Roadside nomads

For a photographer who predominantly makes images of people there is nothing like India. The country must have the highest concentration of amazing stories and characters per square kilometre. This is subjective of course. But I find Indians, especially those from the northern parts to be some of the most beautiful, photogenic people on earth. It helps that they’re charismatic and ridiculously hospitable too. 

During this trip I haven’t focused on any particular project. It’s mostly been about experimenting and catching up with my friend Hardik. I’ve mentioned him numerous times. He's been my translator and general right-hand man for much of what I’ve done in the country.

Since we’ve been fairly relaxed, with no must visit destinations, I’ve been open to chance and just going with the flow – shooting what crosses my path. I think that this is a necessary approach (at least occasionally) for growing as a photographer and for discovering new places, stories and thinking up potential projects. 

But, back to my "highest concentration of amazing stories and characters per square kilometre" statement. We traveled from Diu with a tentative plan to reach Dwarka (300+ km) and stopped a few days to shoot there. At one of the farms we met a man who knows countless devotional songs and decided to go to his home and to record him singing at least one of the songs.

Just as we took a turn towards the man's home we bumped into a family of nomads and again, another tentative plan was cancelled. The nomads were setting up camp by the roadside so we stayed to photograph them for the evening. There's something amazing everywhere, if you just keep your eyes open.

These nomads used to be iron workers, but their particular clan had changed professions to become traveling bullock sellers. The animals are valuable in this fertile area, as much of the farming is still done manually. 

Past experiences told me that nomads like these can be extremely hospitable. This was indeed the case. We were welcomed, shown around the recently set up camping grounds and allowed to photograph whatever we wanted. 

It's often the case that the children in such settlements are shy, before they are curious or excited to see a foreigner, as may be the case in some of the more frequently visited areas. In the photo above a young girl was still holding onto her father when I began to photograph her.

Everybody contributes to setting up camp in some way, even if it's very small. The youngest nomads were helping keep the cooking fire alive.

Chai accompanies almost every new meeting in India. Before long we were invited by one family and then another. This is the matriarch of the clan. She appeared very stern at first, but was actually very friendly and keen to share her culture. She kept talking about us visiting her family (generally the wife joins the husband's family and leaves home). The woman said that her left-behind family members were the ones who were really worth photographing. 

We had chai, left for the night and came back the next morning. Mornings are chilly, even in the south of Gujarat. Close by the fire is where you want to be.

More tea. More chit-chat. More photos. It's great when the people I photograph become a little more used to me and completely stop paying attention. I feel that in this situation having a translator or a fixer is what makes a world of difference.

If he/she explains correctly what you're up to – everyone is happy and things to smoothly. If not – people think you're a total weirdo for sticking around and clicking with the camera and never open up. It has happened to me once, in Morocco, when I had a guide who was more interested in chatting on his phone than helping out.

A typical morning scene along many of the roads in India is similar to the one above. Men hang out, get news from their friends, talk about life and watch some of it pass by. Some only stop for a little while and head off to work, others hang around for hours and hours. 

In this region you're bound to come across at least a few turbaned, traditionally dressed elders. They look like they belong to a different time. Sometimes there are more people dressed traditionally than in a modern way and you no longer understand whether you're in the 21st century or 100 years in the past. 

There's generally always a kid that loves the camera and sticks his face in every photo. This is the one from our visit. The diary entry would be incomplete without him.

I keep experimenting with the drone. I've been wanting to focus more on people and people related situations. India has been the perfect location for that.

I have to say that while I think the DJI Phantom 3 Professional is an incredible machine, I am now seeing a few limiting short-comings. I might write a dedicated post on my thoughts on shooting with it in India at some stage. The first thing that pops into my mind is that the inability to change the aperture does limit one quite a bit. If you want a lot of detail looking sharp throughout, it won't happen in certain situations. I've had to sharpen some elements from the frame above in post . This would not be needed if the ability to shut down the iris was there.

India is full of surprises. While this trip has been filled random meetings and opportunities, it has also been pretty productive, so, stay tuned for more photos very soon!

Spread the word and share the images.

I'd be posting these photo diaries even if no one was looking at them. They're a personal record of my journeys. However, I've always believed that photographs truly become "alive" only when they have an audience.

I enjoy sharing my journeys through images and short stories. If you enjoy looking at them, please spread the word. Help the photographs come to life.