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Art on the Road: Colors of India

Angela Allen takes a photographic journey to the world's second most populous nation, discovering a unique sense of color along the way


STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY ANGELA ALLEN


“Its unique sense of color,” the late Indian photojournalist Raghubir Singh said, was India’s primary cultural contribution. 

Singh was mainly a street photographer who shot color film in the mid- and late-20th century when black and white reigned as the photojournalist’s and art photographer’s choice. He called India “a river of color” and published a book in 1998 with that title. (He died in 1999 at 57.)  He captured the crush of people in a country of 1.06 billion, the streets’ cacophony, the jumble of creaking rickshaws, overflowing buses, unruly motorcycles — and camels. Always, movement is relentless among the saturated colors. Singh’s photos didn’t always have a focal point, in the linear Western way. He went after fluidity and continuity.

When I traveled with a group of photographers last year with our cameras to Rajasthan, Singh’s birthplace in northern India, color and movement were easy to find. Life is forever in motion, though admittedly, I often sought out calm rather than chaos. Some say India is an assault on the senses. Traveling through the country is a sensuous experience like none other, photographically and personally. It is never boring.

We made our way through Rajasthan (Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Jojawar and smaller villages ) and then to Uttar Pradesh, where the holy city of Varanasi seethes with energy on the Ganges River. Hindus journey there to die, believing that sending their ashes down the river will lead them on to the next life. They also bathe and play in the river, celebrate festivals and holidays, wash their clothes, boat, do business, water their animals, pray. The Ganges, too, throbs with life  and with death’s ashes. We were warned not to take photos of cremation ceremonies, out of respect, so you won’t find any here.

This photographic journey begins backwards from our route. My pictures start at the Ganges, not the world’s largest river but the one with the most spiritual currents, and end with moments in villagers’ and farmers’ lives.

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Early in the morning in Varanasi, people wash, do their laundry, swim, cook, sell, fish, worship, socialize, and usher their dead into the next world along the 1,569-mile-long Ganges River.

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