Photographing India, Then and Now

In London, I found the old box of slides. It was hidden in the back of my parents’ closet. I had to move fifteen other boxes to get to it. It hadn’t been touched in decades. I bought a slide scanner immediately, and went to work.

Going through the treasures inside, I keep gagging at the photos that I’m retaking 30 years later.

Some are awfully obvious, like these crackers of the Taj Mahal…

and Humayun’s Tomb…

But these are the de rigeur shots. Of course Dad shot them in 1983, and of course I re-shot them 30 years later. But then I keep finding less traditional shots, like this so-specific angle of one stretch of Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu…

Mahabalipuram? I can’t remember being there, let alone that very specific 15-degree angle. Or how about this off-centered angle shot of Jama Masjid in Delhi?

Why would he have stood there to take the shot, and I have stood there 30 years later to re-take it? I hadn’t seen most of these places in 30 years, and hadn’t seen these images in just as long. I certainly wasn’t aiming to replicate the shots (although I do with others). So were these images embedded deep inside my childhood memories? I’m sure in 1984 we had a slide-show, perhaps inviting neighbors over. I probably carried a plate of cheese and crackers around the living room while my dad narrated our trip. This was likely the last time I’d seen the pictures.

I don’t often take pictures of hotels. But when Michelle and I stayed at the Lalitha Mahal Palace in Mysore, a pretty amazing place, I felt obliged to take photo after photo. There was this archivist need inside of me. I felt like it was my duty. So was it any surprise to come up across the same shots in the dusty old box of slides?

Clearly there was something at play here. Clearly there was a buried memory controlling me. (Side-note: were Pete and I really playing badminton in the Maharaja’s palace? What the…)

Many of the duplicates are of monuments that have stood for hundreds of years, like Hyderabad’s Charminar:

Or statues that have been torn down and replaced, like this sword-weilding deity in the hills outside Mysore:

Less flared trousers today, but the photo is the same. People still pose with the same statues and monuments, and other people still take their pictures.

This beach below has gone a little downhill.

It’s where Blavatski’s pal discovered Krishnamurthi in the surf, in Madras (now Chennai). 30 years ago it was pristine, today it’s covered in trash, vendor carts, and passed out drunks. 30 years ago we stood in the same spot while my Dad took a photo.

30 years later, I have become the same tourist as my father. By nature or by nurture, I am re-taking his photos, re-visiting the same locations, re-experiencing his life. He was 36 in 1983, I am 40 today. I am becoming him. (I just don’t have three sons tagging along with me. Yet.)

Unfortunately, this realization also means I now have a mission. I now have to reshoot them all. Every damned one of them.

And that’s going to be awesome.

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5 Responses to Photographing India, Then and Now

  1. Ravi says:

    Gosh! I just cried.

    I am originally from mysore…now settled in the US. The pictures of Mysore are awesome! Thanks buddy :)

    Mysore FTW!

  2. Erik says:

    Wow! Hard to imagine the beach in Chennai being that clean. While everything else seems to be pretty much same same, it’s amazing what a difference a few decades can make in terms of pollution…

  3. Becky says:

    What a cool project! Thanks for sharing :)

  4. Irene says:

    Wow, Humayun’s tomb looks cleaner.. I saw the work done by the Aga Khan Trust to clean up this and other monuments in old Delhi.. awesome work. http://www.akdn.org/publications/2013_aktc_humayun.pdf if you have the time!

  5. Sabio Lantz says:

    These are brilliant. Great job. My son is starting photography — I will have to show them. I can’t believe what a good job you did putting them together!

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