India through the photographer's lens

By Babiche Martens

Herald photographer Babiche Martens explores the world outside the glitzy hotels and spectacular mausoleums.

Here a child sleeps on the floor under his parents' feet on a crowded passenger train to the Taj Mahal in Agra. Photo / Babiche Martens
Here a child sleeps on the floor under his parents' feet on a crowded passenger train to the Taj Mahal in Agra. Photo / Babiche Martens

When I went on holiday in India I left my big work camera behind and took only a little Canon G10.

It was a difficult decision for a photographer to make, because after several years your camera tends to become a sort of extra limb, but in the end the overriding factor was the unwanted extra attention a big camera would attract.

Partly because my G10 was so unobtrusive I was quite relaxed about taking pictures.

Sure, because the camera wasn't in its usual position, I often cursed myself for not having it ready when something interesting flashed past, but that's a photographer's constant gripe. And it did allow me to get shots that would have been difficult with a big DSLR.

Now I'm back home I notice that my images aren't like the usual travel pictures and I can't help wondering if they will be as interesting to other people as they are to me (though one did win a prize at this year's Cathay Pacific Travel Media Awards, which was encouraging).

All sorts of variables attract me to take a photo but one of the most common is simply the light. I'm not afraid to allow the sun to hit my lens to evoke an atmosphere or to silhouette my subject.

Because of that fascination with light I don't like using flash as I think that quite often it can kill the atmosphere of an image. Generally what I see is what I want to get (as in pictures one, two, three and four).

Mostly I just decide to shoot on the basis of gut instinct.

Sometimes it's about the quirkiness of a situation, like the image of the children's clothes hanging in the street so perfectly straight and side by side they look like dolls cut-out clothes (as in picture two). It made me think of the world's most perfectly well-behaved children.

I love the way the backlight in this image illuminates the clothes.

I'm quite drawn to shadows and mirrors. These can allow the photographer to show something in an unconvential way while still creating a beautiful evocative image (as in picture six).

It's always satisfying, as a photographer, if I can draw a puzzled response from people, making them unsure what something is so they have to look twice, challenging them to see the world from a slightly different perspective.

I particularly enjoy the picture of locals on the ferry across to Elephanta Island in Mumbai photographing seagulls with their mobile phones (picture 12).

I love this image for its sense of freedom, partly evoked by the feeling from the flying birds, but also for what it says about Indian culture, such as the unembarrassed friendship between the two men, something not commonly displayed in our culture.

I was also very pleased with the photos I was able to take - a bit surreptitiously - during a rail trip which definitely wouldn't have been possible with my work camera. These photos were literally shot from my hip, because it was quite a cramped environment, and as a result they paint a delightful visual picture of what it's like travelling on the regular trains in India.

The shot of the family squeezed into a tiny train compartment was what won the travel media award (picture five). But I especially like the composition of the photo I took showing a child sleeping on the floor under the feet of his parents (picture 11).

In the holy pilgrimage city of Pushkar in Rajasthan I took a few photos purely for composition and colour, and they look almost like paintings (picture eight). Not travel photography in the conventional sense but images I'd like on my wall.

I'm quite moved by the black and white shot of a young boy watching tourists and locals pass through the train station while a homeless person sleeps behind him (picture seven). It appeals for its sadness - the boy's look says it all - the slight movement and the interesting play of light and shade.

I took a similar photo of a baby looking over its father's shoulder in the Colaba district in Mumbai which has an emotive appeal because of the look in the little girl's eyes and the effect of the kohl around them (picture nine).

I still enjoy looking at some of the shots I took in Mumbai just simply for the stories that they tell and for the lovely colours and beautiful light (picture 10).

When I look back through the pictures they remind me of the many special moments during my visit to India ... and of the fact that sometimes you don't need a large professional camera to take interesting photos.

Babiche Martens paid her own way to India.

- NZ Herald

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