Here it is, I’ve finally edited the images from my week in Kolkata (Calcutta). Click HERE to the gallery, or click on any image in the slideshow.
Kolkata is the capital of the state of West Bengal, and according to the Wikipedia “The Kolkata metropolitan area, including suburbs, has a population exceeding 15 million, making it the third most populous metropolitan area in India and one of the most populous urban areas in the world.”
The workshop coincided with the biggest festival in the region the Durga Puja. This festival celecbrates the worship of the Hindu god Durga and is the biggest annual event in the region. Imagine Christmas, New Year’s and Marti Gras all rolled into one and you might get the idea. Families reunite, people take time off work and it’s a wonderful time to be in Kolkata.
From the Wikipedia entry on Durga Puja
During the week of Durga Puja, in the entire state of West Bengal as well as in large enclaves of Bengalis everywhere, life comes to a complete standstill. In playgrounds, traffic circles, ponds—wherever space may be available—elaborate structures called pandals‘are set up, many with nearly a year’s worth of planning behind them. The word pandal means a temporary structure, made of bamboo and cloth, which is used as a temporary temple for the purpose of the puja. While some of the pandals are simple structures, others are often elaborate works of art with themes that rely heavily on history, current affairs and sometimes pure imagination.
Somewhere inside these complex edifices is a stage on which Durga reigns, standing on her lion mount, wielding ten weapons in her ten hands. This is the religious center of the festivities, and the crowds gather to offer flower worship or pushpanjali on the mornings, of the sixth to ninth days of the waxing moon fortnight known as Devi Pakshya. Ritual drummers – dhakis, carrying large leather-strung dhak –– show off their skills during ritual dance worships called aarati. On the tenth day, Durga the mother returns to her husband, Shiva, ritualised through her immersion into the waters –– Bishorjon also known as Bhaashan and Niranjan
So we documented many aspects of the Puja, getting up well before down to witness the pushpanjalin ceremony at the river, visiting various pandals, from huge ones that were several stories high and accommodate thousands of visitors right down to being invited inside one families home to see their setup and being interviewed on TV! The final day, with the immersion ceremony was one of most intense (and hottest!) days of the week.
The other source for colourful images was the Malik Ghat flower market. I have no idea when this market starts, probably well before dawn. One day we showed up at 5am as the river ceremony was nearby and this market was in full swing. The market was full of small narrow walkways through stalls where people would string flowers into garlands used in various ceremonies.
One afternoon we searched out the neighbourhood of Kumortuli where potters live and make the idols used in festivals like Durga Puja. While everyone in Kolkata was celebrating with idols of Durga, the craftsmen were busy making idols for the next festival. The afternoon we arrived, many had quit for the day to celebrate the puja themselves. The huge empty buildings added an errie quality to the sight of a handful of workers and countless idols.
Many mornings we’d venture out from our hotel, very early in the AM and simply walk the neighbourhoods. It was in those walks where we captured the day to day life on the streets. I was surprised at how open and unaffected the people were in the presence of our cameras. Considering there isn’t a lot of tourism to this city, and certainly none in the areas we were walking, people were very accommodating to our presence. For the entire week, I only heard of one instance where someone in our group was met with hostility. Everyone agreed they felt very safe walking the streets, the biggest threat to safety, the possibility of one us backing into the crazy traffic while focusing on some action.The obvious things you’ll see, is street life in Kolkata really IS street life. We’d see people asleep on the stalls they work at, bathe at the neighbourhood water taps, cook, groom, sleep, work, everything on the street, sometimes within feet of each other.
I’ve tried my best to editing things down to a manageable amount of images. (500!) As well I’ve venture from the strict tenants of street photography and crop my images. I’ve also tried my best to provide images that are interesting to look at as well as informative. At 500 images you’ll probably get a small feeling of the overwhelming I felt as I walked these streets. There is just so much life unfolding all around you at every moment, in some ways you don’t know where to begin! As you can see I mostly focused on the people, they were just so open to being photographed. In some instances I’ve included a few frames from one scene, you can see people aren’t running from my camera, as they would back here at home. They would enjoy the process, and you can see many smiles in the faces I’ve captured. I feel very fortunate to make my foray into street photography in a city that seems so open and willing to be photographed.
I will eventually edit these images down again, to a smaller collection, but I wanted to share these with everyone before the trip becomes a distant memory.
If you can’t get enough, and are interested in seeing other views of the same events, here are images by some of the other people in the workshop
Eric has done an wonderful job of sorting his images based on each part of the Puja and the other activities. He’s also captioned them. Well worth seeing! (He also turned me onto using SmugMug for sharing my images, photogs I encourage you to take a look too!)
Manis Midha, aDelhi based photojournalist, was busy assisting our group all week, but manage to shoot some images on the day of the immersion. Her images are wonderful and manage to capture the chaos of the immersion.
Peter Turnley posted a collection of the images he made with us that week, showing all of us why he was the instructor! I can tell you, having been at the same events or scenes with Peter manages to really hone in on the subject. Seeing these images after being there with him is once again very inspiring.