back then was quite horrible. It was extremely overcrowded – people were fleeing the impoverished countryside in masses and ended up as squatters in Kolkata. The city was polluted, smelly and traffic perpetually congested. I literally still had nightmares of the place months after being back in Europe. It took me almost 30 years to go back to the city, but when I did, in 2013, I found a place much changed for the better. It is a lot less crowded, and it is less dirty and hectic than Mumbai for instance. I returned there again in 2014 and 2015, which tells you that now I am quite fond of the place.

Kolkatans take pride in that their city is different from other Indian cities, and indeed it is, even though, as an outsider, I may find it difficult to judge just what that difference is. Kolkata is relatively young, of course; daring back to the 18th century only. It used to be India’s most populous city, until Mumbai overtook it, and during the British occupation, it was the capital of the British Raj. And indeed, it is this British past which characterises Kolkata to a large degree – certainly in its architecture, from the Victoria Memorial on down to the many stately villas, many of them now sadly crumbling or being demolished. The city once boasted a vibrant Jewish community, which numbered 5000 before Indian independence, but is now down to 26 members. Similarly, Kolkata is home to India’s only Chinatown, but the ethnic Chinese community has also dwindled considerably.

The city is named after the goddess Kali, and a friend of mine argues that it this which leads to women being far more empowered in Kolkata than in the rest of India.

The photos I put up are from those three last trips – unfortunately I have no photos left from the 1986 trip. I organised the images into three sets:

  1. The City: as the name implies, photos from around the city. It is not meant to be a travel guide, and many of the landmark sites are missing from the collection. Instead I have included images of those places which interested me the most. My favourite ones were probably the overgrown grounds of the National Library and the equally overgrown Victorian-era South Park Street Cemetery. Also included are photos from two of the three Kolkatan synagogues.
  2. Kolkata At Night: these are scenes from night time festivities during three Kolkata festivals: the Durga Pujas (in honour of the goddess Durga, a manifestation of the goddess Kali), the Kali Durgas (in honour of Kali), and the all-Indian festival of Diwali.
  3. Across the River: images from the area outside Kolkata, on the opposite banks of the Hooghly River, as that particular branch of the Ganges is called –  Chandannagar, an area which once belonged to the French (and Portuguese and Swedes).

For more India travel photos, click here.

For portrait and street photography from India, click here.

Click here to read more on Kolkata’s Jewish community.

South Park Street Cemetery

India By Night / Faces of India 2015


In November of this year I returned to India, my 11th visit so far. This time I did not travel around much but for personal reasons I decided to stay in Kolkata for the better part of the trip, with a few days also spent in Mumbai.  This time was the first time that I did not take any analog camera with me to India; indeed I decided to travel light and take only a single camera, the Fujifilm X-T10, with two lenses, the 35mm and the 16-50mm. 
 
Each camera which I took with me over the years was different and unique, be it the Diana+, the Polaroid cameras or the panoramic Holga camera I had with me last year. With the versatile X-T10 I was looking for something which would coax out something unique out of it, and I soon found it. The brilliant 35mm f1.4 lens is of course perfect for night photography, and I was more than spoilt with opportunities to shoot at night.
 
My stay in Kolkata was timed to coincide with two back to back festivals, Diwali and Kali Pujas, a festival dedicated to Kolkata’s patron goddess Kali. During the nights leading up to and over these two festivals, people were out at night, celebrating and having fun. Obviously this was a perfect chance to capture lively night scenes, and I had great fun doing so. Add to that also a couple of evenings spent in Mumbai’s Juhu Beach and Marine Drive areas where people gather after nightfall to hang out, relax and have fun. India is a country of colours, hence I decided to shoot mostly in colour, I broke out the black and white filters only rarely.
 
All these night time activities have resulted in a set which I have now uploaded: India By Night
 
All this doesn’t mean that I wasn’t out in the day time taking photos, so I added a second set, Faces of India 2015, with portrait and street photography from Kolkata.
 
As in the previous years, I came back from India with the fondest memories, leaving me very much looking forward to the next trip back there.
 
Enjoy the photos. 

India Travelogue Updates

I have updated the Travelogue section on India, with sets of new images from Odisha, including the video posted in the previous blog post; Idols by the Sea, a set on the last day of the Durga Pujas on Juhu Beach in Mumbai, and an expanded section on Kolkata. The sets include a number of the Holga and Polaroid shots from those sets I posted earlier, but there are also a number of iPhone shots as well, as ever most of them taken using the trusted Hipstamatic app. 

This should be the last posting on India then, at least for a while…, 😉

Station to Station – video

Station to Station – By Train Through Odisha on Vimeo.

I shot this video on the iPhone while taking a train ride from Puri, in the Indian state of Odisha, to Kolkata in West Bengal. I left Puri a day before the cyclone Hudhud struck the area, on one of the last trains out of there.
In Kolkata, I edited the movie in iMovie on the iPhone, often while stuck in a car in traffic. As soundtrack I used the track ‘Longing’ by the Indian band Indian Ocean.

Holga Panoramas From India

For my last trip to India back in October, I packed a new camera, a Holga 120Pan, i.e. the panoramic version of the Holga camera which shoots 6×12, 180° images. I didn’t have a chance to try out the camera beforehand, so I didn’t know what to expect, especially after having had mixed results with my first attempts using my other panoramic camera, the Belair 6-12 (read the blog entry here). However, after having finally developed and scanned the films, I must say that the camera exceeded my expectations. Granted, the light conditions were pretty much excellent in India, but the results are technically very good: no vignette, only a bit of darkening towards the left and right border of the exposure, and with the Holga’s trademark blurring toward the edges, which adds to the magic of the images. 

I shot one black and white Ilford ISO 400 film and for the rest a mix of Kodak and Fuji ISO 160 colour films. I shot the black and white film at my initial destination, Mumbai, while I used the colour films for the rest of the trip, chiefly in and around the city of Bhubaneswar, which is in Odisha, a state on the East coast of India. Additionally there are a few images from Chandannagar, which is close to Kolkata and which used to be a French colony. 

I finally uploaded a selection of the photos to the Holga section of the site, click here to view.

Also, I put together a selection of the best portrait pictures from the trip, taken with the various cameras I had taken along – the Holga, the SX-70 and the iPhone. This set can be found in the People section under the banner Wonder If I Know Him Now.

Enjoy….