I had heard many times about this legendary character and amazing mechanic. When I first met Tim (aka Jingas) he was under a Porsche 911 that a friend of mine was racing in New Zealand’s Silver Fern Rally. We talked a bit between stages while they were busy trying to get the car back on the road. About 6 months later I was seriously surprised when I got an email from him, asking me if I would join his road tour of India as the official photographer.
Of course, it did not take me very long to say yes!
A country of contrast and contradiction
This was my first visit to India and I was absolutely and completely blown away. Nothing I had read, and no-one I had spoken to, had prepared me for the colour, chaos and beauty, both of the people and the landscape.
India gets under your skin and once you have been there you will never be the same again. It is a country of extremes, shockingly beautiful and in the next blink of your eyes, horrifically ugly. One minute the people will fill you with joy, the next you will be pulling out your hair in frustration and disbelief.
At times I could not wait to leave, but it is certainly one of the places I cannot wait to return to.
Chaos on the road
I was in India for just over five weeks, and we had a very hectic schedule, driving a few hundred kilometres most days. But driving 100km in India is not like driving 100km anywhere else in the world. Road rules exist, but the locals mostly view them as suggestions.
Indian road rules state, for example, that driving should be on the left. In reality the right side of the road is often used if its more convenient. If the traffic stops for a train crossing, the vehicles will fill up the lanes on either side so after the train has passed, it takes another hour or so of horn honking and shouting for the traffic to start moving again.
There is only one unbroken rule. The cows are sacred. If they want to sleep in the middle of the road they may. Whether it is a country lane or a six-lane highway…
Photographer on the road
My purpose over the five weeks was to document the road tour. My goal was to photograph the places we passed through and, of course, the customers on the rally.
I often left with the lead car first thing in the morning and was dropped in a village en route. After an hour or so of shooting, I would be picked up by one of the following cars and moved on to the next spot.
As a result of this, I often found myself alone in remote towns with people not used to seeing tourists. Many times I was completely mobbed. It was not unusual to end up with 40-50 men as well as the odd brave women crowding around me. They would watch and comment on every move I made. Generally, this was a lovely experience as everyone wanted to show me their shop or introduce me to family and friends. But at times it could also be a little intimidating, and on more than one occasion, quite scary.
One day in a small town close to the border to Pakistan, I got arrested and held for questioning. I spent half the day contained within the local police station and during this ordeal, I learned a valuable lesson for times of trouble in India. The best strategy is to praise India as much as possible and talk about cricket.
Trying to be invisible
India is a photographer’s dream! Amazing photo opportunities are present in every direction. The biggest challenge I had was capturing it naturally. Every time I lifted my camera there would be a bunch of people wanting me to take their photo. I ended up getting some great portraits in these situations, but what I really wanted was to get their everyday life.
One cunning – and comical – plan we came up with was strapping a plastic chair to the roof of Jingas’ Landrover. I would sit up there as we drove through villages, photographing as we went. This worked to a degree, but more often than not it just caused more amusement and lots of kids would chase us down the street.
The best method I found was to leave my camera aside to begin with, and talk to lots of people before I started taking photos. This way, eventually they would get used to me being around and almost forget I was taking photographs.
A place to visit again
I often say that everyone should go to India if they can. I really think that if you are a traveller, it should be near the top of your list! It certainly can be a challenging place to travel, but that can also make the highs even more rewarding. No matter where you are from, your first visit to India could really change your perspective on the world.
So, if you have a project there or anywhere and need a photographer for it, please do not hesitate to ask!
You are welcome to leave comments, questions, and constructive criticism in the area below. Do not forget to share this project on your favourite social media too, so your friends and family can join us!