Caturmahapratiharya - Behind the scene - You don't want/need all that fancy stuff

September 18, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

Bodh GayaBodh GayaBodh Gaya - India, Mahabodhi Temple, where Buddha Shakyamuni was enlightened under a the bodhi tree  

Caturmahapratiharya is a series about the four key places of the life of Buddha Shakyamuni: Lumbini – Nepal, where he born; Bodhgaya – India, where he achieved enlightenment; Sarnath, where he revealed the Dharma by giving the first teaching on the four noble truths; Kushingar, where he died.

These places are out of the usual touristic circles and are mainly visited by pilgrims form other Buddhist countries like Sri Lanka and Thailand.

I traveled on the second half of August/beginning of September, during the monsoon season. Tourists are generally advised to choose different periods to visit India, but this was the only time I had available. However, from a photography point of view, it turned out not to be a bad choice. It was indeed very sticky, very hot and humid, but I was not after blue skies and strong light. Overcast skies made it for me. Also, the off-season period meant less people around and cheaper prices. With a little bit of patience, I could wait for the bus groups to leave and I had the whole site for me before the next group came in.

Having been in India before, I wanted to travel really light. The heavy climate made every movement an effort and airport security checks on domestic flight were a pain. My bag got systematically emptied and every piece of equipment scanned individually. I wanted to be as much as mobile and inconspicuous as possible and having a silent electronic shutter has been a bless. A small camera with small lenses proved to be ideal for this project.  

Tripod was a no-no. Local people are not used to see tripods and even walking in the streets with a tripod in my hand drew a lot attention. The use of tripod was not allowed in many sites and I was immediately labelled as doing a professional movie for which either I was asked a lot of money or I was requested a special permit. Even if I had a very small tripod with me, I went handheld most of the times.

Long exposures were also a no-no. I did not want to spend much time on the same spot messing with ND filters. I would have looked wired, various people would have gathered around me, harassing, asking for money etc. In addition, I would have needed to use the in-camera long exposure noise reduction, which would have doubled the time, as the very high temperatures would have caused a lot of noise in my files. When I really wanted a long exposure, I shot bursts of 60/80 images and stuck them in PS.

While the circumstances forced me to use a classic photographic approach where I previsualized, set the exposure, lift the camera to the eye and shot, it has been indeed a liberation from all that "fancy" stuff, in line with the spirit of the project. Also, my camera and lenses were not weather sealed and the humidity was so high that some times I got condensation on the sensor and inside the lenses.

This was my third time in India. The country has developed in the last ten years and in the cities the prices have increased. However, the value of the services remains weak and I found that people have become arrogant. What has not changed though, is that, as a foreigner, they don’t miss a chance to try to rip you off and I find this element in huge contradiction with the deep spirituality of the country. I decided to travel alone, which some time made it challenging to focus on photography while being harassed by various people.

After Caturmahapratiharya, I went to chill out in McLeod Ganj, few km north of Dharamshala, in Himachal Pradesh, where the Tibetan government in exile and the Dalai Lama have their seat. All in all, the country remains “Incredible India”.


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