Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Bob Krist - The Kerala Project
Exotic travel on spec takes planning and ingenuity. Bob Krist’s recent journey through Kerala, India, yielded a bounty of images that will sell as stock and help him build multimedia projects.
Traveling independently in India is a challenge—I prefer to have an experienced guide take care of all the final arrangements after I’ve worked out a basic itinerary so I can concentrate on making images and not reservations once I’m on site. To save paying the extra commissions on dealing with a U.S.-based middleman, I dealt directly with an Indian company to provide a guide and vehicle and make most of my travel arrangements.
Whenever I travel like this, I always ask for a guide who may have had experience working with photographers or film crews. I used Karma Kerala as my local tour operator (www.karmakerala.com). In this case, I was assigned an excellent guide named Suresh, who had just spent several weeks with a documentary film crew.
Perfect! I like to spend two or three days per stop when I travel. By spending a few days at each stop, I get a feel for the surroundings, the light and the rhythms of the place, and it allows me to take more than one “swing at the ball” when it comes to my photography. Yes, I may cover less ground, but I cover it better, and my pictures will be stronger and more salable.
Take the fishing village of Vizhinjam on the coast of Kerala, for example. The first day we stopped by, it was quiet and overcast. I took a few shots of the lines of colorful fishing boats and the fish-auction area, but there wasn’t much activity. The boats were going out again the next day. Asking around, we discovered that the place comes alive in the late afternoon, when the men return with their catch.
In the ensuing weeks, I photographed spice markets, martial-arts schools, the beautiful hanging Chinese fishing nets of Cochin, fishermen pulling in their seine nets at sunrise on the beaches of Kovalam, and the tea terraces in the old British hill station of Munnar, each time spending at least two days per stop.
"I like to spend two or three days per stop when I travel. By spending a few days at each stop, I get a feel for the surroundings, the light and the rhythms of the place, and it allows me to take more than one “swing at the ball” when it comes to my photography."
One of the cultural attractions of Kerala is a unique style of dance called Kathakali, which literally translated means “dance theater.” The dancers are elaborately made up and costumed, and authentic performances can last all night, usually as part of a temple or village festival. There are hour-long tourist shows of Kathakali throughout the state, but I wanted to go beyond these shows. We tracked down several of the schools where this unique art form is taught. Most of the schools were closed for summer vacation (April-May is the hottest time of the year in Kerala), but I was able to find one that still had some small classes going.
An e-mail and a call from our guide got us in to photograph these classes. We even got permission to shoot a special makeup session, where I was able to set up an SB-800 Speedlight on a small light stand and bounce it through a small umbrella I brought with me to get really tight photos of the dancers’ faces in full makeup.
Although most of my research is done at home before I leave for a trip like this, I never stop learning more while on site. Seeking out English-language newspapers is easy in India, and it was in one of these that I found out that there would be an all-night, open-air Kathakali performance in Cochin, the main city. It started at 10 p.m., and would feature a huge cast of characters (as opposed to the usual two-man tourist shows). I got there early and was able to get these professionals doing their makeup and stuck around until about 1:30 a.m. before running out of gas. Whenever possible, we recorded ambient sound with an Olympus recorder that I hope to use in future multimedia slideshow presentations.
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