Farewell Colin O’Brien

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A photo I took of Colin O’Brien alongside one of my favourite photos taken by him, at his retrospective exhibition ’65’ at the Oxo Tower Gallery in 2014

If this year isn’t remembered for being the year of Brexit and Trump, it will be for all the painful losses that we have suffered, of people who brought poetry and beauty to the planet rather than division and hatred. When David Bowie’s death was announced back in January I thought that the year had dealt its trump card too soon. But it turned out to have a deadly hand, with the actor Alan Rickman quickly following suit and Leonard Cohen being the latest of a long list of losses that are felt like personal blows to so many.

Among the very public English losses there was a more discreet and quiet departure back in August. Maybe appropriately so, as it was of one of life’s gentle observers over seven decades – the photographer Colin O’Brien. I was lucky enough to have had two close encounters with Colin’s work. The first occasion was at Chats Palace in East London, where I was first introduced to his East End photographs of the 1950s. His monochrome images of everyday Londoners resonated with me so strongly that I still feel a quickening of my heart as I recall that moment of discovery. The second time was through another exhibition, this time at the Oxo Tower on the South Bank, when I re-acquainted myself with those old friends, as well as being blessed enough to meet the person who had taken them – an experience which left such an impression on me that I wrote about it: https://anenchantedeye.com/2014/08/03/an-homage-to-colin-obrien/

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A young Colin with his first Leica

If Colin thought that he was going to slip away without for once being the focus of attention, then he was wrong. For last week the historic St James church in his childhood neighbourhood of Clerkenwell was filled with people who had known or been inspired by him and wanted to come together to celebrate his life and his work. There were reminiscences from lifelong friends as well as fellow documentary photographer Tom Mazzer; a moving reading of his personal reminiscences by the elegant and eloquent Dame Sian Phillips and some short documentaries. And of course there were the photographs – what a gentle pleasure it was to see those evocative monochrome images fading in and out before me as first a fiddle then a string quartet played, interspersed by photographs of Colin himself spanning right back to childhood when he already had a camera in his hand.

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One of Colin’s evocative photos, depicting London life

It was a heart-warming affair, full of love, appreciation and generosity, followed by drinks in the cloisters downstairs. One of the beverages on offer was, rather poignantly, blackcurrant soda in bottles decorated with photos taken by Colin on his final assignment. This had involved joining a coach-load of East Enders on a day-trip to Tudely in Kent to pick the fruit that we drank. His good friend and scribe “the Gentle Author”, who was with him that day, recalls how they plotted to slip off post-assignment to have a drink in the local pub, on the pretext of going to visit the local church. Strangely enough, on route to the pub they became drawn into the church anyhow, transfixed by the stained glass windows which turned out to be the creation of the great Russian artist Marc Chagall .

Colin was so preoccupied in taking photos of the light coming through those magnificent windows that those pub pints alluded them. I don’t know what his religious beliefs were, but somehow it seems befitting that probably the last photographs he took were in a spiritual place, capturing the work of another artist whose work will be a legacy for many years to come.

For I strongly believe that Colin’s poignant, tender and beautifully framed images of East London will be as an important a contribution to our country’s heritage as that of any other artist. Apparently he knew when he was taking them, back in the fifties, that he was recording something of value for future generations. He has also deduced that the best photography is often the work that hasn’t been commissioned. Those words resonated with me, because sometimes there is a sense that photographs are not of value unless you have been paid to take them. Instead of being frustrated by the devaluation in the currency of photography as an industry, I look at photographs such as Colin’s and remember that first and foremost, it is an art-form, not a business, and that those images should not be held in any less esteem just because they were taken for the love of expressing yourself, and recording the world as you see it, through the camera.

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Colin captured ordinary life, such as a young family window shopping

Rickman and Bowie were both Londoners, born in 1946 and 1947 respectively. Although neither grew up in the East End, I like to think that many of the photographs that Colin took captured what they too would have experienced – from its bomb-scarred cityscapes, to the fashions and ‘props’ of that post-war London stage. Which is why Colin’s photographs are extra precious. Because it is by recording the everyday present that we are better able to know our own culture, our people and ultimately our country’s heritage. Fortunately Colin did this beautifully and, like Bowie’s songs, his images will live on and continue to enchant, entertain and educate us. I’m as grateful for that as I am grateful that Bowie didn’t transport “Life on Earth” up to heaven with him.

