If in any doubt at all (photographically speaking) head straight for water. Immediately as a photographer you have more dimensions to play with – extra textures, reflections, geometry and somehow, a completely new, never before seen tonal range. And certainly as far as black and white goes it does not matter what the light is doing, misty, flat or harsh, chances are you will come away with something special.
Having grown up admiring and coveting the work of Cartier-Bresson – and in particular his Indian photographs – I was quietly looking forward to having the opportunity to work by one of the rivers of India. Cartier-Bresson’s images of river life are iconic, to say the least and what they depict has been reinforced over the years by countless other photographers, television documentaries about the Ganges and Hollywood films. If ever there was an Indian stereotype for me to come away with, I knew it would be here, on the banks of the Yamuna.
So when we first arrived in both Mathura and Vrindavan and we found we had time to kill before various parades or celebrations started, we partook in some random wandering. Random wandering that somehow, inevitably ended up taking us straight to the river.
Groups of people, families, friends and individuals, were gathered by the water’s edge, contemplating life, praying, washing, bathing and even drinking the river water. Most were pilgrims, drawn to Mathura and Vrindavan by Holi and to the river itself by the temples that lined it. Families were sat having picnics, groups were listening to preachers, children were splashing and swimming, pilgrims were posing, having their photos taken by friends and family and people were wading straight into the filthy water (fully dressed or naked), without a second thought. In amongst all this relaxed activity were the boats, pulled up onto the shore with their eager owners touting for business and haggling with pilgrims and the (extremely) occasional western tourist. They offered tours to other temples in the area or the chance to cross to the other side, perhaps to a quieter, more peaceful place to meditate. The water itself was lined with hundreds of orange flowers and plenty of litter – ineffectual obstacles for those wishing to partake in the holy and spiritual properties of the Yamuna.
Other than those times I am photographing landscapes and working in complete isolation, I have never known such a relaxed and calm atmosphere. It was magical and yes, it felt both spiritual and holy. Stereotype or not, I was inspired.