Saturday, 16 February 2013

POV: What Is Real At The Kumbh Mela?

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy
If you're thinking...two POVs from The Travel Photographer in as many days is unusual, you'd be right....but I chanced upon Eric Lafforgue's tweet that said "Story behind a portrait you saw everywhere, Kumbh Mela".

Naturally I went to the link it pointed me to, and I saw he had posted a lovely portrait of a young Indian girl wearing colorful makeup during the current Kumbh Mela. I guess one could call it "religious" make up for a lack of better description.

Eric writes that the girl is wearing the make up of a goddess, and that her face adorned the pages of many magazines as all pro photographers took pictures of her.

Well, the back story to this young girl is that she, and her sisters, were made up in that way to solicit tips and donations from Kumbh pilgrims and tourists, under the supervision of their father.

With disarming candor, Eric also writes this: "More and more i have to deal with those situations: we make nice stories with sometimes "fake" people."

And that's exactly why I view the Kumbh Melas of this world with (unfortunate) skepticism and cynicism. I visited the Maha Kumbh Mela of 2001, which was probably the largest of its kind, and was astounded by the number of charlatans and fake sadhus who were surrounded by photographers and tourists gaping at them.

That said, it's pictures such as the one of the young girl and fake sadhus that seem to capture the attention of photo editors in international newspapers and magazines...so what are the photographers to do?

If they try to focus on serious back stories with a human interest, they won't get the photo editors' attention and their stories in all likelihood won't get published.

So, as Eric says, they have continue to make nice stories with sometimes fake people.