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In Time of the Breaking of Nations

It is still less than a week since the British referendum result. And yet it feels much longer. So much has happened since then that I can’t a recall a time in British history so tumultuous. I feel that we will look back asking not “What were you doing when Brexit occurred?” but rather “Which way did you vote?” For I cannot think of anything that has divided our nation so much – not only geographically; even within the Conservative and Labour parties there have been divisions so great that staunch Labour supporters have found themselves on the same side as the leader of the Conservative party. And now both of our main parties are at war, as the nation itself is, with themselves.

To get some sense of inner peace amongst the chaos and drama I went on a couple of walks – first on the day that the results came out and again yesterday. Both were typical British summer days – not particularly hot, but not unpleasant either. There was a break from the usual rainy days that we have been subjected to recently (as if the weather itself had echoed the bitter tears of half the population) and I was at least able to benefit from the lush, verdant beauty of early summer.

I walked through some of the greenest areas of London, and also in some pretty affluent streets (which I couldn’t help thinking up new names for – “Lucky Bastards Avenue” and “Fat Cat Alley” sprang to mind). As I ambled the hymn ‘Jerusalem’ kept playing in my mind, particularly the line “England’s Green and Pleasant Land”. I remembered how I had not been allowed to include this hymn at my wedding ceremony because the priest considered it too jingoistic. I was a bit annoyed at the time, but now I was starting to wonder if he had a point. After all it is based on a Blake poem suggesting that our land was so magnificent that Jesus must have walked on it.

Maybe Brexit is just about us getting a bit ahead of ourselves with our collective opinion of how great this country actually is. How we conveniently forget minor reality checks like the fact that our national football team this week could not even beat a country with a population smaller than most of our cities when called upon to do so. Maybe if we took ‘Great’ out of our name, banned Jerusalem from ever being sung again, and had a slightly less trumped up flag, then it would help us to have a more balanced view?

Because the problem is that even I, who felt physically sick when I heard the referendum result and cried angry tears that this could have happened, couldn’t help feeling a little bit comforted when I walked my city’s historic streets and parks and took in their beauty. And I knew that, however much the aggrieved 48% have threatened to revolt, in reality we will probably gradually accept the change and comfort ourselves by grumbling about it and telling everyone “Don’t say we didn’t warn you!”

Something else that came to my mind during my ambles was the Thomas Hardy poem ‘In Time of the Breaking of Nations’, written at the start of World War I. Hardy’s poem depicts how life goes on the same in England, in spite of the carnage taking place across the channel. The land is still farmed; people still fall in love. The poem was written in response to a request from the government to Hardy to comfort and reassure people. Conjuring it up now doesn’t comfort me; it reinforces my gut fear that we will not take a stance against tumultuous changes like Brexit when we have newspapers to misinform and mould us; and football tournaments and Facebook posts to distract us from the bigger picture.

I did not mourn our departure from the European Cup. I was glad. Because I wanted some of those who voted for England’s much bigger exit to share some of my pain, if only for a fleeting moment. And I wanted them to be reminded that we are not that great a nation anymore, just like we have not won a major football tournament in fifty years.  We haven’t found a winning team and we haven’t been fixed. We’re just a confused, deflated and divided country, wondering who our next leader will be and what our next ill-conceived tactic will be to try to restore those glory days we misguidedly think we deserve.

Here is Hardy’s poem:

In Time of the Breaking of Nations

Only a man harrowing clods

In a slow silent walk

With an old horse that stumbles and nods

Half asleep as they stalk.

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Only thin smoke without flame

From the heaps of couch-grass;

Yet this will go onward the same

Though Dynasties pass.

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Yonder a maid and her wight

Come whispering by:

War’s annals will cloud into night

Ere their story die.

That sea of blood

 

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There has been a bit of a poppy frenzy going on in London, by virtue of the “sea of blood” filling the moat at the Tower of London to mark the centenary of the start of the First World War. The ‘blood’ was made up of thousands of ceramic poppies – one for each Commonwealth soldier who lost his life during that great war. The installation process began in the summer and slowly grew each day to mark the soldiers who fell until the last poppy was planted on Armistice Day by a young army cadet.

With the addition of each flower it seemingly captured more and more of the public’s hearts until it became London’s biggest tourist attraction. People flocked to do ‘selfies’ of themselves with the poppies; they marvelled on how beautiful they looked on-mass and many rushed to buy them, post-installation, at £25 a pop. No doubt they will make a good investment and some wily people, fully aware of this, were already trying to cash in by selling them on Facebook before the display had even been dismantled. I had mixed feelings about it all.

