New country. New friends. New images. New thoughts. New Challenges. New insights.
On a recent trip to Surat, I joined a few women on the hunt for the perfect Sari. I’m not an avid fan of shopping but in India even the most banal of activities can give you intimate insight into the cultural. As we entered the showroom a line of thin men, outfitted in the same uniform, began to track our every movement. While my eyes darted up and down the walls full of multi-colored and multi-patterned material, the salesmen seemed to be trying to decipher what we would be in the mood for. An elegant silk chiffon number? A high-contrast sequenced piece? Or perhaps a more sober modest look?
We sat back in our seats sipping on complementary chai, as the men began to sling colored material across the marble tabletop. One after another, yards and yards of fabric, in every imaginable color combination were displayed in a chaotic pace. All I could think about is the fact that someone is going to have to fold all that back up! Sixty saris are dwindled down to ten, then four. Then the best part. You’ve come all this way, seen a dizzying array of options, now you must see it on. So what do the men do…well they put the saris on themselves. In less then three minutes! The fabric glides through their trained fingertips with such ease that I’m convinced they could wear a sari blindfolded and underwater.
The material conforms nicely to their thin frames as the men stand side by side, holding their arms up to display the garments’ complex patterns. It’s akin to walking into a designer’s section of Bloomingdales and having men model the dresses for you. I wondered why all the sales staff were men, the only answer I could seem to find was that’s just the way it is. The service industry is dominated by men, you may find women in larger chain department stores but in most boutique stores and restaurants the sales staff is completely male. Even lingerie stores have an all male sales force. And I have one word for that: Awkward!
After two hours, we left the store with a total of three one-of-a-kind saris. Mission Successful. And a shopping experience like no other, I actually had a great time. As we walked past the front entrance I couldn’t help but notice the mannequins in the windows. Why were they white? I was told Indians have an affinity to light skin, so naturally they would display their finest garments on the lightest skin tone. But no one looks like that here, I said, shouldn’t the reflect their customer base? They are showing you an ideal vision, what is not possible, what is seen as beautiful, I was told. Hmmm, now that is something I can relate to!
On a recent trip through the rural villages of Gujarat, we made a short pit stop at the palace of the Maharaja of Vansda. He was out. But we were kindly invited in to look around. The palace was expansive and imposing but could hardly hide the blemishes of decades gone by. We were taken to the parlour. As my eyes adjusted from the harsh daylight to the warm yellow haze of the room, I noticed other pairs of eyes looking back at me. Perched on ledges, splayed on the walls and framed in glass boxes were the prized possessions of a Maharaja that loves the thrill of the hunt. Surreal to say the least.
“Oh my child, you have a lot to learn.” It was one of the first sentences that pierced my consciousness days after I arrived in India. It was in the home of Dr. Shernaz Cama, a well-respected professor at University of Delhi and director of the PARZOR Project. She had taken the time to fit me into her busy schedule for a brief meeting on all things Parsi. Sitting amongst a pile of scholarly books, biscuits and tea, Dr. Cama rattled off in warp speed facts, figures and intimate details of the Parsi community in India. I eagerly nodded and smiled as she spoke, thinking to myself – you must concentrate, soak this in, get it all down, don’t forget. In the middle of our meeting, she paused and asked me a question. I didn’t know the answer but even worse I don’t even know whether or not I should have known the answer. She could tell by my glance that I was in over my head. She looked me in the eye, smiled and gently placed her hand over mine. “Oh my child, you have a lot to learn,” she said, not with pretension but with an honest excitement from all I have to discover. I looked down, smiled and said, “Believe me, I’ll be the first to admit that.”
In choosing to cover my own community, all the lines which were once in place, nicely, neatly written in the sand, have washed away. Photojournalist. Friend. Cynic. Believer. Listener. Lover. Documentarian. All emotions converge in every breath, in ever word, in every action. The anxious energy that comes with every new experience can be exhausting but well worth it. I know not what this year will bring, but one thing is for certain: I have a lot to learn.
Most of you already know I’ve moved to India on a Fulbright Scholarship. Before I left people kept on saying two things: you must keep a journal and please blog more often. I cringed every time I heard the words because I’m not the type to keep a diary or to write consistent blog posts. I have however found a new obsession that may indeed make me journal and blog. Since arriving to Mumbai, I have gotten in the habit of taking long walks, sometimes well over 4 hours. It’s an easy way to observe, exercise, learn the roads and feel like you are part of masses. I take my iphone with me and make images along the way. It keeps me focused and keeps me working on composition, lighting and moment at all times. But best of all it’s a visual diary of my experience…pixel memories in a way. After posting images for three weeks on facebook, I got loads of positive responses, so a side project has begun. Another obsessive compulsion to add to the list. I’m working on a new blog site, but until then I wanted to share some of my favorite considered snaps.
Matt Mallams, Justin Maxon, Elyse Butler and myself are having a group exhibit at the San Francisco Exposure Gallery entitled ~ As We See It ~
“The exhibit showcases a mix of photography, from traditional journalistic storytelling that touches on social issues and street photography, to texture studies and experimentation. With their distinct views, this next generation of photographers has applied their voice and vision to the world they see around them. They have selected the medium of photography to preserve our time and the details that often go unnoticed.”
Opening Reception on April 2nd, 2009 from 5 – 8:30 pm.
The gallery is located at 801 Howard St. San Francisco, CA 94105
I created three multimedia pieces during the Inaugural festivities in Washington D.C. It was an incredible experience and I hope you feel the energy and excitement of those three days through my work. With each piece I tried to push myself both visually and artistically, I took some risks which made each effort an adventure. For you techs out there, I used the new Canon 5D Mark II, which shoots amazing still images as well as incredible HD 16:9 video. For audio I relied on a Marantz recorder with a shot gun mic. Feedback is always welcome and thanks for watching. Click on the images below to view the multimedia pieces.