BLACK AND WHITE PHOTOGRAPHIC PORTRAITS FROM THE SACRED INDIAN CITY OF VARANASI
THESE INTIMATE PORTRAITS from the alleys close to the Ganges River were taken in winter when the river mist rose into the alleys, often persisting throughout the day. These alleys are among the oldest continuously inhabited places on the planet.
Varanasi is known as THE CITY OF LEARNING AND BURNING, referring both to the city’s numerous schools, universities, ashrams, and pundits, as well as the many funeral pyres where faithful Hindus burn their dead by the river. Life and death are often juxtaposed in this chaotic and ancient city.
While the photographs portray people from all walks of life—and from differing faiths, ages, and social standing—they are mostly of people that others tend to consider outcasts and shy away from: the poor, street-dwellers, beggars, rickshaw pullers, widows discarded by their families, mourners with their shaved heads.
Though some of the portraits look as if they have been posed, none were. Most were taken quite spontaneously in the middle of the market’s flow, often when the person was less than a pace away.
A camera’s shutter captures a sliver of time so thin that it is frozen. Yet in that thin slice of time something of our shared humanity, that which binds us together as human beings, can shine through. Sometimes it is the look of suffering in a photo that gives rise to that spark of compassion and shared humanity from the viewer; but it can as easily be a rickshaw driver’s deep and thoughtful look that bridges the gap.
The 114 photographs in Ganges Lament are in black-and-white, well suited to elicit the subtle emotions of those encountered, evoking the mood of the narrow passages of this ancient city in winter—with the gray, smoke-laden fog seeping up from the Ganges.