Village encounters in deep Rajasthan


13 February 2016

The bleating of goats drew us to the adobe-walled compound in the little remote Rajasthan village. A polite hello and exchange of pleasantries, and the tall red-turbanned village men invited us in. Unlike the tourist-circuit villages — where, inevitably, foreign visitors tend to be seen as revenue opportunities rather than honoured guests — in this dusty backwater even visitors from Delhi are rare. They were as curious about us as we were about them.

… for photographers an ounce of social connection is worth a pound of rank.

Our Shoot Director chatted about what we were doing in the area, commented on the condition of the livestock, asked how the season had been for them, enquired after families he’d met during his last visit. We were in the village as guests of a powerful local figure, so unlimited access was assured — but for photographers an ounce of social connection is worth a pound of rank.

And then we heard the feminine giggles and the clink of several hundred bangles. That meant at least two Rajasthani ladies were nearby. It was a squinty ƒ8/640 under open sky, but peering into the gloom of a deep thatched canopy we saw a cluster of womenfolk going about their daily chores and sending the occasional curious glance at the Westerners in their courtyard.

Dusty goats and handsome turbanned men are nice but when ladies wearing everyday Rajasthani costume are about, it’s time for photographers to pay attention. So we gently but firmly weaselled our way under the gloom of the canopy, waited for our Shoot Director to do his social magic, and got to shooting.

I find that for many subjects discovered in this fashion, there’s a fairly short period between the shy novelty phase and ‘are you guys still here?’ Sometimes it’s five minutes, sometimes 15. For many situations it’s just 10 seconds. Longer sessions can become model shoots with all the opportunities and issues accompanying that. We got lucky that scorching November day in Rajasthan, a few days before we hit the dusty dunes on our Pushkar Camel Fair and Rajasthan photography tour.