‘Cut Hard Cut Deep’ - Indian Army slogan. Jaisalmer Base Camp

The tiny Golden City of Jaisalmer sits in the desert surrounded by military and navel bases due to its location - 150 miles from the Pakistan border. The slogan “Cut Hard Cut Deep’ visible at every camp entrance, reminding you of the tensions within this country. No longer benefitting from the silk route taxes, Jaisalmer has fallen in importance and has succumbed to the tourist trade. I don’t have a problem with this if it is done well. Unfortunately it’s the same shops, same products over and over again.

The splendour of the golden sandcastle-like fort is incredible. I have never seen a living fort before and was stunned by the complex carvings and quiet beauty of the sandstone dwellings. The harsh bright sunlight does not do them justice, it is the buttery glow of the late afternoon sun and the evening lights that shows this fort at its best.

Brahmin Family in Fort House

Tiny Brahmin Fort Houses

Due to the open sewers and large volume of water used in the fort-town the foundation walls are crumbling away below. Ideally the government would like all the Brahmin residents to give up their houses and let the fort become a monument and tourist shopping arcade. They are standing their ground, determined to stay in their beautifully sculptured, cool and peaceful dwellings. It’s a catch-22 situation.

Brahmin lady asleep.

Morning wash

The Jain Temples are physically beautiful, completely different to any others we have seen. I’m well aware of the dress codes for entrance to some temples and holy places in India and I respect and abide by those rules. However, the notice outside this particular temple I think is unacceptable, insulting and derogatory. 

All religions have their strange idiosyncratic rules and ways of doing things, but publicly making an issue out of nothing in order to restrict a sex is backwards in a modern world. I cannot believe this has remained unchallenged.

The heat is searing. Each morning we saw the lake reduce in size to the point the Water Buffalo didn’t even bother making their morning stroll there. The local dogs are in abundance and just as adorable as in all the other cities we have been. Two litters were born when we arrived, with a loss of three during our stay. Thankfully the 8 remaining pups appeared to be getting stronger by the end of our stay. Despite the casualties, the animals here look healthy and happy. 

Morning view from our room.

Away from the trappings of tourism, the base of the town is interesting for people watching. There are no women working here at all. The only female presence is in the homes and the downtown food markets.

Now well and truly entrenched in the desert, We arranged a jeep and guide to take us to see desert life. We were promised temples, ruins, sand dunes and a sunset dinner specially prepared for us. 

We got a beaten-up car, a driver who couldn’t drive and a box of pre-made food.

At our first stop, Bada Bagh Cenotaphs, we were greeted with the message ‘Your life, Your risk ‘ - little did I know it was a warning of what was to come.

Whizzing through the landscape of Sam Dunes at breakneck speed we passed a variety of English Wine and Beer shops and desert camps complete with camels, coaches and dancers.

After three near head-on collisions with lorries, and speeds of over 80mph,  irrelevant of pot-holes, speed bumps and cows, I had to get out. Our lives weren’t worth the risk.


We decided to leave Jaisalmer, there was nothing more to be seen.











'Fully Elastic Fully Fantastic' - Dixcy Scott Innerware slogan

Good morning Jodphur

Do you have a pen?

Well you couldn’t get a bigger contrast to Pushkar. Jodphur is bigger, cleaner and signs of a growing cosmopolitan lifestyle. Jodphur is not on the backpackers trail and has a lot less of the cheap tourist traps and virtually no hustlers. There is a big urban regeneration  programme underway, in a similar vein to Delhi and this is beginning to attract more money into the town in a positive way.

Hidden behind the clocktower is the locals shopping district, a maze of intertwining lanes, filled with people going about their daily business. Each home and shop, so small, quiet and compact, completely overshadowed by the constant beeping motorbikes and chugging engines of the Tuk-Tuks.

Tailor

Repairs

Shoe shop

Laundry and Ironing.

All businesses are run by men. The women can be found shopping, selling cheap goods in the market, sweeping the roads and sorting rubbish for recycling or at home. I have never witnessed such a male dominated society. It’s also beginning to dawn on how little I am spoken to. All questions and conversations are done through John. If I ask a question, it’s not me who receives the answer.

In complete contrast, a jeep ride into the countryside revealed an abundance of wildlife, birds and fresh air.

