Face Value; What Better Setting For Quiet Portraits Than A Chaotic Festival? Page 2

Portraits were my purpose on this little adventure because from my earliest days as a travel photographer I'd been attracted by peoples' faces. As I got older I learned that it's not only the face, or even the emotion, of the person that makes the shot. You have to create a context for the photograph, an atmosphere for the subject. Most of us worry more about content than context, but I've found that it's context that's most important to me. At the Pushkar Fair I knew there'd be plenty of opportunities for photos that would, for example, give me the chance to explore the contrast of interesting people set off by the simplicity of the surroundings--and vice versa. Often it came down to the more colorful the person, the greater the need for the simplicity of the tent background. Other times a colorful wall or ornamental gate or archway worked perfectly to complement a person's look or clothing.

I love the results I got, and I think the whole idea worked well because I'd picked exactly the right place to do it. I'll admit that having a person with me who spoke the language was important, but if you're an experienced traveler and photographer you know how much can be accomplished with a few simple gestures. Mainly it was the festival environment that worked for me. The people who were attending the fair expected to be seen, and most expected to be photographed as well.

Then there's the fact that India is just such an easy place to photograph people. Most people don't mind being photographed; they're receptive to photographers, even those who don't speak the language. They're just easy to approach, and in the festival atmosphere everyone was having a good time. (In my case, because of possible stock use, I had to get releases, and I did, so there's a little more to it. But with the releases printed in Hindi it was not a problem.)

If you ever get the opportunity, a fair or a festival is a terrific place to photograph people. I know you're going to be tempted to try to photograph the entire event--all the color, activity, excitement--and I'm not saying you shouldn't. But spend some time specifically devoted to the portrait idea. Look for personality portraits--photographs of people taken away from the action and highlighted by the context you create for them. If you find an interesting subject, let that person be the only interesting subject, without anything else fighting for attention. And if some people fit in perfectly where they are, well, that's pretty cool, too.

Of course, because of the circumstances, this will only work if you're smooth and professional with your equipment. I'd done test exposures, had the camera on the tripod all the time, and knew the lens I wanted to use. There was no time spent fumbling around, and I could devote my full attention to keeping the people engaged in what we were doing.

Looking over the hundreds of photos I took at Pushkar, I realized that the fair was the best thing I shot in all of 2006. It was incredible to be face to face with the exotic in an environment that's somewhat controlled, but not so controlled that I could get complacent. I look at the pictures now and what I remember was how much I enjoyed being there and making them.