My Passage to India

Jul 21, 2022

The aim for my blogs is to educate and entertain the groups of photographers and people I meet through teaching, organising events and taking photographs. I really enjoy helping people to take their best pictures and I do a lot of that through relating the stories and experiences that have helped develop my own practice.

This month I thought I would share how by chance and being flexible and building a good rapport with my subject, I got to explore another culture and their wedding traditions, make a new lifelong friend and expand my creativity for taking portrait photographs.

In 2010 I had just pulled together a new teaching session for photographers. I wanted to test out the approach to see if it worked, before I started running it for money, so I posted an advert offering this session for free.

I was contacted by a young man who was working at the dental hospital in Newcastle called Krunal Shar.  He had seen the advert and was sure there was a catch. He questioned me at length trying to work out how I would get money out of him. Somehow, I convinced him that there was no catch, and this led to one of the best experiences of my life.

When the session took place, my plan was to ask for a volunteer to be my model.  A stooge had already been assigned to this role and the idea was to say things to him to make him uncomfortable.  Example “can you do something interesting?”  After getting everything wrong, the group would then discuss how to do it right.  This seemed like a good idea and would also relax everyone.  The problem was that when I asked for a volunteer Krunal was in the seat like a shot.  While my stooge was still getting up, Krunal smiled and was ready to go.  

I knew I had to drop the comedy, turn the session plan upside down and just get on with the Photography. Krunal turned out to be a great subject and later he shared an image with his family. They were very impressed and not so long after that, I was on a flight to capture his wedding in Mumbai as the groom’s family photographer.  

An Indian wedding is a complex affair with many traditions and activities happening on set days. In 2010 I was privileged to spend 10 days in Mumbai capturing so many aspects of their festivities. On my first night I went onto the roof to photograph the family (a lot of family) learning their dance moves for wedding day three, when they would take their turn to perform on stage.  

I remember at the final day event Krunal and Druvika were on a large table upstairs having a main meal with close family. I sat down to eat on the floor below, happily soaking in all the colour and sights and being served wonderful food. It turns out I was supposed to be at the top table, so when they found me, I was guided to my seat to be served and fed again by a beautiful Indian lady, determined that I should eat more.  

After the wedding, the bride’s photographer took me up to a temple in the mountains where I was able to photograph a Hindu priest in the curious light and crumbling elegance of the setting.  Krunal and his lovely family showed me around other incredible places including the city of Mumbai and the Gateway of India.

On the plane home a man sitting next to me asked about the henna art I was proudly wearing on my arm and hand. He looked at me completely seriously and asked, “will you be able to wash it off?”.  At this point I knew the trip was over, although, The Evening Chronical did run an article recalling my memories called “Phil’s Passage to India”. The experience was mind blowing and so different to my English weddings. The colours the kindness shown by every single person I met during my stay gave me memories that will never leave me.  

I was so proud of the wedding pictures I had taken and the new friend that I had made for life. Krunal and I are still regularly in touch and when Covid is completely under control, my wife Jeanette and I will be going over to meet up with Krunal Druvick and of course their children. None of this would have happened if I had not taken the time to get to know someone at a shoot and create the right relationship to take the right photographs. Remember some of those moments might make you a friend for life.

A final note, I photographed Krunal’s Sister in an English church wearing a white wedding dress a couple of years after my trip.  She loved the idea of an English wedding!