Two foreign shutterbugs explore India in a different light

An American and a British photographer arrived in India on two separate occasions for different reasons.

Written by Debesh Banerjee , Vandana Kalra | New Delhi | Updated: May 26, 2014 12:17:42 pm
A rickshaw in Dhaka. A rickshaw in Dhaka.

Greg Vore, USA

In Varanasi he is one of the innumerable rickshaw pullers navigating its winding streets. But for Brooklyn-based Greg Vore, Moti Sudhir Paswan is his confidant who helped him manoeuvre through the narrow allies of the holy city and materialise his photo project in India. A migrant from Bihar, Paswan lives in a hut with his wife and four children. “It is a hard life, full of perpetual poverty,” says Vore. He empathises with Paswan, but is also aware that he is not a singular case.

Vore has spent the last four years photographing rickshaw pullers across Allahabad, Kolkata and Dhaka — the three cities, he believes, with unique traditions associated with the vehicle. If Allahabad and Bangladesh stand out due to the artwork on the rickshaw, in Kolkata, the fact that they are hand-pulled is intriguing. His first encounter with the vehicle was in 2007, at the Maha Kumbh. Back in his studio, while sifting through the prints among the saffron-clad sadhus, the photographs of the rickshaw drivers stood out. Next year, Vore was back. He found an aid in Paswan, who introduced him to several rickshaw pullers. “I was struck by their difficult street life. The character of the pullers and the pride they had in their work was striking. That led to the whole obsession with the history and the development of the rickshaw,” says the 42-year-old commercial photographer.

In order to focus on the vehicle and its driver, the chaos of the cities was removed with a white backdrop of tarpaulin. “Police posed the biggest challenge, a westerner taking photographs attracted a lot of attention,” says Vore, who rented a parking lot in Varanasi for the shoots. In Allahabad, a garden meant for weddings acted as his studio.
Through over 100 photographs clicked between 2007-2012, Vore hopes to share the history as well as the art of rickshaws. “In Allahabad it’s an industry, with wood workers doing the cravings, another person embroidering on the umbrellas,” he says, moving on to Dhaka where rickshaws wear elaborate paintings of wildlife and landscapes, apart from the Taj Mahal, Bangla film stars and heroes of Bangladesh’s war of independence in 1971. “This compares with Kolkata’s plain rickshaws, which I assume is the Japanese influence, where the government had banned embellishments in the late 19th century,” says Vore.

Even as he approaches gallerists for an exhibition, he is garnering funds for the rickshaw wallahs through his webpage. Awareness is being generated for the Rickshaw Sangh Program of the American India Foundation, which arranges loans for rickshaw pullers to own their own rickshaw.

Gavin Evans, UK

Like any first time visitor to India, his impressions of the country were no less different from others. “The streets were teeming with people from the airport to the hotel,” says British photographer Gavin Evans, who landed in Kolkata in February this year, for a photography project. Curious to explore the city, Evans stepped out on to the streets of Kolkata with his Sony AR 7 camera past midnight and was surprised by what he saw. “It was as though the city had been evacuated. The more I looked, the anatomy of the city became like an organism,” says the 49-year-old, who eventually conceptualised a photography project “Nightscapes”, which looked at Indian cities by night.


The three-month project, (February-May) which covered Delhi, Darjeeling, Kolkata, towns in Rajasthan and Kanpur, looked at some of the unexplored or lesser-seen areas such as slum clusters, street corners, and hidden architectural parts. Though photographing Indian cities has been attempted by other photographers in the past, Evans was looking to give his own identity to the concept. “This project is not so much about looking at India sleeping. It is about that other world we do not know, especially how organic Indian cities can be by night. It is an anatomy of India that I am interested to show,” says Evans, who found some familiarity with Britain in cities such as Delhi and Kolkata, due to their shared architectural past.

He spent time drawing up a unique character for each city— such as the poverty and slums in Kolkata; the kilns and factories of Rajasthan and the crowded main bazaar around New Delhi Railway Station. So, be it a group of workers sleeping in a huddle outside their hut at Indira Camp in Delhi or an ambassador taxi waiting under street-lamps at an intersection in Kolkata, Evans’ images reveal a different character about these places. “Slums by their definition have a bad name. But within it, its people have a pride,” says Evans, whose field of work is portraiture. He is known for his series on musician David Bowie.

For some of the images in “Nightscapes”, Evans employed artificial lighting techniques that lend a dramatic studio effect. He wants to return to India, soon, to continue working on this series. “I need to develop this further. It is not representational of India,” says Evans, hoping to exhibit in India in the future.

This story appeared in print under the headline City Lights and a Three Wheel ride

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