Jama Masjid Delhi, India
Jama Masjid (mosque) in Old Delhi with Vineet Vohra
India is know for its chaos. It is a puzzling place renown for its spiritual practices, though there is never a moment of peace. Everything moves, all the time. Driving along the crowded streets of Delhi you are confronted with every possible mode of transport; it provides the soundtrack of Delhi. I half expected to see a boat go past me, because hey, why not?
It is a puzzling place renown for its spiritual practices, though there is never a moment of peace.
From brightly painted trucks to rusted out bicycles and everything in between, traffic moves at its own speed. The street lights are only rough guides and even the newest highways don’t have painted lanes. It is a free-for-all. If there is space to move, you take it or someone else will. It does not matter if you are in a truck or a scooter, everything is fair game. In spite of the madness, it all works, but don’t ask me how. It is still a mystery and one that is “most enjoyable” to experience.
For all of the superficial issues that you encounter in Delhi – the garbage, the noise, and the pollution – there are innumerable charms. And as you drive from the newer sections of town into Old Delhi everything intensifies. The streets are smaller, the crowds are more compact, and space is at an absolute premium.
For this trip I was with brothers Vineet and Rohit Vohra of Art Photo Feature (APF). We have known each other for almost four years, but this was the first time we had a chance to spend time together in their hometown. One afternoon we took a ride into Old Delhi for lunch at Karim’s (a restaurant founded by the former chef to the King) and a shoot in Jama Masjid (one of the largest mosques in India).
If you have never photographed in India and had any interest in shooting people on the street, it is the easiest place to work. There is no such thing as personal space here. Unlike NYC where I would not recommend pushing someone on the street, people move along with gentle elbows all the time in Delhi. Someone is always in your face, which makes photography easy. All you have to do is lift the camera and click. Vineet shoots here frequently, making good use of a 28 mm lens. You can have a look at some of his shots on his Instagram account @leicafotographer.
As you approach the entrance to the mosque, you have to remove your shoes. There is a scattered shoe check, where somehow your sneakers are heaped with hundreds of others, but never get lost. Inside the gate, the mosque opens up with a range of shooting options. There are huge vaulted doorways, long arcades, and columned vignettes that feel like a theater for life. People often bemoan Delhi for bad weather and poor lighting, but I did not find this to be the case at all. With the afternoon sun coming through the clouds there was a soft light that filtered perfectly through the architecture.
Vineet and I split up and roamed in opposite directions for about an hour. One of the pleasures of photography is the luxury of shooting at times when you’re not obligated to shoot. Vineet and I each spend a good portion of the year working and teaching workshops, so the moments of “free shooting” are less than we would like. This was a great chance to take a wander and shoot just for the fun of it. We had no agenda, no projects, just shooting.
The mosque has all of the cliches you would expect to find in India. There are kids playing barefoot, women nursing babies, old men who look like they walked out of a story from 2,000 years ago … these sights are all a given. But one thing that struck me beyond the obvious was the idea of “being an individual in a mass of people”. India seems to absorb you into its fold and somehow remove your individuality in the process. You blend in and disappear.
As people move in every direction, negative space becomes the subject. It is more the space between things that stands out, rather than the people themselves. It is the rarest commodity and one that grabbed my attention.
As people move in every direction, negative space becomes the subject.
After an hour or so, Vineet and I met back up. We went to find our shoes, which were somehow still there waiting for us, and took the short walk back to the car. It was amazing how many shooting opportunities turned up in such a short period of time, but that is just one of the many mysteries of India. It unfolds at its own speed – sometimes fast, sometimes slow, but never predictable. We went back to the house for dinner and to listen to the early fireworks of Republic Day. As we went to sleep the occasional pop of a firecracker would wake the neighborhood dogs into a barking frenzy. Silence never happened, but somehow sleep did.