We met a few people from the Vishnoi Village. Vishnois are Hindu hardcore worshippers of nature, and live following 29 rules and principals. One being, they wont cut down a living tree. In the past, over 300 women and children gave up their lives to save the trees being destroyed when the great fort was built. 

You can find weavers and potters dotted around the community. Recently, they have been granted aid to help fund their crafts to sell as a co-operative due to a decline in income from poor infertile land.

Vishnoi Potter

No machinery is used in the villages

Growth of Opium is banned by the Government of India, but some Vishnois have special permission to do so for religious purposes. The government have allowed the religious opium tea ceremony to be a recognised tourist attraction. The master of the holy tea ceremony is allowed to take the the opium - in moderation as he is making it for the tourists. Since the opium is available he explained he also gives it to the ladies so that they can work faster in the fields in the afternoon. 

Unlike other Hindus, Since the cutting of trees is completely prohibited by Vishnois, they do not burn or cremate their dead ones but instead simply bury them. The burning of blue clothes is not allowed in the village as acquiring the blue colour for them requires the cutting down of a large number of shrubs.

Vishnoi girl.









'16 Years of Wisdom' - School Advert, Ajmer Tuk Tuk

One area, three places, three different views: 

Pushkar Town - with its bored shopkeepers, touts and tourists.

Njoy

The periphery of the Thar Desert - a refreshing change with clean, fresh air. So many birds and wildlife and people hidden amongst the undergrowth farming the land. The countryside looks surprisingly lush with crops thanks to the monsoon. It will only be a few weeks before that all changes. This is the main area for growing roses for rose water, and an abundance of marigolds for funerals and festivals amongst an array of vegetables. 

We saw the early arrival of Pushkar camel festival in November, already setting up their plots. 100,000 people will be attending the event.

The few people we met were very lovely including an eighty year old shepherd who came running  out of the wilderness and jumped onto our jeep for a lift - he was off to buy medicines for his goat. He left running down the sand track, looking fitter than most 50 year olds.

80 year old shepherd hitched a ride with us.

Desert Family

The front

The front

The back

The back

Harvesting Cabbages

The city of Ajmer, based around the artificial Ana Sagar Lake is real-life, it’s gritty and it’s very, very noisy. This town has a genuine, friendly and honest feel to it, although a little squashed sometimes.

We get a lot of attention.

Sweet shop crush

The requests to have our photograph taken and the looks of curiosity we receive takes quite a bit of getting used to. We met a 90 year old apothecary, who was still working and very proud of his surgery and finally we found ourselves in the middle of a festival that could have been straight out of a Bollywood film set with a cast of hundreds.

Apothecary’s surgery

That’s the end of our time in Pushkar, next stop Jodphur.

‘God Made Man-Barber. Make Gentleman’. The Royal AC Saloon and Massage Centre slogan

Pushkar, a town bordering the Thar Desert was our next destination. It is set on the very beautiful Pushkar Lake, a sacred Hindu site with 52 Ghats. Since we hadn’t seen any Ghats at Varanasi, we were looking forward to the prospect of these. 

We had been forewarned about the ‘Pushkar Passport’, so we were ready with our own passports bought in Shadipur. The passport is the blessing bracelet made of red and gold thread. It shows you have been blessed and paid your donation. By wearing it you are left alone by the temple touts. It transpires that many of the priests here are not genuine, the Pooja - blessing for your fore-fathers is free but then you’re asked for a donation - the cost can be ludicrously high, depending on where you come from. They even accept all major credit cards. It has led to some very unsavoury bullying behaviour. No point in calling the police when it turns nasty because they are in on the scam too. The main Ghats are cordoned and policed by holy men all working to get the donation. Only a couple of Ghats are freely open to walk on in peace. Surrounding the lake are tired, tatty dirty shops all targeted for the tourist market. 

Blessing at Jagnnath Ghat

The problem with this town lies with the religious people because they do nothing to stop this corruption. Infact, they encourage it, because they earn a good wage from it. The knock-on effect is that it’s killing the trade in the town. It drives people away from spending their money and keeps the quality of the goods sold here really low. 

Cordoned Ghat.

It was only a matter of days before we felt very disillusioned by Pushkar. Its phoney rules painted on holy walls, phoney people and phoney priests. The centre is a fake tourist trap in beautiful surroundings that you’re prevented from enjoying in peace.

