Kolkata India – Shooting the streets and smiles by Mark Seymour


Kolkata India – Shooting the streets and smiles

by Mark Seymour – His website is HERE

My photography travels have taken me to some of the most beautiful, interesting and diverse locations but I can honestly say this was unknown territory for me and before I left I really didn’t know what to expect. The little knowledge I had of India from its unique colour and spices to its religious and cultural heritage, the ornately carved temples to the lush landscapes, the fabulous history of the maharajahs to the well broadcast poverty, did not prepare me for what I was going to experience. Kolkata, once known to the English traveller as Calcutta, it is the capital city of the Indian state of West Bengal. Kolkata is the principal commercial, cultural, and educational centre of East India and is the third most populous area in India.

My opportunity to photograph the streets and people of Kolkata came from the Hope foundation and professional photographer Mark Carey who regularly runs a week-long training workshop that in addition to providing photographers like myself the most amazing opportunity to build their personal portfolios, but also enables the Hope Foundation to raise some important funding and their profile for their valuable work with the local children.

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Over 250,000 children are forced to exist on the streets and in the slums of Kolkata. 30,000 children are trafficked into Kolkata on an annual basis to be forced into child prostitution, child labour and child slavery. The Hope Foundation was established in 1999 by Irish Humanitarian Maureen Forrest to help these children.They provide support to over 60 projects including education, primary healthcare, child protection, children’s shelters, vocational training and drugs rehabilitation. HOPE has extended its support and now provides a holistic approach to development which includes working with the children, their families and the community in Kolkata.

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Joining four other photographers we prepared ourselves as much we could before heading out onto the streets and slums that form the living areas of the local people. I can honestly say that what confronted me was challenging and life changing. But what struck me most and what I believe I captured was the spirit of the adults and children as they lived their lives, photographing everyday moments. For me the power of the images was in the expressions on their faces, there was so much joy and laughter in such difficult circumstances.

Initially they were curious and taken aback by our presence as we wandered in and out taking photographs, but they relaxed and engaged with our cameras, smiling and welcoming us into their world. I can honestly say these people touched me in a way I was not expecting. Their sense of pride and joy was humbling.

Whilst we were there we were invited to a special event put on by Hope, a picnic for some of the projects they fund. They ate, drank, played games and enjoyed colouring activities.

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I predominantly photograph my street images in black and white, but colour is an important element of visually recording India. My photos captured the very young through to the very old, living, working and getting on with their daily lives. My favourite images are of the children at play, just like children all around the world, enjoying climbing, exploring and making up their own games. The difference was in where they were found playing, not play parks and gardens, instead railway lines and amongst the confined spaces between the homes and make-shift buildings.

I travelled all the time with my Nikon D4s and two lenses The Nikkor 35mm F1.4 and the 28 1.4 although some days I alternated with the 35 and old but superb manual focus Nikkor 58 1.2. All the shots were handheld, the light was generally really good however it got dark quite early which is where the Nikon D4s really coped well as I quite often upped the ISO to 8000 to let me continue shooting without flash. I’m a great believer that it’s not about the size of the camera more about how you conduct yourself, how you move around and communicate that gets you the best images.

For me I can say that with all my heart I will be returning to India and extending my experiences of this beautiful land of extremes.

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  1. visiting India for our NGO i like to say “you got it” fantastic pictures…”
    living in these poor situation they never surrender, they are happy
    and satisfied…show them the picture…they are happy…shake the
    head and say thx for the best moment in their live…..if you feel
    comfortable in the country accept the culture and the strange
    contrasts…it will brighten your life

  2. My dad was stationed in Calcutta in 1946 just after the war and how it has changed! India is an interesting place, I find Bombay and Calcutta as cities to be a bit too much for the senses.
    Nice series.

  3. I applaud the entrepreneurship of such tour organizers. If in Mumbai, go to the landmark Taj hotel. A guided tour starts from there to Daravi, the largest slum. Lots of photo opportunities (the guides will make sure there will be no problems).

  4. Just back from India myself ….
    My sincere congrats Mark for capturing the spirit ….. great shots and thanks for sharing.

  5. While I adore the city, Kolkata is probably the most dystopian place I’ve ever visited, and doesn’t seem to have changed much between my first visit 25 years ago and my most recent trip at the end of last year. Given India’s rising wealth & technology achievements, the city in my view is a disgrace to humanity.

    Smiles are easy to prompt for ‘cute’ photos by visitors from more developed economies but can mask the underlying & horrific realities.

  6. I love your capture of the human spirit. How in the India people are often really so much richer in a non material sense than in the West despite the privations and hardships of their life – which are very real. thankyou and well done.

  7. I always prefer photos of places like India in colour , where I believe colour is central to the subject and shooting in Black and White takes something away rather than adds to the image. For me I think this post demonstrates that , while all the images are fantastic the colour are more interesting and he black and white seem lacking.

    Nevertheless a great post , thank you

  8. Fantastic images, and as another black and white fan, I absolutely agree with your choice to shoot in color there as the color is really an integral part of those images.

  9. I went 3 times to India at work (and some tourism). I miss a lot my friends there, the colors, the people. Only who goes there can understand that beautiful country! Very nice pictures! Thanks for share with us!

  10. Such a power set! Wonderful images. Having spent some time in Kolkata, I can vouch for what you have said about the pride and joy in the people despite some difficult circumstances. Ofcourse there are other aspects of Kolkata such as cultural heritage, history, the food, and some modernity as well, which makes it one of my favourite cities in the world.

  11. After a recent trip to India for 2 weeks I can really appreciate your images. It certainly is a place for color photography and the people are really wonderful to photograph.

  12. What a great set of photos – I love the one with the woman standing on the right with the man in the background, or the group of people sitting in the empty building – very strong compositions.
    I also find very interesting and original that your portraits use the same tone and composition of other street photo that are typically dramatic, while your portraits are smiling ! And their smiles are not less intense than the usual drama. Well done!

  13. Outstanding work. Really incredible images and excellent article too. I do love the colours and also the black and white tones are perfect. Bravo.

  14. Amazing work. Love every one of your images and descriptions of your travels. Just like many other amateur photographers, always curious to know what equipment you used.

  15. Great and impressive images Mark; thanks for posting these. Two comments: they do seem very sharp (a conscious result of your pp approach?), and you obviously like some depth of field.

      • Thought so; thanks Mark. Any comment on the sharpness, or is that just the D4? I noticed the difference between a loaner Df and my D800E, ha ha.

  16. Wow… very very impressive documentation. I love both your color and b&w pictures… thanks for sharing your impressions from your experience in India with HOPE… must have been quite a humbling experience.

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