I wondered if the soldiers would have approved of their barbaric, needless deaths being remembered as something to ooh and aah about and a backdrop for selfies. And more worryingly, I wondered if the act of creating a thing of such intense beauty was glorifying and romanticising war or, at the very least, accepting it as an inevitability. By turning those tragic deaths into a glorious work of art it was almost as if their deaths had formed some kind of artist’s palette; albeit a selective one. Why should we just sigh and shed a tear over those poor ‘Tommies’ while forgetting that war continues and that hundreds and thousands more lives have been lost then, right up to the present day with the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Armistice Day ceremony also unsettled my mind. By inviting both Chelsea war veterans in their splendid red jackets and a young army cadet to the ceremony is it not suggesting that war is an inevitability for every generation; and by placing them against that beautiful backdrop where they are made to look so stunning in their uniforms are we not glorifying war just as much now as our forefathers did a century ago when young men were sent to their slaughter with such glorious fanfare?

I am glad of my camera sometimes because the mere act of trying to take photos stops my brain from chattering too much with their nagging doubts. Though I’m aware now that by posting my photographs I am helping to perpetuate that notion of a “good and glorious” war. It makes me wonder about the conscience of photographers, as artists, and where we draw the line. I remember an interview with a conflict photographer, Robert King I think, in which he was asked how he could photograph the atrocities that he has seen in conflict zones such as citizens with freshly amputated limbs. He replied that your mind becomes that of an artist and you try to capture the pools of blood and the decimated body in the most aesthetic way possible. It isn’t that you don’t care, but just like a doctor doesn’t spend time wondering about the life of his patient while you try to save that life, you concentrate on the job on hand and think about it later.

In a remote sense that is what I am doing too. I photographed those “pools of blood” in the most beautiful way according to my capability, then shared the photos. My conscience is slightly troubled by the fact that I am helping to perpetrate war as a thing of beauty by doing so, but at the same time I am recognising another artist’s stunning creation and wanting to share it. Maybe I would feel happier if the actress Shelia Hancock’s suggestion of bringing a tank onto the moat to crush the lot of them had been taken up. That would have been a more fitting finale, rather than letting people own a poppy as a piece of artwork or, dare I say it, an art investment. I would have been there to photograph that for sure.

One thing that comforts me while I pontificate over all this is a wonderful act of nature that I was fortunate to observe. The local birds around the Tower of London had accepted and adapted to the presence of these artificial flowers by quite happily perching on them. I found this very comforting when I thought of what each poppy represented. The birds weren’t using the poppies for PR purposes or political gains – they just enjoyed being amongst them. I can’t help but think that this, probably unexpected, sideshow of the whole installation, was the truest and most moving. It brings to mind a poem by Thomas Hardy written during that ‘Great War’, entitled ‘In Time of the Breaking of Nations’.

Only a man harrowing clods

In a slow silent walk
With an old horse that stumbles and nods
Half asleep as they stalk.

Only thin smoke without flame
From the heaps of couch-grass;
Yet this will go onward the same
Though Dynasties pass.

Yonder a maid and her wight
Come whispering by:
War’s annals will cloud into night
Ere their story die.

With Damien Rice at the London Palladium

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This is a slight deviation from my usual postings. But I think it’s justified. Because on Friday I had the opportunity to sing with the international recording artist Damien Rice, at the London Palladium. Which is not the kind of invitation you turn down!

Anyone who knows me will be forgiven for re-reading that last sentence; it’s not a statement they probably ever expected to come from me. So I will explain. I was singing with the community choir London City Voices; and we joined Damien on stage for his finale – the exquisitely beautiful and powerful song Trusty and True. You probably haven’t heard of it yet, because it comes from his new album released literally just this week. But you will.

Forgive me for sounding clichéd but I can honestly say that it was one of those experiences that has you pinching yourself, even now two days afterwards. Every minute dedicated to that moment has been an absolute joy! From singing the song endlessly in the few days leading up to the event (and loving it more and more each time); to meeting him during rehearsal (what a lovely, totally grounded, warm-hearted guy); and then practising with him – as if that’s the most perfectly natural way to spend your Friday afternoon!