So what did I like about Pushkar?

The real life in the periphery of town and the abundance of cows and dogs. More cows than you could ever imagine, roaming freely round the town, in and out of shops and hanging out in the middle of major highways and blocking tiny alleys, not giving two hoots about anyone or anything - except for their chapatis.  Roads can become gridlocked just because of a cow. The barber shops are a joy and I’m getting quite a collection of images from each town we visit. 

Our local Tailor

Pushkar Puddle. We brought rain to Pushkar

Our local Barber’s.

Barber and Pedicure

You Tuber from Pushkar

Our faith in Pushkar as a whole was restored by a jeep ride into the Thar desert and the surrounding villages - this is the future for Pushkar if it is to turn it’s economy around, investing in the future and not just for today. It is stunning. 

'IMD failed to predict that the monsoon would be this strong this year.' - India News

The monsoon had apparently been quite tame this year UNTIL we decided to pitch up! Varanasi was showery for the first couple of days, then literally underwater after a 48 hour deluge. The lovely area of Shiwala and beyond by this morning was waist height in dirty flood water cascading through the town and this was the morning we had to get to the airport. Luckily a group of locals came to our rescue with a rickshaw and shear manpower - they literally pushed and dragged us and our luggage through the gushing waters which got deeper and deeper with each lane we were pushed through. We must have looked a sight, the locals thought it was hilarious. I wish I could have videoed it but I was hanging on for dear life- juggling luggage, shoes and umbrella (where did that emerge from?) whilst John prevented me from slipping into the water.

Having just seen the news, it appears the rain we encountered in Varanasi was just the beginning of extreme flooding, throughout Utar Pradesh. The monsoon was in full force.

All I had was my phone to capture some of the atmosphere as we made our journey to the airport. The roads was so flooded, the taxi driver decided it was safer to drive the wrong way up a duel carriageway into the oncoming traffic. He beeped his horn continuously just to be on the safe side. It was then the sharp left turn across the traffic that was slightly more alarming. We couldn’t open the taxi windows in case the water came in. But we made it, the driver was brilliant- I hope his car has dried out.

'Burning is Learning. Cremation is Education'. - Touts tag-line.

The north part of Varanasi Town has a completely different feel to the holier south: narrower lanes, more businesses, markets and a great deal more noisy traffic. It is here the mighty Golden Temple is situated. However, It had just been decided that people are no longer allowed inside the Temple, but the officials will still take your money and let you know after that you can go no further, but still get your blessing, without going into the shrine. Something’s not quite right there.

We then found that from the Golden Temple all the way down to the River Ganges the ancient houses have been demolished revealing  over 160 temples and shrines that haven’t been seen for centuries. This ambitious plan to pedestrianise this area may well help to regenerate it and save it in the long run, similar to the building plans in Old Delhi high street. Only time will tell, it would be a sight to behold.

Revealed - a tiny pink temple that had been hidden for hundreds and hundreds of years.

View down to the Ganges.

During our stay, It also happened to be the Festival of Ancestors, where people remember those who have passed on. Down by the Ghats, mostly underwater at this moment in time, men shave their heads and faces, bathe in the Ganges,  and offer food to the sacred cows, in remembrance and respect to their deceased family.

There are two burning Ghats here in Varanasi - Manikarnika Ghat (major) and the less intimidating Harish Chandra Ghat (minor). It was the minor one that we were scammed with the ‘Burning is Learning. Cremation Education’ scam. It was all there in the guide book, we had failed to read it! 

A view of Manikarnika Ghat.

We were convinced by a guy that he was a Holy Undertaker, who insisted we went to his house and learn about the burning ceremony. He wanted no money, just our time to be educated and gain a deeper understanding of the Hindu ceremony. We were taken through the smoke filled houses, up the smoke filled steps and alleys and found ourselves on the roof overlooking the burning ghat. It was like nothing we had seen before and yes it was interesting and we saw a great deal. BUT this guy was no holy man, nor was he an undertaker. Money was his sole purpose and these people can get pretty forceful about it. We beat a hasty retreat.

