Dec 3, 2015

Return of the Rats

Meals for the rats' are mixed in such big vats that you'd expect to see a swarm of rats crawling all over the temple's marble floor.

Alas, the mass of rats spend their lives scurrying around in dark enclosures at the edges of the temple compound. Only the brave rat chooses to feed in the light and fury of the temple on a night like this....

This is no ordinary temple evening. It's the night before their biggest festival. The temple is lit up as if it were a karmic casino and the pilgrims pour in.

Some pilgrims arrive just before dawn after having walked all night on a 30 kilometer spiritual trek.

For the history and meaning of the Karni Mata temple see my earlier photo blog post on this so-called rat temple at the link below:

Rats! the End

Nov 23, 2015

rats or camels

No matter how hard they try, some animals just aren't photogenic. Some animals are the color of dirt.

I'm hoping I'll be better at  photographing rats than camels, so I'm leaving the Pushkar Camel Fair this morning for the so-called rat temple at Deshnoke. As I photo blogged about that temple on my last trip to India, this might be my last photo blog from this trip to india. After revisiting the rats, I'll be trying to recover my health by reading books on the beach at Gokarna.Fortunately, I can leave you with some pretty pictures. The wonderful guest house I've been staying at, Bharatpur Palace, overlooks sacred Pushkar lake. First there is a morning shot. I stopped writing this last night to photograph the fireworks from the terraces.

Oct 27, 2015

The Great Art Exhibition

Durga Puja, a 5 day annual holiday here in Kolkata, has just concluded. During the Puja the city's subway system doesn't open until 2 p.m. but stays open until 4 a.m. If the question is, "What is the population out doing until the early morning hours?" The answer is at least as much, appreciating art as it is worshipping a goddess—but the two are interconnected here as art and religion once were everywhere. Kolkata's Durga Puja is, among other things, the world's largest open air art exhibition.

I began my coverage of the festival a couple of weeks before it began in Kumortuli, a riverside community of sculptors in north Kolkata.  In Kumortuli they make, much as they have for centuries, sacred idols for traditional Durga pandals (temporary temples) all over the city. The first two images, however, show the portrait sculptures of one of the community's most prominent artists. In the third a sculptor works on a traditional Durga idol in which clay is molded over a form made of straw. In the fourth, you see in the background a formed, but unfinished statue of the 10-armed goddess Durga and in the foreground Mahishasura, the evil demon she slew. In the fifth image a completed Durga idol is hauled by coolies out of the community to a waiting pandal just as it would have been 500 years ago.

The Durga Puja is hundreds of years old, but it grew enormously during the British Raj when Durga came to represent India and the demon, their colonial rulers.  The British got so weary of Calcutta's rebellious creativity that they moved the capital to New Delhi in 1911. In the modern era the puja has transformed itself again to become a showcase for the cities young architects and artists. 

Above, in silhouette, the visitors, and on stage live performers and statues of the goddess and her retinue in an African themed pandal.

The three images above show a portion of the line to get in, the entrance and the inside of a pandal inspired by the art and culture of the people that live along the border of Rajasthan and Gujarat. There was a gang armed with sticks here trying to prevent anyone from photographing their goddess idols (which are not the dancers shown in the third image.)

This photo of the goddess idol at a different pandal was taken without incident by a young Mexican volunteer with Mother Teresa's Sisters of Charity. Thanks, Renata, for allowing me to display it here. Note how the demon holds the goddess up with his elbows and wrists as an acrobatic dancer might support his partner.  This idol appears to be making the kind of subtle commentary on the relationship good and evil that is not shocking in Indian art as it would be in the West.

The puja ends with a ceremonial return of the goddess to the river through which she can return to her home in the Himalayas. One idol has just been sunk in the background as the men in front are preparing to do with their idol.

After years of complaints about the environmental impact of this return the idols are now immediately plucked back out of the river by cranes and work crews that return them to the earth in a proper landfill.

Oct 17, 2015

Calcutta street photography

Rick asked that we take a characteristic picture of each other's photographic style while taking pictures together in the streets of Calcutta last Tuesday. Rick's technique involves convincing perfect strangers to let him frame them in a darkened doorway for a dramatic closeup. I like this first shot of Rick taking a street portrait because here I got the darkened doorway framing his subject. 

In the second photo, I've taken, beneath Howrah Bridge, a head and shoulders portrait in what I think of as Rick's style. Howrah Bridge is like the Eiffel Tower of Calcutta except that you're not allowed to photograph from this city's symbol. However, under Howrah Bridge is it's own world and the topside rules don't apply.

Next is Rick's photo of me searching for spontaneous order in the chaos of the streets.

As you can see in my shot of a woman fanning herself beneath Howrah Bridge, the backgrounds I'm searching for are not often so orderly as a darkened door or the darkness under Howrah Bridge.

Last is a photo I made earlier in the day of a young family camped outside the train station.

Oct 1, 2015

Paris Hilton

Calcutta is as close as anyone today can get to the Paris of the 1930's. I might be the first to notice this.

That Calcutta sidewalk in my first image—if I had bothered to remove the umbrella, do a black and white conversion, and step back a few feet, might it be mistaken for one of Atget's shots of an old Parisian corner?

I don't know what a lost generation writer paid for a room. Nonetheless, the $3.80 a night I pay for a room at The Hotel Modern Lodge (second photo) seems about right.

And the people you meet here at the Hotel Modern Lodge! In the third photo that's Rick, a photojournalist who has a room on the roof.

I won't be posting much this month because I won't be traveling, just living the life of an artist here in this city of light.

I end with three street portraits I took this morning in the produce market.

Sep 20, 2015

inside Sri Ranganathasvami Temple

In the last post I had nothing but 2 ipod snap shots to show you of the inside of a great Tamil Nadu temple. Here I've gotten my camera through all of the seven concentric walled courtyards of the temple in Kaveri on one of their most sacred days. It's the Ganesh festival. The whole town has the day off. Everyone except the temple elephant. Ganesh is the elephant god, his specialty is clearing all the obstacles in your way. So I'll start with the eye of the elephant and then continue to show how he blesses the town's infants.

This is a day to wear your 'Sunday best' or just to take a nap in the temple on a hot afternoon. The final shot shows one of the temple cats prowling in front of the booth where they sell offerings for the temple gods.

This morning I'm traveling north by train for almost three days to Calcutta.

Sep 13, 2015

Meenakshi Temple in Madurai

Meenakshi Temple, like the Taj Mahal, was built in the 1630s.  The Taj was described by Tagore, India's most acclaimed poet, as "a teardrop on the face  of humanity."  I don't have a Tagore concerning Meenakshi Temple, but the four exterior towers look to my western eyes like wedding cakes on an acid flashback to India.

The huge temple interior, on the other hand, with its reflecting pool, its majestic passageways large enough that one can walk down them beside the temple elephant and be passed by a stream of Hindu worshippers without feeling crowded— it just took my breath away. Unfortunately, inside they now only allow cellphone photography. The second to last image shows an iPod image of a worshipper before the reflecting pool, the last photo is of an entrance to the Hindu only inner sanctum.

Sep 10, 2015

Painted Tigers

From the first brushstrokes at 3 a.m., to a room full of men waiting to have their bellies transformed into great cats in the early afternoon, to the stripping off of the paint with turpentine at 10 p.m., I was behind the scenes August 31st photographing the team that wound up winning the 2015 Pulikali Tiger Dance Championship— the team from Kottappuram Temple. This is just a preview of the project I'll do a more professional job of processing a larger selection of images from this spring when I return to the USA.