I always seem to start these posts with a philosophical statement or an excuse on why it’s been so long. At times, I’ll look at my watch and wonder where the day has gone. Other times, I’ll sit; staring at a blank document hoping words will magically appear. Being a full-time photographer requires consistent hard work and energy when you have no stamina to give. When I think of my travels through India, my brain and body feel an instantaneous exhaustion. It’s not easy to push out a post of this magnitude when the experience was a narrative of tremendous strain, pressure, beauty and elation. Although, I’m relieved to be in the comfort of my own home, I can’t help but think of the people that still live in that rabid environment and extreme culture every single day. I could describe every point and highlight of our travels and production, but I’ll let the images tell the story. After all, that’s what I do. I’m a creator and image maker. I take a vision or moment and bring it to a tangible state of living.
Dr. Ananthi Jebasingh is considered the modern day Mother Theresa of India. She has saved the lives of thousands of children all across the slums of New Delhi, India. She started her school in a public toilet with 5 students and now has over 5,000 students in several locations. Her school “The Good Samaritan” is headed by a foundation called “The Friends of the Good Samaritan.” This foundation partnered with my friends at Nadus Films to provide a narrative short film that could be promoted to the West for potential child sponsors and investors. With the United States at the forefront, the content had to be warm and inviting, but also dramatic, in attempt sell a deep awareness for the trouble that has developed in New Delhi, India over the course of hundreds of years. Over population and financial struggles have sent the public into a downfall of poverty, serious health concerns and unlawful living conditions. Along with the short film, our job was to capture it all; the good, the bad and the ugly.
Fortunately, the flight to and from New Delhi was relatively painless. It was the longest international flight I had ever been on; it was also the most comfortable. I traveled light once again; I packed all my personal effects such as clothing, health kit and bigger items such as my 3 Legged Thing Monopod and a 46” Photek Softlighter in my checked baggage. I carried along my Canon 5D Mark III, Sony A7II, multiple lenses and Profoto B2 Location Kit in a Think Tank Photo Airport Security then stuffed my laptop, chargers and accessories into my Swiss-Army backpack. I carried a heavy load, but I felt it necessary to protect my equipment with my life, I will never trust international customs. Upon arriving, we were immediately taken aback by the extreme humidity and heat. It was like a punch to the gut and a gallon of salt-water thrown on your face. Then, walking into our living quarters for the production, we were pleasantly surprised by the atmosphere, it looked somewhat clean, but pitch dark and zero accommodations such as no working internet connection, no air conditioning and no food. Welcome to India.
Albeit, we had booked in the most secure and pleasant hotel in the area, we were still located in the poorest outskirts of New Delhi. It was a struggle to communicate with the hotel staff as they resembled a 17-year-old American teenager who was working at Subway after school for side drug money. Over the course of the next two weeks it was a constant battle to receive what they considered luxuries and we considered daily life. Cold showers and late-night rooftop cigarettes were a blessing in disguise. Beers had to be fetched from a local market.
The first few days of production were tough; every morning was similar to a military man prepping for battle. We figured out what to wear, what gear to travel with and what headspace to be in. As soon as we stepped foot on the ground the sweat beads began to form and soon enough; our clothing would be completely soaked from head to toe. The front glass element of our lenses required at least 45 minutes to acclimate to the brutal humidity that the monsoons brought forth.
Our production began in the heat of it all; the slums. The poorest classes of people are known as “The Untouchables.” These people live in small concrete fortifications, literally on top of themselves. These slum shelters are completely illegal, but are guarded by the Delhi mafia who pay off select government officials who allow the landlords to operate these incredibly unsafe domains. The slums were rough; the smell resembled a mildew rag soaked in fresh vomit, microwaved and thrown into a toilet of hot curry. The heat and rain didn’t help. The quarters were extremely tight and when our crew arrived, you would have thought Elvis had shown up; people flocked to witness the production. People gathered by the dozens and in the marketplace, people gathered by the hundreds.
Amidst, all the trash and illegality of the slums lived a series of schools. And, it was clear; “The Good Samaritan” is the highlight of each and every student’s life. The main branch is a giant building, similar to a hospital with dozens of classrooms and hundreds of students. The textures tell a long history of battle and many different owners. In contrast, the second location is nestled into small living space with a small group of students, settled right outside the Dakshinpuri slum. The third location is on the outskirts of Delhi and is a standalone building consisting of a few classrooms, an open toilet and two offices. This location also hosted the Christian church, where many students and teachers would worship every Sunday for several hours. Photographing Dr. Ananthi Jebasingh was a true honor and privilege. Her quiet demeanor and warm personality shine through the photographs and her leadership is a staple for the schools and children that attend those schools.
Throughout our journey and production, I had days where I had to squash the feeling of sickness and keep pushing through the sweat and tribulation of the day. Even on off days; through the Taj Mahal in Agra, the Camel excursion through the base of the Neemrana Fort in Rajasthan, the sudden monsoon at the Jama Masjid Muslim mosque and even the late night celebrations at the Underdoggs Sports Bar… it was a quest for adventure that took strength and will to experience.
At the end of our production, we had the freedom to travel to various cities in the continent; we choose the beautiful Darjeeling, India. Known for their spectacular Himalayan views, fresh tea and unique oriental culture. Right at the base of Mount Kangchenjunga, the third highest peak in the world, Darjeeling was by far the most incredible city I’ve ever seen. The trek required a quick plane ride to Bagdogra, India then a three-hour commute by truck. We were relived when we finally arrived to our final destination. Our mountian-side hotel was quaint with a spectacular view. We fought mildew and damp sheets ever night, but it was all worth the rich adventure. On the third morning, we trekked up to Tiger Hill in attempts to catch a glimpse of the Himalaya mountain range. As the clouds loomed over and the sun peaked through, Mount Everest shows its face for the first time in over 15 days. A Buddhist woman began to worship and sing enchanting songs of praise. It was a moment I will never forget.
On our final day in Darjeeling, security was at an all-time high due to India’s Independence Day and people were wild in celebrations. We decided to take advantage of the holiday and cross the border into Nepal. With the bribe of two Military leaders, we were given the opportunity to cross and grab a quick warm beer. Although, our passage was short-lived, it was completely worth the trip through the ancient-tropical-leech-invested Sukhiapokhri Forest.
Every day presented a new challenge and a new life experience. I’ve seen things that not many people have the opportunity to see and I’ve visited sites that represent a solid mark in my ever expanding career. This trip was a marker point on the road map to being the man and photographer I want to be. As I took my seat on the plane home to the states(after four insane security checkpoints) I felt more inspired than ever to accomplish my personal and professional goals and felt a breath of pure happiness, something of which I have not felt in quite some time.
Coury, Reid, Justin and I couldn’t have done it without the help of some very important people on the ground, such as our wild driver Bitu, our translator George and our guide Sharon. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for making this wild undertaking such a grand success.