Before my Master Degree in Photojournalism, I went on a photography-trip to India. I had recently finished my undergraduate studies in Indan Religions and Philosophies, and I was eager to go back there to see things with new, academic (!) eyes and to prepare myself for my photography studies.
In Varanasi, the place that had once already convinced me that I needed to know more about India and its mysterious world of spirituality, was the place that attracted me the most, photographically. Its endless feeling of life and death melting together and all the weird, sick, holy and beautiful types that flock to that place, is infinitely inspiring to any photographer.
I used to set my alarm for just before sunrise, around 6 am, and walk down the steps of the ghats, towards the Holy Ganges, where there already was full activity; preaching, bathing, praying yoga, chanting, reciting and chai-drinking.
My dissertation in my 3rd year at SOAS had been about the Pashupatis- the Shiva-worshippers who eat dead bodies, drink from human skulls and sleep in the remains of the funeral pyres. They fascinated me and I wanted so badly to meet one of them, but I knew my chances were slim, as they do not exist so much in India anymore.
But, one morning, as I walked down the still dark steps towards the river, lit up only by tiny prayer devotions floating with candles and flowers and incense in the dirty water, I saw a figure sitting alone on the ground. My heart stopped but I forced myself to go up to him. It was one of the most exciting moments of that trip- sitting with this man for an hour or so, talking to him, looking at him.
During the days, I got to know a group of people affected by Leprosy, this horrible, but curable disease that still exists in many parts of the developing world. The stigma attached to this disease is so huge, that they don't ask for help- instead they live together in makeshift colonies, and survive from begging, shying away from the world's disgusted eyes. I got to visit their little house and meet their goats, chickens and living quarters. They were very shy and hard to get in contact with, but after a few tries they started trusting me more, and I was allowed to spend some time with them.
Another horrifying disease, still very common in this part of the world, is polio. I was captivated by the beautiful face of 12-year old Shivkumar, who's body is crippled and contorted from polio. I also had the privilege of spending time with him and his family, and talking to him. I've never met a wiser, more serene child, completely accepting, and so full of joy despite his situation.
Below are some pictures of me in action, and then of some of the people I had the privilege to meet in India.
|Discussing arranged marriages in India vs love-marriages in the West on a train towards Kerala|
|Talking to and interviewing kite-flying boys along the Ganges in Varanasi|
|Showing pictures to the kite-runners|
|Interviewing girl who works with her uncle, taking tourists on boats on the Ganges|
|With my friend, the Shiva-worshipper|
|My one and only Shiva worshipper sadhu, sitting on the banks of the holy Ganga|
|This little boy lives in one of the huge slums of Bombay. When I asked if I could take his picture, his mother quickly got some water to fix his hair and eyebrows, and buttoned the top of his shirt.|
|Here there's two funerals happening, the bodies are burning in the back and in the front, the men (no women present) are dancing a wild goodbye-dance to the deceased.|
|This woman is one of the little group of people affected by leprosy whom I got to know and visit their living quarters. She was very shy at first but after a few times she smiled at me and let me take her picture.|
|This is Shivkumar, affected by polio. I got to know him and his family quite well during a course of two weeks where we saw each other every day. He is one of the wisest people I have ever met in my life.|
|Scene from Goudalia, the old Varanasi. It's a place full of life, death, dirt and fragrant incense.|
|Man praying in the Gran Mosque, Old Delhi.|
|Sunset at the Grand Mosque, Old Delhi. The mosque front courtyard is filled with people enjoying themselves, talking, feeding the pigeons, praying.|
|Sunrise at Varanasi|
|The Holy Ganges|
BELOW ARE TWO WEDDINGS I PHOTOGRAPHED
Kirsten & Mark 2012-09-01
The West Country, England
Emelie & Paul 2012-07-13
South of Sweden
South of Sweden