Nov 282010

[ Kanyakumari ]

The last time I went

to India was on a return

flight from Egypt.  I was

in Chennai for just over

two days.  The city was

so overwhelming, I left

my camera in the bag and

never took a single picture.

Eight months later I was

on my way back and ready

to start shooting.

The coast line of Kanyakumari is still run by fisherman and pilgrims traveling to Vivekananda Rock. Leica M9, 50mm Summicron: f 16, 1/350th.

-Landing In India

The arrival gates at JFK Airport, even on the busiest holiday, do not compare to the flurry of activity beyond the glass walls of the Chennai airport.  The air has the familiar smell of burning garbage, typical in any country that still holds on to its 3rd world roots.  The smoldering piles of yesterdays dinner perk up the senses and remind me, I have landed in the right place.  The endless parking lot plays the role of town square and welcoming committee.  Food carts line the construction barriers of the new terminal being built overhead, while armed guards sprinkle themselves throughout the crowds.  All of the activities that could make up an entire airport complex, converge in one unending mass of cars, people, and luggage.  This is India.

The view of Chennai from the 9th Floor of the GRT Hotel. Leica M9, 28mm Elmarit: F 8, 1/2 second.

-First Morning

My internal clock is broken, its 5:00 am and there is no chance of falling back asleep.  Instead I order up a Masala tea.  This milky tea packed with more spices than a tray of Christmas cookies, is the morning beverage of choice.  From the 9th Floor of the GRT Hotel, I can look over the city as the beeping horns of rush hour are getting started.  But before I can get too settled, we are back in the car headed for the airport, this time to fly down the the southern most tip, where the Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal, and Indian Ocean converge.

These road side stands are a prominent as Chase Banks back in the States. But unlike the carbon copy ATM branches, each of these road side salesmen have their own distinct flavor. Leica M9, 90mm Summicron: f 2.8, 1/90th second.

-Road Side Banana Stand

For those of you wondering, why on earth is this guy traveling around India, it is only fair to give you some background.  I am in India traveling with my Guru, who is based in Chennai.  Recently I have been doing some photo work for his foundations.  None of the other people on the trip are photographers and many of us do not know each others professional background.  Why is all of this relevant?  It explains, in some ways, why I have access to certain places and rituals and why I don’t spend more time in particular places.  Left up to my own devices I would stop at almost every road side town.

Kerala priest filling the lamps with ghee around the perimeter of the homa. Leica M9, 90mm Summicron: f 3.4, 1/000th second.

-Touching Down in Kanyakumari

After a hop flight and a three hour drive, we finally arrived to a sleepy beach town.  This would be our home base for the next few days.  The next morning a Homa (which is a practice of making offerings to a sacred fire) was being arranged by priests from Kerala.  For this trip I brought a Leica M9, 28mm Elmarit f 2.8, 50mm Summicron f 2.0, and Photo Village lent me a 90mm Summicron to review.

One of the local priests assists Vishnu as he lights three of the ghee lamps. Leica M9, 90mm Summicron: f 3.4, 1/750th second.

-Flowers, Fire, and Ghee

Shooting any type of ceremony can be tricky for a few reasons.  The biggest hurdle is gaining access to rituals.  Its taken me years of practice with Zen monasteries and more recently with Hindu practices, before I was even allowed to bring a camera.  Then once permission has been granted, all of the technical problems of photography come into play.  The day before a shoot I am thinking, will the shutter be too loud, will I trip over something, and I have this recurring thought that I will somehow loose my balance tip toeing over things and splatter on the floor.

Offerings of fresh flower petals are thrown by the priests. Leica M9, 50mm Summicron: f 3.4, 1/750th second.

-Let The Fire Begin

This particular Homa, was run by three Kerala priests and went for over an hour and a half.  The advantage of a protracted ceremony is all the participants went into their own meditative space, I had an easier time walking around and finding choice angles for shots.  I switched between the 90mm and the 50mm depending on how much of the foreground or background I wanted to include.  The “rug” in these images is actually hand made with powder and was wiped up at the end of the fire ritual.

Kanyakumari is the beach town that never sleeps. Even before sunrise the beach is filled with pilgrims watching the sunrise. Leica M9, 50mm Summicron: f 3.4, 1/45th second.

-Joining The Pilgrims

The next morning we awoke to 100,000 pilgrims. They drove in throughout the night and set up camp along the beach road.  Join me for the next day of Indian surprises!

  2 Responses to “India ( Part I )”

  1. Adam. The banana stand Pic is amazing. Can’t wait too see more from the trip!

  2. Its amazing what you can find from a car window. We drove right up to these guys. He looked up for just a second.

    I am working on “The Mexican Suitcase” entry at the moment, but there are more India posts coming.

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