© Jeremy Snell

FOUR PHOTOGRAPHERS ALONG THE GANGES RIVER

Off to India to follow the Kumbh Mela, a Hindu pilgrimage that attracts over 100 million people to central India to bathe in the Ganges River, four photographers set out to document this cultural journey through their own eyes and individual photography styles. All hailing from the United States with a mixture of cinematographic, documentary, travel and street photography backgrounds, Gabriel Flores, Joe Greer, Jeremy Snell, and Dan Tom, in collaboration with Kamalan, a cultural agency, were all bound by their love for Indian culture, a spirit for adventure, and X1D-50c cameras as their artistic tools for capturing their unique perspectives.

© DAN TOM

Please tell us a bit about yourselves.

Gabriel (GF): My name is Gabriel Flores. I was born and raised in the deep southwest in Tucson, AZ, but I’m now based in Brooklyn, NY and have lived here for over 7 years. I am a photographer/filmmaker primarily working in documentary and storytelling, focusing on real people and stories.

Joe (JG): My name is Joe Greer and I live in Brooklyn, New York. I guess I’d consider my style of photography documentary / street. However, I photograph many different things for personal or commercial work. But I honestly just enjoy photographing life.

Jeremy (JS): My name is Jeremy Snell and I am a cinematographer and humanitarian photographer. Though I am based in Brooklyn, NY, I spend most of the year traveling around the globe for work. I gravitate mostly towards portraiture.

Dan (DT): Dan Tom from San Francisco, CA and still based there. I like to travel and explore and document what’s around me. Culture, landscapes, people – hopefully the essence of a place comes through in my work.

© GABRIEL FLORES

© JOE GREER

How was the experience of traveling as a group of visual artists in India?

JG: I thought it was quite amazing. The camaraderie of this group was inspiring. To see each other work in their own way and their own approach to making photographs was inspiring and just made me want to stay out there and keep shooting. 

GF: I loved it more than I expected to be honest. I’m usually anti-group trips when it comes to traveling and shooting. This trip in particular was very manageable because of the locations – India is huge and there is a lot going on visually. I did find myself pulling away from the group quite a lot. I wanted to find my own moments and be in my own space while I explored and photographed.

© JEREMY SNELL

Did having other photographers around you impact the way you approached subject matter?

DT: We all wanted to experience India/Kumbh Mela individually even though we travelled together – so for every sunrise/sunset we went out to, we'd all disperse in our own directions to keep it personal and not shoot the exact same things. If you look at all the work from the trip, it's very different which is pretty cool.

GF: I would say a lot of times when I was walking around with the group, I wasn’t shooting as much. I was reserving my cameras for the more intimate moments I had with myself and the many different environments. So, it didn't impact the way I saw subjects, but it did impact when I was shooting and when I wasn’t. 

© GABRIEL FLORES

© GABRIEL FLORES

What are some of the challenges as a western photographer working in India? How did you approach your subjects?

JS: I’ve shot in India every year for the last 6 years and each trip brings its own unique challenges. I think the biggest thing as a foreigner is to have an open mind and be humble.  You are a guest in someone else’s home, so don’t be arrogant.  I always ask before taking someone’s portrait — usually people are more open when you approach them with humility but are also confident.  The reality is, some people just don’t want their photo taken; from my experience, most are quite receptive though. 

JG: I approached most of my subjects with a gentle smile. 99% of the people that I photographed in India had no issue with their picture being taken. Often times, I had people jump in front of my camera trying to get their picture taken. Honestly, out of all the places I’ve been to in the world taking photographs, India is still one of the warmest, most welcoming, and open cultures when it comes to me photographing – a big reason why I enjoy going to India. It’s a radically beautiful country and I love being able to show that beauty to the world that otherwise might not get the chance to see it.

GF: India in particular is a very open and friendly country. The best way I have found that gets my subjects’ involvement is just saying hello and simple kind gestures go a long way if there is ever a language barrier. In India, I noticed that people were very receptive to their photograph being taken but there were times when some people weren’t and I usually just follow that with more smiles and and an “ok, no problem.” I’m never too pressing when approaching somebody. 

© JOE GREER

In a number of the images, the use of colour is especially vivid. What is your process in these scenarios and using mixed / natural light?

JS: I like to keep things simple when it comes to portraiture. I like single light sources and backlight. When I am looking at light and where to potentially add or modify it, I am always working with what the natural environment is giving me. From there, I’ll add my own lighting to highlight areas of the face I want the viewer to be drawn to.

JG: I mean, India is a radically colourful and vivid country. There were colours there that I’ve never even seen before. Colour played a huge role in how I composed certain frames and moments; that was the only process for me.

© DAN TOM

© JOE GREER

What was it about the Hasselblad files that lent an advantage to your work?

DT: Because each file retains so much information, you can push editing a bit further without compromising the quality of the image. I appreciate this because it's fun to experiment with colours, shadows, exposure, etc to see what you might want from an image.

JS: The files from the X1D are the most impressive thing about the camera for me. Sharpness, contrast, and colour really hold up against the larger medium format systems. They’re incredibly beautiful and sharp files.

© JEREMY SNELL

What differences did you notice capturing images with the X1D compared to cameras you usually use?

DT: The biggest difference is the image quality. The files are huge – 100MB+!

GF: When I first picked up the X1D I was skeptical because it was the first digital medium format I've shot with and the crispness of this camera can be a little intense and sometimes intimidating. After only using it for a couple days on our trip to India, I fell in love with it. Compact and easy to carry while walking for hours and hours.

© DAN TOM

© JEREMY SNELL

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To know more about Gabriel, Joe, Jeremy, and Dan's journey through India with a day-by-day account produced by Kamalan, read more on their website here.

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