Then finally there was the excitement of us all creeping on stage and standing literally right behind him while he sang one of my all-time favourite songs, The Blower’s Daughter, live to an audience of over 2500 devoted fans. And as we silently stood there, our hearts pumping, we looked out on the crowd of devotees who had waited nearly a decade to hear him play live, and we revelled in the electricity; were deafened by the roar of their applause; and felt the growing butterflies in our stomachs. Because we knew that in minutes, now seconds, we too were going to open our mouths, and our hearts, and sing.

Finally, Damien asked the mikes to be switched off and started gently strumming his guitar. It was the start of what was, for this night at least, “our song”. The audience listened attentively and breathed in the delicacy of it, oblivious of the crescendo to come. The song slowly built and built in volume and intensity, until it was time for the secret to reveal itself. The male members of the choir softly started joining the chorus; we heard some quiet gasps from the audience. They had no clue what was going on, as we were standing in total darkness. As the intensity built up another notch it was finally the women’s turn and, as we joined in, simultaneously we were all illuminated. The response was something that is hard to express: the crowd whooped, cheered and clapped; the cameras began flashing in front of us in greater numbers, and the electricity seemingly increased tenfold.

And we sang. Oh how we sang! For this was our moment, and for a few precious chords the audience was ours as well as Damien’s. He was sharing the thrill, the excitement, the passion, the pride, the enormity of it with each one of us.

And did we let him down? Absolutely not. We did all we had been told to do. We were with him all the way, standing right behind him and giving it our all. We sang our hearts out. We did it for the crowd; we did it for Damien; we did it for Richard, our wonderful choir master; and we did it for ourselves. Because we may never get an opportunity like this again in our lifetimes, and we felt at that moment like the luckiest people on earth. The song’s intensity grew and grew and our voices grew louder and more intensely with it – until it reached that crashing, deafening, whooping climax that had the crowd on its feet! Then gently we brought them all back down again with our soft, gently humming to Damien’s final chords and words.

As the lights lifted and the applause finally faded, we trooped back to our dressing rooms; some of us in tears. Within minutes Damien was there too, for he had rushed to thank us. Because that’s the kind of person we had discovered him to be. And well, because thanks to that magical combination of a wonderful song that had just given birth; a beautiful singer; a fantastic and dedicated choir master; and a group of people determined to give it our all, we really were rather good! And he wanted to express his gratitude for that.

In return I’d like to thank Damien Rice and Richard Swan of London City Voices. You fulfilled many dreams that night; you gave me personally an experience that never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine occurring, and you created memories that will stay with us. Now our strides are that little bit springier; our heads that little bit higher and our smiles that little bit wider. We have sung at the London Palladium a song so beautiful that it’s destined to become the soundtrack to many people’s lives across this planet. And we sang it with Damien Rice. How can we possibly ever feel quite the same again?

I’ve included some behind the scenes pictures as we prepared for our performance. I think they convey how excited we were, and how beautiful we all looked (including Linda and Anne-Marie, featured, old friends and new). Because joy brings beauty. And besides, for that night at least, we were all stars – singing at the London Palladium!

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You can hear the song here: http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=359335290&m=359414466

And hear us singing it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ecaIZTTThdo&feature=youtu.be

Plus here’s a picture of Damien singing that I took with my i phone just before we stepped on stage, and one of me on stage during the rehearsal – just to remind myself that it really happened, and finally one of us all with Damien Rice – I’m the one standing to the right of him looking deliriously happy! (Photo courtesy of Mark Doyle, who has posted more pictures and clips on twitter: https://twitter.com/markcoyle65/media)

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Damien Rice

A picture tells a thousand words

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I’m not a big fan of busy pictures. I think my images are generally hallmarked by their simplicity and order. But sometimes even a complicated picture can have great composition – like this one. Every person or animal just seems to fit into its own space; nothing seems to be competing with each other. And so I like it. Maybe it also comforts me because it reminds me of a biblical scene – of the animals sitting around the baby in the manger. Except in this case, instead of something being conjured up for an audience, it is real – the animals and humans actually are together in total harmony.

The whole scene looks so perfect that it is like I have played director and staged the shot, but of course I didn’t. I did hang out at this little chai shop for many a morning, so maybe that’s why everything came together. In fact it was one of my favourite places in which to sit, because there was always so much going on. It was located on a kind of crossroads (like the Times Square or Piccadilly Circus of Varanasi) right next to a temple. Which is why the cows seemed so at home there I guess, because they would be given offerings and always treated with kindness.

