India: one photo at a time
It’s wonderful being able to snap away happily on our holidays thanks to digtal photography. But it’s not only about the freedom of taking 100s of shots. There’s the added thrill of instantly sharing the moment and meeting locals, as Intrepid’s Yvette Thompson discovers in India…
“Waan foto!” “This is the standard greeting from Indian children to any foreigner: with or without camera. If you don’t have a camera, or you successfully hide it from inquisitive eyes, you can politely smile and walk by the group without risk of an ambush. However, if they spot your camera, then you better be prepared for village kids to run towards you at full speed!
They don’t slow down on approach, but rather the children squeal to a stop only inches away from you. You are surrounded. They all look up in excitement, their big black eyes pleading. They tug at your shirt, your pants, whatever they can hold onto, and repeat over and over “Waaan foto! Waaaan foto! Waaaaan foto!”
It’s obvious that this is a statement rather than a question. There is no possible way that one photo will include each and every child, so defeated, the camera starts clicking, taking shots of different combinations of children from different angles.
It’s always fun to see their poses. The boys stand proud, as rigid as soldiers, arms crossed, faces stern. The girls stand shyly, peeking out from behind their long lashes. The smaller children just keep jumping, making sure that their lack of height doesn’t reduce their chances of getting in the frame.
And what’s even more fun is seeing their faces light up with pure joy as you play the photos back to them. They each seem quite impressed with their appearance. I close the camera and am about to promise them that I will send the photos to them, but before I get a chance they thank me with an extremely polite “thank you madam” and skip along on their way.
And it’s not just the children that like to see their photos. One evening I was walking through the streets of a small town that is far off the regular tourist trail. I walked by a man who I guessed to be around 50. He was sitting cross-legged on his wagon. Next to him was a big pot of corn that he was boiling and selling for a few rupee per cob.
I smiled as I walked past. The man returned the smile and gestured for me to come over. He spoke no English, so with his hands he communicated that he ‘waan foto’. He seemed so genuinely happy to have his photo taken, and he had such an interesting face, with his high cheek bones, henna-died red hair and straight, white big teeth, that I was more than happy to take his photo.
Remaining seated on his wagon, he puffed his chest out, crossed his arms, and boasted the largest smile possible. I took the photo, and as the day was turning into night and the light was rapidly fading, my flash went off.
The man sprang to his feet, almost losing balance on top of the wagon. The smile on his face quickly morphed into a small straight line. His eyes became wide and frightened, his cheeks hollowed, and his arms went straight up in the air as if he had just been caught by the police. I looked around and behind me to see what may have frightened him, but saw nothing.
I looked back at him and moved in slowly towards him, but he stuck his hand out, indicating that I should stop the approach. About 2 dozen men had also started to move in around me. I realised I had done something to upset this man, but didn’t know what. Hadn’t he asked for his photo to be taken? I looked at the men apologetically, but they all looked backed angrily.
Just as I contemplated running, a teenage boy came forward. “Miss?” he looked at me and put his hands out for my camera. “May I?” I didn’t like the idea of giving away my camera, but it was the better of a lot of options. I handed the boy the camera, and he took it over to the man, who still looked shell shocked. The boy took another photo with it, and then another. He then said something to the man, of which I didn’t understand, but it made the man smile, and then laugh, which was a good sign.
The boy came back and gave me my camera. “The bright light frightened him” he explained. It was now my turn to be shocked. This man of however many years had never seen a flash! I smiled at him, and he laughed at me, and then I laughed at him. And of course, then he asked for “waaan foto”. This time waaan foto with me, waaan foto with his friends, waaaan foto smiling, waaan foto standing and so on.
It probably would have gone on for a lot longer had a woman of a similar age to the man not come over to yell at him. The crowd of men quickly dissipated and the man followed the woman down the street. He was obviously late for dinner!”
Had any moments when a photo was the common language on your travels?
* photo by Denise Molloy – Intrepid Photography Competition