When my main client in the UK informed me that as a cost-saving measure they would now be asking case studies featured to send in their own pictures (as opposed to using a professional like me do the job), I knew that the recession had caught up with me and I’d better make a plan.
And so, after a year and several exploratory visits to the country, I finally managed to convince the powers-that-be at Rex Features — UK’s largest independent photo agency — to pay me a reasonable monthly retainer in return for saleable Indian news and features images.
What does this mean? In today’s depraved world, this boils down to a fixation with celebrities (forget Bollywood, since as far as the Western media is concerned, with a few rare exceptions, it doesn’t exist); and anything sensational or ‘out of the ordinary’.
A recent example that had both elements was the shot of Alex Reid, the husband of UK celebrity Katy Price aka Jordan, wearing a sarong in India. A bulls eye, as far as the UK tabloids were concerned, since this macho husband-to-be was snapped bare-chested wearing a ‘dress’ two weeks before his wedding.
What unites expats is our status as foreigners but our experiences differ according to the work we do. When I’m working on a photo journalistic assignment, being a foreigner means getting quicker, easier access to sources and enjoying lesser restrictions during the shoot itself.
For example, I was in Gujarat the other week doing a feature on Dargahs. I was interested in the healing qualities that visitors attribute to these shrines, specifically the women, who make the journey for relief from ‘spirits’ that possess them.
The women are said to enter into a state daily at sundown and sure enough, when the witching hour was upon us, these ladies did start acting strangely. It was particularly remarkable to behold if you reflected on how demure and subdued these rural women ordinarily were.
I knew full well this was a tricky moment to produce a camera. The women had their family members in tow and were hardly gonna see this as Kodak moment. At the same time, I calculated that I could knock off a few frames and escape mortal injury by playing the dumb tourist card.
So that’s what I did and I got away with it. I got the essence of a story encapsulated in an image. I guess playing the dumb firang card works wonders in my profession.