Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Ami Vitale: NGM: Kolkata Rickshaws

Photograph © Ami Vitale-All Rights Reserved

"The strategy of drivers in Kolkata—drivers of private cars and taxis and buses and the enclosed three-wheel scooters used as jitneys and even pedicabs—is simple: Forge ahead while honking. There are no stop signs to speak of." And so starts Calivn Trilin's essay on Kolkata's rickshaws in the April issue of National Geographic.

I thumbed through my fresh-off-the-press National Geographic magazine, and stopped slack-jawed at pages 92-93...a double spread of Ami Vitale's magnificent photograph of a rickshaw puller, S. K. Bikari, who regularly pulls a pair of girls to school in Kolkata, yet rarely sees his own five children back home in the state of Bihar...one of the poorest states in India. Although this photograph may be partially posed, I frankly don't care. I just find all its elements to be just right....yes, even the woman intruding on the scene from the right. The two schoolgirls, in their pristine uniforms, look bored (or uncomfortable) while Bikari is on the verge of overtaking some obstacle on the left. Ami Vitale's is a wonderful photographer, and the rest of her photographs live up to her reputation...but it's this one that I prefer. Naturally it looks better in print form.

I had already posted on TTP on Kolkata's rickshaws, and it seems from the National Geographic article that the city hasn't yet been able to ban them from its streets. Again, the great performance of Om Puri as the rickshaw puller in City of Joy comes to mind whenever I come across such photographs.

The National Geographic did a great job with this subject...however I must say that the video with Ami's narration could be improved upon.

Ami Vitale's Kolkata Rickshaws Photography

Ami Vitale's Video

Calivin Trillin's Kolkata Rickshaws Essay