During our visits to town we constantly heard the ringing of bells,  announcing the procession of a group of male mourners shuffling by carrying a body covered in garlands of flowers on a bamboo stretcher and chanting to their God to accept the deceased on its journey to Nirvana. The frequency was strange, glimpses of bright orange material sweeping past…

The Burning Ghats don’t stop, they burn 24hours a day.

'If you dont like Pani Puri you don't deserve to be called an Indian' - Food poster slogan.

Good morning Varanasi

Varanasi promised us sun, Ghats, evening Arti’s and gentle boat rides down the Ganges. Unfortunately this was not to be. The weather was changeable, finally developing into full scale monsoon, the Ghats were submerged, the Arti’s were constricted to a rooftop unless rained off and all boats were banned from the Ganges due to the speed it was travelling.

So we explored Varanasi Town. The Southern section of the city is primarily the Weavers Quarters and home to many temples. The lanes are filled with cows who are fed milk and chapatis on paper plates by the locals. Both the dogs and the cows appear well nourished. Many houses have patterns painted around their doors  - an informal invite to an imminent wedding.

We found a wrestling school, where the boys were busy training using traditional apparatus, likes lumps of concrete on wood sticks. How they swung that round their heads I have no idea.

The Weavers Quarters is a mixture of hand and machine loom weaving. The Muslim weavers live and work  in their own homes and sell their fabrics through a local co-operative, this looks far better than the sweat houses that we saw in Delhi. The dark homes provide a cool shelter from the humid heat, the wooden looms lit by a single bulb. The high-quality silk saris and pashminas are stunning, the colours so vibrant, they literally glowed in the dim light. Each weaver had their music on and took pride in their work. Each item takes about 2 weeks to create with their complex patterns and multitude of colours. The old wooden looms  are either manual or have been semi-automated with the addition of punch hole cards to create the patterns. 

Punch-hole cards hanging over the loom

Stretching the silk to make it as thin as possible ready for weaving.

The finished silk saris’ hang out to dry.

Time for Chai.

'Either I will find a way, or I will make one' - Philip Sidley. Quote found in my teabag wrapper

Through an organisation called PETE, we gained access into a textile factory, located in a working class area in Delhi. Like many of the factories here, the workers live in fear of losing their jobs because their bosses wont pay their taxes. These sorts of factories are always under threat should an inspector call. Bribes are paid to the officials to turn a blind eye, if not, they instantly close and the workers disappear and all evidence of the factory is gone in an instant.

The factory bosses pay no tax, officials gain healthy bribes and so it appears everyone wins  - except the workers of course.

Machinist Room with new young apprentice learning how to sew shirts.

Machinist Room with new young apprentice learning how to sew shirts.

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Machine Embroidery Room

Machine Embroidery Room

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Hand Embroidery Room.

Hand Embroidery Room.

Machinist room

Machinist room

Lunchtime, only one person remains - ironing.

Lunchtime, only one person remains - ironing.

'Life Without Biryani is Like No Life at All.' Delhi Bus-stop quote

Rocky found us, as is the norm for rickshaw drivers touting for business. We had merely stepped off the Metro at Chandri Chowk and within seconds, Rocky talked us into going for a ride around town. His rickshaw magically appeared out of nowhere - just for an hour at our agreed cost. 

We saw a lot in our three hours plus overtime - Rocky’s prices, not ours. The journey was ridiculous, first through the gridlocked streets of Old Delhi, which has currently been dug up to be pedestrianised, in the near future. Then into the market lanes. It was quite unbelievable that Rocky even contemplated attempting to cycle a rickshaw down the lanes that are barely 2 meters wide, but motorcycles did it so why shouldn’t he? It was incredibly claustrophobic, loud, frantic and intimate  - right in people’s shops for just the briefest of moments.

Old Delhi High Street

Old Delhi High Street

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Rickshaw through the Old Delhi Market Stalls

Rickshaw through the Old Delhi Market Stalls

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Rocky’s bike broke a coupe of times, so while it was being mended we explored the rooftops of the Chilli Exchange in the Spice Market. The views over Old Delhi are quite incredible.

Entrance to the Spice Market

Entrance to the Spice Market

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Submerged #3

I made a big discovery with my latest batch of submerged Polaroids - heat. I hadn’t quite appreciated the intense heat we had in the summer played quite a major part in the ‘cooking’ of my previous Polaroids. They bubbled away for 3 months, while the chemicals did their thing…

Well, my cold winter batch barely changed despite the addition of bleach, followed by white spirits, turpentine and finally after my patience got the better of me - oven cleaner. The changes were still minimal. On reflection, I wish I had stopped there. Too late - within seconds - two images virtually perished in the microwave, I would have continued but the flames were quite worrying.