I remember when the biggest bull I have ever seen came by and the local people gathered around to care for its feet. He just patiently stood there, picking up his huge hooves and soaking up their attention as gentle as a lamb. It was one of those sights that stay with you forever and makes me realise that you needn’t be scared of anything, big or small, so long as you meet it with love and compassion.

I love the scene so much because it contains so much that I remember about India: the chai stalls; the people reading newspapers; the spiritual men; the animals all around you; and that sense of peaceful harmony in spite of the cacophony all around you. It’s an essence of India that I hope I never forget.

Columbia Road people – and pets

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As promised, here are my people photographs taken at Columbia Road on Sunday morning, with the occasional dog thrown in for good measure. There is a slight nod to two very different street photographers – Martin Parr and Vivian Maier – in them, especially in the final two pictures (no prizes for guessing who features in the last one!)  I think the photo of the lady smiling with the flowers looks slightly out of place amongst all the other more somber pictures, but I included it because of the contrast with the homeless guy in the background looking on rather dejectedly. And yes he is the same guy featured in two other pictures. I don’t think he was having a very good day so he moved around a lot.

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Boy with the balloon

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I was asked recently if I was religious. I replied that I wasn’t, but in hindsight maybe I should have explained that that doesn’t stop me from being spiritual. I believe for example that people deliberately come into your lives for a reason, even if for just the most fleeting of periods, and it is not only for us to enjoy these encounters but to understand their significance.

Maybe a recent such happy collision of different worlds was meant to make myself believe in the concept of photography again; in its ability to capture beautiful, powerful moments on this incredible planet and freeze them forever so that they achieve a permanent significance. I like to think that good pictures are a form of poetry – after all photography officially translates as ‘writing with words’. The photographer’s role is not only to choose the settings and to press the shutter button; firstly he or she has to recognise these moments – to have the photographer’s eye.

I feel spiritual when I photograph a scene like the one pictured because I am filled with love for these people – strangers whose names I will never know. I’ll never feel the touch of their skin, hear the sounds of their laughter or know the brightness of their smiles; but they have become a little part of me and for that they have my affection. Maybe that is why photography is so addictive – it is less about sharing your work but of connecting with the subjects. Which is why I’m sometimes a bit reticent about processing or posting photos. I feel my job has already been done the moment the shutter fell and that connection was made. But if people believe in my work I guess I should believe in myself enough to take it to the next step and to keep publishing and exhibiting my work. And through that process to keep growing as a photographer.

Musing over. Normal, more regular, postings will now resume. That is my pact to myself.

A poignant message

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I had been out taking photographs of graffiti in London’s East End and spotted this homeless guy pausing underneath a huge billboard advertising the Tea Gallery. I only had a split second to take the photo in-between the traffic before he moved on but I knew I had to capture it because it seemed such a powerful message. If anyone needs tea and sympathy it’s a homeless person.

I’m not saying it’s the greatest picture I’ve ever taken, but if anyone knows of anyone that may wish to have free use of the image for charitable purposes relating to homelessness please pass it on or get in touch.

My top 20 from 2013

As we prepare to say goodbye to another year I reflect on what has been generally a great blogging year for me. I’ve made some nice virtual friends; had some very encouraging feedback from people (thank you so much for taking the time to do so –  it DOES mean a lot); shared many photographs – some of which I am admit I am proud of; and I’ve ended the year with a revamp of the site which I think is a change for the better.

One of the positives of the new style website is that I’m now able to include more than one photo in a post. So, I have chosen some of my favourite photographs that have featured in the past year.

Here are some interesting observations I’ve made about them:

  • The majority were taken in India, 2 were taken in Nepal and 1 in Italy – which is about right when I consider how much time I spent in each country in the past year.
  • My favourite type of photography is of people and animals.

  • I don’t generally want the subject to be smiling, or even looking at the camera, but i don’t want them to be miserable either – contemplative, or peaceful is a common theme, or even asleep (especially with animals).  I somehow managed to catch a monkey looking pensive and a huge bull looking quite fragile.

  • I’m equally happy with vibrant colours or soft muted ones, but I like harmony of colours and an element of texture.

I hadn’t realised that there were these common threads so this has been an educational experience. I’m still undecided regarding my overall favourite but I’ve included my top three first (of the sadhu; the woman and child wrapped in yellow; and the woman in the doorway).

