8 Days in Kolkata – The City of Joy

It was remarkable really… and as it was with my first trip to India, entirely too short and completely overwhelming. Kolkata (Calcutta) has a certain energy or vibe that I’ve not experienced anywhere else. It’s quirky with all the lanes and the rickshaws and the old trams and mismatched architecture. Controlled chaos perhaps. I’m often asked about my travels and what makes a place great. I always say it starts with the people. Kolkata is difficult to describe in that aspect. The Bengali’s are fiercely proud and I don’t mean in your face over the top nationalism. No, it was more subtle than that. Still, it was evident everywhere we went with an undercurrent that emanated from the day laborers and street vendors to the über wealthy and privileged and it ran across generations. I found it quite endearing. They have reason to be proud of course, with all the heritage and culture., but breathing equally through that pride was a kindness and gentleness that balanced it all out perfectly. Like all Indian metropolises Kolkata is changing and evolving but for me at least, at a noticeably slower pace than say Delhi. Walking in certain areas of the city is like entering a time warp. As expected there was color and noise and throngs of people so it was similar to Varanasi in that it was sensory overload. There is this really nice light in Kolkata and we experienced ever-changing weather conditions which can make for some great photos. Combined with all the color it’s certainly a street photographer’s paradise. Rarely did anyone object to having their photograph taken. In fact I think it only happened once during the 8 days and even then after a brief exchange we parted on good terms. In the end even that guy asked me to take a photo.

I didn’t have the same feeling of familiarity or Deja Vu-like moments that I experienced in Varanasi and Delhi. That may be because I am a bit more familiar with India in general by now. Maybe the best thing was that Lily was able to join me both for the workshop and a bit of a brief holiday afterward. She’s really made some great strides with her own photography, which is both good and bad, as she has become quite intrigued with gear and sampling the latest technology. Read between the lines there and that translates into she wants a new camera. It’s rare for Lily to be able to join me on workshops or tours so this was a treat and a trip we’ll never forget. Everywhere we went we were treated with kindness and respect and I’m certain we’ve made some life-long friends. The APF workshop was great… full of energetic enthusiastic photographers. We also had the great privilege of meeting some photographers we’ve know on Facebook for quite while, face to face for the first time. I can’t mention everyone here in this space but feel I must single out Manjit Singh Hoonjan of Calcutta Photo Tours and Sabyasachi and Lopamudra Talukdar and Raj Sarkar. Manjit coordinated everything in helping to get the workshop setup and during our last two days in the city Sabya and Lopa practically adopted us, playing local hosts with a generosity of time and spirt I have not witnessed before in my lifetime. Raj, the gentle giant, served as companion and body guard and truly a lovely man. To all the people we met, to anybody we may have interacted with, thank you for your kindness. I only hope you can come to China so we can reciprocate one day!

Let’s see, what else? I was accused of being an American spy once. I’m not sure how serious it was since we were shooting in a local market at the time. Just an FYI – I’m thinking most agents of foreign governments would probably skip photographing the mangos. Oh, and the taxi strike. Four of our eight days in the city the taxi drivers were on strike. One afternoon walking with Vineet and Rohit Vohra we came upon a protest near the Esplanade and found ourselves in the middle of a stampede when the crowd was dispersed by the police. We had to do a quick dash ourselves. Yes I was surprisingly quick. Both Lily and I were out of battery power so caught no photos of the excitement! Finally… there was the the food. I may be one of the few guys in history to visit India twice and come back home both times weighing more than when I left. Seriously good food.

In the end we didn’t get to shoot as much as we would have liked. It takes more than just a few days to get the vibe of a city and to “see” shots. It’s been pointed out that perhaps we weren’t getting the “real” Kolkata. I can’t wait to go back and try again. As for this trip, I can only say we shot what we saw in front of us. Here’s a small collection…

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I have a confession to make as well. You might remember that post a few months ago (see here) about shooting with one camera and one lens for a year. I had good intentions at the time but I’ve kind of messed that one up. I received the Fuji X-T1 a week or so before we left for India, along with the 14mm f/2.8 and 23mm f/1.4 lenses. Exactly half the images above were shot with the Fuji and half with the 5D III. I am impressed and admit that as of this moment, I am not sure if I’ll keep to my self-imposed limits. There will be more on my experience with the X-t1 coming soon and the further discussion on evolution as a photographer.

Only my close friends and family will understand this one… but a bonus while in India was being able to buy socks and shoes and underwear that actually fit. China does not make shoes or underwear for the plus sized man, at least not any that I can find in Liuzhou!

More coming soon… Peace!

3 Responses to “8 Days in Kolkata – The City of Joy”

  1. Dian says:

    Beautiful images. Thank you very much for posting. I follow your blog and eagerly await your next set.

  2. Evan says:

    Hey Michael, great to see your blog posts again and your excellent images. I love the use of colour and the everyday ( or night) scenes of life in India. I´ve just got back from a trip to Vietnam which is a very photogenic country indeed. Hope the health is fine and keep on posting those wonderful travel images. All the best, Evan.

  3. Amit Shaw says:

    Beautiful Color and Ligt. Awesome Work.

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