Inspired by the colorful people of India, guest writer Jenna Hurley shares how she discovered the joy of street photography. Her candid photos of everyday life in Delhi, Varanasi, Agra, Ranthambore, and Jaipu show us that India’s beauty is more than just its architecture.
Travel made me a photographer. When I first started traveling consistently (mostly in Europe), my shots focused almost entirely on buildings. I wasn’t intentionally ignoring human subjects, per se. European buildings are usually the grand feature in the landscape. They make for easy targets – light, shadow, strong angles and contrast, intricate details. . . all easy shutterbug fodder.
As time’s gone on, I’ve had the good fortune to travel to many more esoteric destinations – Libya, Thailand, Kenya – but, save for one phenomenal safari, my photography formula has stayed pretty consistent. Focus on the inanimate. Line up the shot. Maybe tilt the angle a little for perspective. In short, I’ve taken the easy way out.
But India changed all that. In India, I found a destination that made me forget my monument orientation.
It’s not that India lacks for grand monuments (I mean, the Taj Mahal, right?). But on the whole, India is still poor and developing. There apparently isn’t much room in the national budget for monument restoration when 70% of the rural population still doesn’t have routine access to basic sanitary facilities. Northern India is also a relatively dry and dusty place; it would be a study in shades of beige were it not for its people.
Whether it is a product of innate Indian spirit or just a necessary way to distinguish themselves from their surroundings, Indians seem to live in a gorgeous array of bright, audacious colors. Indian women were doing pattern mixing and clashing way before Western high fashion deemed it cool.
While Indian men are on the whole less predictably colorful, even they were interesting subjects.
One of the pictures I most regretted not being prepared for was a rail thin Indian man, leathered by the sun, wearing wire-rimmed glasses and draped in typical white rural garb, leaning back against his empty pack animal-driven cart, sporting a screaming neon green turban. I’m sure I looked the fool — a white girl clumsily trying to snap pictures of entire families packed onto a single motorcycle (while pretending to be discrete); but I could not help myself. How can you not want a picture of a woman draped in a beautiful sari, perched on the back of a motorcycle, holding honest-to-God clay pots (plural!), the kind you might otherwise see in a museum exhibit? I mean, how do you even ride a motorcycle in a sari?!
Whether sweeping the sidewalk with a traditional straw broom or hawking vegetables in a street market; observing a religious ceremony or conducting the backbreaking business of bailing hay by hand — it seemed like all of the texture of life. All those intricate details — the tiling and gargoyles and old wooden doors — was most on display among India’s people. And I wanted pictures of all of them.
Even though I often found the best fodder while we were en route from one point to another, and I’m still trying to figure out settings and optimum apertures with a camera I often fear is smarter than I am, I’d like to think a few of them came out pretty well.
Jenna Hurley is a would-be nomad currently living in Kuwait with her husband, son, and two cats. She aims to start a blog at whatever glorious moment her son decides to start predictably sleeping through the night.