Exercise 3.1 Searching

Brief: Take at least a couple of hours or more to wander around. Don’t be shy; you won’t be arrested, you’re not breaking the law. You’re doing exactly what most photographers do every day. Be intuitive. What do you look at? Photograph that. When we search we don’t necessarily have a clear idea of what we’re looking for. However, the act of searching is never aimless because to search implies an openness to discovery. It also helps us to hone our ideas, to sort out what is and isn’t relevant. There will come a time when you need to consolidate a body of work, but for now, you’re free. When you’ve uploaded your photos decide whether to arrange them as smaller images in a scroll that reflects the journey you made. Or pick out some individual images. Does your collection suggest a journey? Or is it about landscapes, spaces or the people you met?

My approach –

For this exercise, my initial thought was to go to a place where I have never been before. That would mean not trying to see everything with a new eye but actually experiencing first hand the various things that would capture the essence of the place for me. I had the opportunity of visiting India’s oldest and holiest city, Banaras, Uttar Pradesh.

Banaras, also known as Varanasi or Kashi, is one of the most visited pilgrimage spots in India. Situated on the banks of the Holy river, Ganges, this city is perhaps as ancient as Hinduism itself. A curious mix of the old and new, the powerful religious reverberations that the place exudes and the fascinating religious rituals make it a city most frequented by foreigners in the search for spirituality. Peppered with ancient temples, burning dead bodies alongside the river, and holy men scampering to get your attention and money, this is a place which grows on you. It is fascinating, enthralling and captivating to say the least. The “ghats” or the river bank are jostled with a myriad of activities.

For the purpose of this exercise, I have put together related images of one particular category, in a grid. I have tried to incorporate the various aspects that fascinated me and tickled the explorer in me. I will also write a few descriptive words to give my international friends a little insight and background about the images.

The "Ganga Aarti"
The Ganga Aarti – Perhaps the most famous and integral part of everyday rituals in Banaras, the invocation of the Holy River ‘the Ganges’ is performed in the way of a fire offering made to the river goddess every dusk. Many people from near and far gather to be a part of this ritual and to participate in this holy ritual. Singing of religious hymns by all present is a part of it. The ritual is performed by the holy men belonging to the temples of Varanasi.
The Ghats
The Ghats or the bank of the Holy River is interspersed with various temples and ancient buildings. One can see the river bank full of rickety wooden boats used as ferries to haul the numerous tourists that visit the place, fishing, floating shops, etc.
Ancient temples that are perhaps as old as the city itself, can be seen around the Ghats. In the center photo, one can see a sinking Shiva temple dating back to the 16th century.
Holy Sins
All along the ghats, one can see men, women, and children, immersing themselves in the holy water, with the belief that it will absolve them of their sins. People come from afar to take a dip in this holy water.
Activities around the Ghats
The Holy River, now polluted beyond recognition, is a hub for all kinds of activities like immersing of the ashes of the dead, bathing, washing clothes, etc. Seen in this grid are the myriad activities that take place on a daily basis in and around the river like boat building, fish-baiting or just playing sports like cricket or simply playing cards.
Floating shop
Seen here is a small floating shop selling souvenirs to a boat full of Buddhist tourists.
The river is perpetually flooded with boats – to take the tourists for a spin, fishing or used as floating shops, a very fascinating concept for me.
Abandoned Boats
Some of the abandoned boats provide a great visual set up, enhanced by their vivid colors and textures.
Early morning at the Ghats
Seen here are scenes from one early morning at the Ghats. One can see preparations being made to set up tiny shops, the ground being swept, Holy men getting ready for the day, busy tea stalls, etc. On this particular morning, an artist from the UK set up some illustrations that she did during her residency at Banaras, of the various women that she met. One can see the great response it got from the locals here. The Ghats are buzzing with activities early morning and the cold fog of the winters just make the setting seem more surreal.
The Ghats walls are peppered with various graffitis; some of them with very powerful messages. It is a place where a lot of people, local and foreigners visit.
Steps to Heaven
These fascinating buildings in the middle of ancient ones caught my attention. The colorful paint and the strong dynamic lines form an interesting visual.
A spot in the infinite
Both these images with a person placed in an interesting manner in a building made a striking visual for me.
Holy Men!!
One can see various self-proclaimed Holy Men all over the Ghats. From rubbing ashes all over them to give them a more “holy” look, they can be seen blessing people for a happy life or perform small rituals in exchange of money for peace, happiness or wealth, depending on the client and their needs.
The pathways
Another area of intrigue, apart from the Ghats, are the various small meandering paths in the city itself, that are truly a treasure trove of photographic opportunities. These images are the result of one such photo walk that I did early morning just as the city wakes up. One can see the various small roadside vegetable vendors, setting up their shops in this series.
Sweet & Savoury
Banaras is famous for its sweets preparations, some of the recipes dating back to thousands of years. Some of the most famous sweet shops are seen in this grid, where the early morning preparation of the same is sold within minutes.
Old & Ancient
In today’s day and age, to find these two images is truly rewarding. The first one is a really old electricity meter which has since long been replaced by newer and electric meters. The second one is an old manual printing press that still uses metal blocks of letters to print small stuff. These were truly my best finds.
Of stories and fables
In the middle of these small meandering paths known as ‘galis’ one can see elaborate paintings of gods and scenes depicting fables on doors and walls of houses.
Sarnath, a place close to Banaras, and considered to be a hub of Buddhism. The faith that makes the trunk of a tree or a stone step into the mecca of belief can be seen here in these visuals.


