Prints for the People
Here's a throwback to a project that I started a few months ago when living in Jaipur, India. A small initiative that I had hoped to share while it was happening, but life had other things in store at the time (as it so often does, hey).
But better late than never! 'Prints for the People' is essentially just what it sounds like; an idea to give street photography prints back to the subjects, a small act of service that soon turned into complicated missions with invaluable experiences.
When travelling I always carry a camera and over the years I've enjoyed embracing street photography as a way to create memories, capture inspiration, and generate resources for future art projects. As the years go by I have noticed that this tool of photography can often (if used respectfully) leads to great connection and some really intimate moments -and this appears to be especially true in India where many people appear to love the camera and love posing for a picture. By embracing this side of the medium, I've found that it's possible for simple street photos to progress into becoming more than just a means of capturing personal experiences for my own purposes. In fact, the camera is a wonderful way of breaking the ice in an unknown environment; a window into somebody else's world, an invitation to get to know a stranger, an excuse to say hello. It is the perfect opportunity for connection.
And as yogis isn't that what we're really here for? This experience of connection?
So this time around I wanted to explore the connection. I asked myself what does photography look like through the lens of yoga? How can I still do the work that I love, yet shift the process so that it's less about 'me' and more about 'we', or from an attitude of 'what can I get' and into a mindset of 'how can I serve'? Because the truth is that as a visitor and a traveler, I am receiving a lot from these trips into India; heightened inspiration, more stories than I have time to tell, a memory card full and my creativity lifted. Aware of these gifts, it feels extremely important to me to keep giving back, to act in as many ways as possible to help the communities that are helping me.
And the best place to start is right where you are... right? To do anything else can feel completely intimidating and if we aim too large it can sometimes cripple us from acting at all. But there's always a way that each of us can do something to bring joy into someone else's day, to give back and expand beyond our own world for a few moments.
So one of the things I did was to take that memory card and get those portraits printed, ready to surprise the people with their photos and hopefully bring them a smile and something a little different. And sure, it was inconvenient for me and incredibly time consuming... I mean, at one point it took 3 hours just to print ten images (think dusty Indian electrical shop, a painfully slow colour printer and a man who liked to only load one piece into the machine at a time). But if I have time to sit and paint, write blogs and edit photos, surely I can also find a few hours to print photos, track some people down and give back to the subject? I realise it might not be the most practical or logical method of "helping the world", but any way of giving to others seemed more important than continuing to spend all my time on myself.
And of course some magic started to happen, as often is the way when we get outside of our own desires. I was led by the hand down twisted streets and into family homes where children were drinking their milk, I got to know the names of people on my street, I sometimes found myself spending whole afternoons in nearby communities with the entire neighborhood trying to locate a specific individual. There was the awkward time when a shopkeeper took me into a temple where he excitedly but rudely woke up a sleeping sadhu, so that the holy man could receive his image immediately (and no he wasn't impressed at being woken), but there was also the time when another man quietly shed a tear and whispered that the picture made him very happy. It became an unintentional opportunity to actually get beneath the surface image and find something richer and deeper. And although there are some photos of these moments included in this blog post, I mostly chose not to document the 'reunion' as I didn't want for it to feel awkward for the person, and I especially didn't want the act to become anything other than a simple gift.
I guess I'd been delaying posting about this for the same reason, as if writing about it causes me to question my integrity.
But in the interest of spreading joy and spreading the teachings of yoga, here it is, another little glimpse into the many ways that we can access union, connection and a deeper understanding of the humanity around us. I quickly learnt that the stories I'd imagined about many of these people were not even close to the truth, that their real lives were way more interesting than I could have guessed, and that it wasn't always appropriate for me to share in their experiences. It's given me a new perspective to creating portrait images of strangers, a chance to question more deeply what the art is trying to show. It offered a further glimpse into the culture around me, and an increased appetite for exploring the unknown while letting the moment lead the way.
Funny isn't it, that when we try to do something for others we end up receiving all these blessings.
I don't know how many times I'll keep learning the lesson, but the more we give, the more we really do receive.