Early in February 2023, my friend Sreeranj and I conducted our 2nd group workshop, this time in Bangalore. I have been enjoying teaching photography these last few months. Few things feel more rewarding than sharing my knowledge and seeing the wonderful photographs that the students produce within just a couple of days of mentorship.
While I was there to teach (I'll share more about my teaching experience in my next blog), it was also an occasion for me to discover a city that I had never photographed before. Walking the roads of an unknown city is a very interesting experience. It's an exercise in observing more: You need to understand the light (its quality, its directionality...). You need to pay attention to the rhythms of the city (the ebbs and flow of its life) and if you put your tourist cap on, you can start seeing the little quirks that make a city different from your home base.
Discovering and documenting a new city is also a way for me to get out of my comfort zone, reset my eyes and conquer the fatigue I sometimes feel walking the same streets of Mumbai.
But while some cities are relatively easy to capture (Kolkata for instance is a picture magnet), others like Bangalore make you work harder to crack them open. That challenge, to me, is what makes street photography so interesting and fun.
4 days of walking the streets of Bangalore have given me a glimpse of what the city felt like. Below are some of my impressions of the city. I hope I can build on them in my future visits.
Bangalore's strongest feature: The Light
Hailing from Mumbai, where the sunlight is usually subdued by a thick layer of smog, Bangalore felt like a sight for sour eyes. For a city of its size, with its never-ending hum of construction (and its inevitable consequence, the dust), I was blown away by the quality of its light: it was consistently strong, brought out shadows, and made the colors pop. The drawback was that it very quickly became too strong, bordering on harsh, and became a challenge to work with after 10 AM. But if I had to choose one reason to go back to Bangalore, it would be to play with its terrific light.
KR Market is the place to be
If I had the time for only one location, I would choose the KR market and its surrounding streets without hesitation. This bustling market has so much to offer! Colorful tarps, endless activities, light, and so much more. People are also easy-going and seem to be used to seeing photographers. That makes it a great place if you are taking your first steps photographing the streets. However, after having spent some time shooting the market, it brought to light some of the biggest challenges I faced shooting in Bangalore.
Challenge #1: it's tough to find a clean background!
Whether at the market or elsewhere on the streets, one of the biggest challenges I have faced was to find a clean background against which I could place my subjects. The city is expansive (and expanding) and I felt daunted by the almost limitless feel of it. Mumbai in contrast felt a bit easier to shoot. I guess that having something like the sea is a great backdrop to work with.
Challenge #2: White is everywhere
One of the first tips I learned when I began my street photography journey was to avoid white elements in my pictures. Our eye tends to go to the brightest element in the frame and that can distract us from the main subjects of the photograph. It's also a pain to work with, especially when there is strong sunlight in the scene: the dynamic range of the image will be so wide that you will have to compromise one way or another. Bangalore has a tendency to go all in with whites! White bags, white shirts, white statues, white buses, if it's white, you'll find it in your pictures in Bangalore!
These challenges were interesting. They pushed me to walk a bit more and try different angles. In some instances, I sometimes had to accept the fact that these challenges will play spoilsports in my frames and that's fine! Street photography is never about getting the most visually perfect shot, it's about finding some elements of interest that can hold the viewer in the frame, despite its perceived visual flaws. That's where, in my opinion, it is important to find some quirky element that feels unique to the city that you visit. Here is a couple of them that caught my eye:
Quirk #1: Movie posters are interesting
This is probably not something unique to Bangalore (I have seen movie posters in many cities in India) but I found that the area around the Majestic cinema was particularly filled with posters. Although the posters were interesting in their own right, the frequency at which they are plastered on walls is what caught my eye: I frequently found a wall with the same poster plastered 5-6 times! Movie posters were just one type of advertisement among many! One can find cutouts of movie stars or even pictures of the members of an actor's fan club. In summary, the film industry is part of the DNA of the town and it can add a lot of character to your pictures.
6) Quirk #2: Everyone wears strange helmets
Another weird element that caught my eye was the number of people wearing half-shell helmets and hard hats on the street. Some were even branded with the logo of the Ferrari horse. It's definitely something that I'd like to capture a bit more (and better) in my future trips!
As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, I've always enjoyed taking pictures in a new city. The feeling is akin to the excitement I used to have when my parents would take me to a newly opened toy store. Everything feels new and fresh and you just want to walk the aisles picking up new toys. Bangalore was challenging but surprised me on many levels. Like most South Indian cities, faith is an integral part of daily life (I especially enjoyed taking pictures at the St. Mary's Basilica). But that faith is blended with a healthy dose of modernity. The vibe is young and dynamic and the city is undergoing rapid change (like Mumbai). Bangalore calls for a bigger street photography community to document its many fast-evolving aspects and I hope that some of our workshop students will be creating that community. I certainly hope to come back again and explore it a bit more.
In the meantime, here are my 5 favorite shots taken in the city:
Thank you for reading!