I have taken many photos of this family in Varansi. The little girl is featured here and I even had a couple of make-shift ‘studio’ photography sessions with this lady when she dug out her wedding sari amongst other things (as part of a project I did while of trying to give people in India who don’t have photographs of special occasions something for the family album).
But as is usual with me, it was the more natural moments that I really wanted to capture. I just think that this photograph is so endearing, especially as the little girl is so timelessly. She was such a friendly, pretty girl and would run to me and take my hand every time I walked past their house. Her looks and character were so endearing that confess I was sad one day to see that all her beautiful hair had been shaved off. But I think it was a one-off event, purely for religious reasons – following the Hindi ritual of Mundan. The hair from birth is associated with bad traits from a previous life so the young child is shaven to represent moving ahead with a new life. I feel quite glad that they will have photos in their album to remind them how she looked before her head was shaven, as by the time that it is long again she will be at least a year older.
Creating visual memories for people is one of the most important things I did on a personal level while I was in India. It is hard to imagine not having a photograph of yourself as a child growing up, or a record of an important family event such as a wedding, but this is the case with the vast majority of the people that I met, so I decided that the least I could do if people were kind enough to let me take their photograph was to try to give them copies.
At first I would just print pictures of people I photographed in the streets (whom I knew I could find again), but then I realised that people wanted more than just an image of them working in their shop or market stall, so once I had gained the trust of people I offered to take family portraits too.
I would encourage others visiting India to do the same if you have the time. You will gain a wonderful insight into their life and maybe make some new friends and learn a bit more Indian culture along the way. Photo printing shops are still plentiful there and it is very cheap to make copies.