So, next it was the turn of the oven. Not a bad result - initially - but I got distracted… they are quite crispy now and pretty far gone. Interesting though.

Not to be deterred, I have revisited these Polaroids and have been rewarded with something quite interesting, but you will have to wait until the next post.

Familial

A family need not be biological but consist of the people you bond with, the people you choose as your family. In this series, my family comprise of the people discovered in boxes of glass plate negatives - dating from 1870 to the 1960’s.

Now, their identity is once again revealed from behind the negative. Carefully selected, labelled and placed in my life, my places and my memories, creating a new personal family narrative.

Glass plate boxes

Glass plate boxes

Tower Road. Hanover. Brighton

Tower Road. Hanover. Brighton

Nursing in Arles. France

Nursing in Arles. France

Playing goalie. Withdean Stadium. Brighton

Playing goalie. Withdean Stadium. Brighton

Story-time. Home Brighton

Story-time. Home Brighton

Babysitting. Home. Brighton

Babysitting. Home. Brighton

Familial

‘Familial’ is the second chapter of My Adopted Family project.

Summer Picnic. Wakefield Park. Yorkshire

Summer Picnic. Wakefield Park. Yorkshire

This series reflects on the prerequisite of being photographed for the family records. Different genres - births, events, holidays and special moments each caught in an image to be shared amongst our nearest and dearest. Personally selected, identified and labelled then presented in an album. This record of time thus becoming a narrative for generations to come.

Rock Pooling. Lancing Beach. Sussex

Rock Pooling. Lancing Beach. Sussex

Snow at Devil’s Dyke. Brighton

Snow at Devil’s Dyke. Brighton

To see more of the Familial chapter please visit the menu option on my website.




Submerged

Patience is a virtue - after waiting 3 months my submerged landscapes are ready. I wanted to see what would happen if I left my Polaroids in a vat of water for three months, adding a little bleach at various intervals - I was not disappointed, my landscapes have become unpredicatable ‘other worldly places’, altering reality and taking on a new identity. Surreal and bizarre, bringing out colours that originally could not be seen. Each one showcases the unique properties of the chemical emulsions.

My Adopted Family - the rest of the album.

So the first part of my project is complete, the entire Family has been catalogued.

If you wish to see the first part of this series, please click on my previous blog, or,

click on My Adopted Family in the menu section on my website.

Time to crack on with the next part...

A new project is well underway - it's even off to Arles!

My Adopted Family

A new conceptual project, comprising of three strands. Strand one is a catalogue of my family where my collection of objects have become an extension of me, literally and metaphorically. I really like working in a series. Perhaps because it can be as big or small as you wish, or possibly that you don’t quite know what direction it may take you in. My home is filled with objects collected over time, they have become my family. So this is how this new project came about - the desire to formalise their existence. Catalogue my adopted family in such a way that included myself. A set of family portraits. Strands two and three take a completely different approach...

British Life Photography Awards 2017

So pleased to have won the Rural Life Category in the British Life Awards.

(https://blpawards.org/winners2017)

'Sunnies'. Goodwood Revival. Sussex

The next image was commended and will also be in the Exhibition.

Not Quite the Happiest Day. London Bridge.

The book is available on from the BLPA website and Amazon.

The touring exhibition will launch at the Royal Albert Hall, London in January 2018.

The open days for viewing by the public are: 7th 13th, 14th, 20th, 21st, 27th and 28th of January between 10 am and 1pm. (These times could be subject to change so please check first with the Royal Albert Hall website).

The exhibition will be on tour at these venues

  • Redbrick Building, Glastonbury, Somerset. 12th February to 25th March 2018
  • Kirkleatham Museum, Redcar,Yorkshire. Early April to early June. 2018. (Dates to be confirmed)
  • The Auction Centre, Leyburn, North Yorkshire. 28th July to 9th September. 2018
  • Gracefield Arts Centre, Dumfries. 13th October to 17th November. 2018

 

https://blpawards.org/winners2017