Enjoy them – and feel free to let me know which are your favourites!

(Just click on the first photo to scroll through them all at full size)

Mother and daughter

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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.

 

 

Weekly photo challenge: Companionable (2)

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These young Hindu priests look like they are enjoying the morning sunshine as they stroll along the ghats of Varanasi.

Posted for the Weekly Photo Challenge

Protection

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This was taken on the other side of the Ganges in Varanasi. Boys come here to exercise the horses that are used for the wedding carriages. I’m not quite sure how they get the horses across the river – presumably not in one of the rowing boats!

Weekly Photo Challenge: The World Through Your Eyes

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Here is another twist on ‘The World Through Your Eyes’. I feel like I am observing myself through the eyes of the boy  looking out of the bus window. He is fascinating to me and I am fascinating to him! Often when I am busy taking photos, such as at a recent wedding, I can see somebody out of the corner of my eye photographing me. I am also often asked to pose for photographs with strangers, as if we are best friends. It seems that we all are intrigued by people who are different to our norm.

The Pujari, Hatu Temple

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Last night as I was sitting around the bonfire at Banjara Lodge, some lovely guests from Mumbai invited me to tag along with them on a mini excursion this morning, to see Hatu Peak, around 5kms from the town of Narkandar. It is the highest point in the Shimla region, standing at some 11000 ft,  so I jumped at the chance to go there and take in the panoramic views.

It was a 45 minute drive  through pretty windy roads, dodging cows and buffalo along the way, so we set off at 7am in order to be back at the lodge for breakfast. We were not lucky with the views as it was quite hazy and overcast, but I didn’t mind as my attention was drawn to a beautiful temple that looked to be Tibetan in style with its dragons and intricate wooden carvings. It was actually a Hindu temple that had apparently been deliberately designed to incorporate different religious styles.

Just as I was having my photograph taken in front of the temple, the Pujari climbed the steps towards us and proceeded to open the beautiful wooden door to enter the little interior and do his morning Puja duties. Being in the right place at the right time, this meant that I was then blessed by him and given a red dot on my forehead, plus a generous handful of little white Puja sweets to take away with me.

It was difficult to photograph him because I was supposed to be posing for a photograph myself. But I did get this lovely picture of him, showing his gentle face and noble features, while he paused for a moment in the doorway before disappearing into the dark interior of the temple . (In fact he looked slightly more appropriate than his Pujari colleague who also made an appearance. He was sporting a trendy skull-cap and huge sunglasses and was talking on his mobile the entire time – I’m wondering if he should find himself a new vocation!)

On the way back I spotted a perfect pastoral scene of a lady milking a cow, surrounded by other cows and buffaloes. I jumped out and took some photos of the scene (another day’s post perhaps) and returned to the Lodge very happy. With such an auspicious and beautiful start I have a feeling that my Summer solstice is going to be a very special one!

Weekly photo challenge: Curves

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Of all the animals I have encountered in Varanasi, the buffaloes are my favourites, far preferable to their near relatives – the cows. The latter just seem always to be in their own world, oblivious to passers-by or cars having to navigate their way around them as they lazily chew their way through the vast amount of rubbish on the streets, not even bothering to distinguish between food and the likes of plastic bags. Don’t get me wrong, I love the cows too but they just come across as a bit disinterested and, well a bit dumb.

On the other hand, every time I see a buffalo I cannot help but smile. They just seem so, well so human! They have their personalities written all over their faces and I love it as I walk past and they curiously stare at me – I can almost sense them sizing me up and down and thinking “I’m sure I’ve seen her before, what is that little foreigner still doing here?” I also love the way that they travel in packs through town with their necks curiously stretched out, or the way they mimic each other, like in this picture – all nonchalantly chewing away in union given that practised look of “We don’t give a f**k. There is a kind of harmless menace to them, like the youth gang that thinks its tough, and dresses accordingly in  black leather, but actually never hurts a flea. Well, I mean look at their horns – what a useless weapon that is, curled in on itself!

I have even grown to love their skeletal bodies with that taut stretched skin showing every bone on their angular backs, as if there is no flesh there – just air. But my favourite thing about buffaloes is how they love to go for a swim. You can just see the pure pleasure on their faces as soak in the Ganges on a hot day with often only their heads peeking out of the water – it’s the equivalent of a human enjoying a hot bath – you just know that they are in heaven!

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