Sunday, September 26, 2010

Let's build a new site (or die trying) - update

An old friend stumbled upon my post written after the meltdown at 1X and asked if there's any news. Maybe it's about time to give an up-date of the situation, just for the record.

First, when the new .co domains were made available in July-August I obtained lots of catchy domain names for the future site. My personal favorites are:, and
Or maybe it will be something more trivial like,,,,, or just - who knows :)

Or maybe it will be something totally different, because apart from my own project (the developers are in the demo phase) other friends are also building something big; I'm not sure if they liked their name displayed at this stage, hence I prefer not to tell. (As a matter of fact: because almost anyone involved in either project is still on 1X I really better keep my mouth shut). I absolutely loved their demo version but in the end it depends on the overall concept; I hope they will not narrow down the scope of their site to street photography. It's the queen of non-conceptual photographic arts but only for the chosen few, and nobody designing a site wants to have few members.

Bottomline: the project is in its Rubber Duck phase, looking smooth and quiet on the surface but paddling like the devil underneath...


Message from Flickr: "You've been invited to add this photo to the group Kids' Asylum - Eradicate SOCIAL Poverty."
I hardly think I will.
Nice group, nice shots, nice kids. I wonder how many of them are really poor by their own standards. This girl wasn't, by Indian standards anyway. Neither is this shot about poverty. Even if it were, I guess she wouldn't like the idea of becoming a face of poverty.

Likewise, Zoltan Huszti once took a decent portrait of me. I wouldn't like him to add it to the group "Self-righteous arrogant bastards" if such a group existed on Flickr.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Exorcism in India

"Balaji temple at Mehandipur in Rajasthan is very Powerful place. It is believed that the deity in this temple has divine power to cure a person possessed with evil spirit. Hundreds of 'Sankatwalas', as the possessed people are refereed to in local lingo, throng to the temple everyday to offer prayers and have 'darshan'. The temple has also become a home and the last respite for the victims. The 'Mahant' of the temple, Shri Kishor Puri Ji, prescribes the treatment. It can include reading holy texts, following a strict vegetarian and simple diet, and even afflicts physical pain to one's body. One can witness people going through various physical therapies like keeping heavy stones on their body , on arms, legs and chest , to ease their pain. There are others who inhale the smoke that fumes out of the sweet Patasa's kept on smoldering cowpats. The ones with serious case of spirit possession, who tends to get violent, are even shackled in chains within the temple premises. This may appear a bit anachronistic at the first glance, but thousands of people are believed to have been cured in this way. Festival time (Holi, Hanuman Jayanti and Dusshera etc) are regarded as the most auspicious time to emancipate from the evil spirit" - says the website. (It warns: "Ladies, insane and evil spirited person must be accompanied by a attendant", among else).
Dausa itself could compete for the title of dirtiest town in Rajasthan because the stench and filth, in which stray pigs seemed to be more in their natural habitat than the schoolgirls with their tidy blue-white school uniform, was overwhelming.
Photography is prohibited inside the temple but curiosity always prevails, and the demon inside my head told me to photograph. I had my camera with the 17-40/4 hanging from my neck on its strap, attached a release cord and hid the release button in my pocket. Amidst all the noise and chanting no one could hear the clicking of the shutter. ISO @1600, F=11 and go.

The possessed patiently wait for treatment in the temple's courtyard...
...while the devotees throng inside through a narrow corridor.

Inside one can see the sankatwallahs in their various stages of possession; some just sitting and waiting as if on a railway station, others lurching on the marble floor in the state of total despair.

I found a video on YouTube that catches the temple atmosphere very well, taken by an Argentinian traveler. The creepy part starts at 4.10.

The main altar.

I don't believe in demons but the more I live, the less I know. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Beauty calls

On just another rainy day we were driving down from Almora when Soni suddenly said, oh my GOD. Another landslide?, I replied sleepily. But no: Soni pointed to a roadside restaurant with a veranda under which two gorgeous girls took shelter from the rain.
They turned out to be starlets with all their entourage, managers stylists cameramen and all, waiting for the rain to stop so that they could continue shooting a movie for TV (or a promotion ad for the region of Kumaon, translation wasn't clear). The situation was a little awkward because the whole entourage was giggling and talking about me, that was obvious, while I was desperately looking for a joke or something else to break the ice. The starlets spoke only minimal English. I asked them, so you are actors? Yes. Do you sing in the movies? Sometimes. I know a song about the rain, do you want to hear it? (Giggle.) I took a deep breath and started to sing Singing in the rain, horribly out of tune and all but the girls were laughing and I asked the girls with the most innocent face possible, do you mind if I photograph you? They didn't.

This is Pooja Arya:

...and Richa Parcha.

Richa and Pooja.

There was great chemistry between the models...

...and I wished there would be less giggling assistants around us, less white SUVs reflected in the black glass window behind the girls and less rain outside of the tiny veranda. It's anyone's guess how it would have ended - the girls were really getting hot - but then their managers, until then drinking busily tea at the far table, pooped the party. I had to explain to them why I take these photographs, who I am and all. There were two of them like playing good cop bad cop, the bad one insisting I delete all photos and the good one willing to hear me out. In the end both insisted I delete the photos which I didn't have the slightest inclination to do. Why on earth? They were decent enough for the circumstances and I had no bad intentions with them anyway. I looked at Soni with a face that said let's get the fuck out of here and off we went on our long way to Jaipur.
By the way, there were Richa's and Pooja's male colleagues too; handsome and very macho in their own way but maybe I can be forgiven if I didn't make them the protagonists of that impromptu shooting.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Abandoned lights

No amount of megapixels will ever take the place of a T-Max or Tri-X but Kodak's infrared film, HIE, has become hopelessly obsolete. Digital IR images are simply better in all terms. One advantage it still has, though. With a rangefinder camera (especially with external viewfinder) it is pure joy to use: unlike SLRs, the photographer can see the motif because the filter doesn't block the view. I had once experimented with a HIE + Voigtlander Bessa L (and T) combo using 15 and 25mm lenses and was quite happy with the results. This time I had hoped to capture the mood of the abandoned Maharishi ashram in Rishikesh on infrared but the results were rather disappointing.

Trying to save the day I converted a few digital images into IR lookalikes. It's worth comparing this with the film shot above:

I don't know... maybe I should stick to the originals.

To be continued.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Saints and beauties

Thanks to the gods for Rishikesh. On a more human scale than Haridwar, much less filthy and noxious than Varanasi. And portrait paradise with all kinds of people and races flocking to the shores of the Ganga river.
Blossoms from India, only for you.

Crossing Laxman (read Lakshman) Jhula, the pedestrian bridge connecting the to sides of Rishikesh across the Ganga, is a feeling only Kipling could describe like he did with the Grand Trunk Road in Kim. A never ceasing stream of life across the eternal river of gods.
I had fond memories of Rishikesh. Probably it's the refreshing proximity of the mighty river, combined with a spirit of transcendency emanating from all the temples and ashrams, that makes people be kind, relaxed and openhearted. Back in 1999, photographing people was a real pleasure. Walking through the streets, I soon felt that this time will not be different.
It was a good start to meet little Risal. Closing on... pleeeeease don't look at the flash, it's not switched on anyway....
...getting better, now we have a child shot with large aperture, nice but not quite the real thing...
...and then Risal, who got either fed up from modelling or wanted to tell me a thing or two about life, made a suprising gesture...
...and as soon as I lowered the camera I realised: my trip was not for nothing. I love that last shot. Thanks Risal!
And there was Neha who flirted shamelessly with my camera, doing things with a slice of fruit that I photographed but wouldn't dare publish. In other words, she performed a perfect imitation of oral sex. Not the first time it happened. Last year in Manali another girl made an even lewder performance - with a lollipop, of all things. Either those little brats are too innocent to realise what they're doing or there's more to them that meets the eye. I'd say it's the first because I heard several local guys complaining about Indian women not really being fond of oral sex. All the more likely because in old times even maharadjas had to turn to servant girls or dancers for a blow job, because no self-respecting concubine or wife would do it. Or so I read somewhere. Anyway, here's a decent one.
Such a sweet child nonetheless. Full of life, charm and wit. I hope she'll not spend her whole life selling trinkets for tourists on the street.

First evening it rained heavily. I escaped into an archway where a few old sadhus were selling souvenirs and religious stuff. We shared some cigarettes and to bid my time until the rain stopped, I tried to photograph them despite the less than ideal light conditions.

And there was Paddy, running a little tourist agency. He offered me a seat under the fan; it was gaspingly hot and humid. I told him: "Listen buddy, I'm not gay and have a wife and all and when I get back home she'll look at my photos and say, 'so many photographs of pretty girls! That's why you went to India you prick!' and she'll divorce me, so from time to time I must take photos of handsome men too. Please help me. Do you mind if I take your photograph?" He didn't.

But attractive men were rare while the town was full of camera-happy girls. There was Madhuri, I believe she came from Mumbai, combing her hair after a bath in the river and not minding at all being photographed.

Actually this was on the second day but doesn't matter. I visited the former Maharishi ashram (known for the Beatles, unfairly perhaps because the ashram existed for about 40 years and the Beatles only spent 5-6 weeks there) but this is another story. Again, the little streets and pilgrim hostels (meaning any covered place) proved to be a portrait bonanza.

It was in such a flee-infested, filthy little place where I met Victor and Clemence (or Desire, the introduction wasn't clear) from Paris, a couple of rare beauty.
And there was the blind singer. I saw him in 1999 already, sitting close to the bridge. He was there still, on the same spot in the same robe (such bright yellow that it drove my 5D's white balance mad), singing the same song. Eternal.
For some reason I was very happy to see him again. While I was looking at him, dealing with my memories, he stood up and tried to make his way through the mass flowing from the bridge; I took his hand and guided him through, making way for him through all the people. Paid his tea, too.
Several times I decided to go return to my hotel and every time I turned back. I was tired, dirty and soaking of sweat but Rishikesh didn't let me go. People got used to my presence after a while and it was exhilarating to become part of this town if even for just one afternoon.