Conclusion- I feel I really enjoyed and did what was expected of us to do in this exercise. To sort out and categorize the various images into a small series of individual categories definitely helped understand typologies to a great extent. I think it was also a great way to hone our skills to recognize areas of visual impact and successfully capture them. Although I feel I have done an elaborate exercise here, one can easily take any ONE of these topics and do an in-depth documentation of the same over a period of time, In the limited few hours that I gave myself for this exercise, I really enjoyed capturing so many interesting facets of this beautiful and exotic city.



10 Replies to “Exercise 3.1 Searching”

  1. Absolutely wonderful Archna. Are the boys still fishing for coins thrown off of the bridge?

    Can I ask about the bathing in ashes? Is that about people trying to look more holy or is it “the untouchables” cleansing their souls from negative karma?

    Varanasi is somewhere I would like to visit. Although I don’t think there will be enough time for me to ever visit everywhere I would like to in India.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That’s Haridwar!! Yes, absolutely we still have them around, even here, without the bridge.

    The saints rub the ashes to appear holy – am not sure how many of them truly even know the meaning of it – as most are conmen trying to rob your money in exchange for rituals.

    The application of ashes on the body actually closes all the pores of the body and serves as a protection against the cold and hot weather. The more religious connotation of it is because Lord Shiva was visualized as being covered in ashes, which was also a representation of his mastery over heaven, hell, and the earth. The smearing of one’s body with ashes signifies the fact that one is aware of the insignificance of the human life and how ultimately we all come from dust and immerse into dust when we die. The sadhus or the holy men use the ashes as an example of them reaching the higher realms of understanding and receiving divine blessings. Application of ‘Vibhuti’ or ash is a clear way of signifying higher receptivity in attaining your spiritual goals, even when one meditates.

    You have to visit Banaras as there is so much around it that you will absolutely love it!!! Well, India cannot be covered in one lifetime, even as an Indian it is difficult for one to even imagine it but at least you can experience the real exotic or whatever you are able to.


  3. Archna, welcome again from me. I could see these stunning photographs as an exhibition. Each series in a different room. The “galls” reminds me of Steve McMurray, and your images are at least as good. I think I could find some electrics like that here in the UK. And the Holy River is wonderfully captured, although the pollution shocking. You have assembled some wonderful photographs for your return. Thank you.


  4. What a kind and wonderful comment. Am so pleased. Thank you so much, Sarah! You indeed made my day. Yes, unfortunately, the pollution level is alarmingly high We are just growing so rapidly as a country and everywhere you look there are people and more people. I just worry that someday we might burst due to this overload of people on the limited resources. But i guess that is a worry that is really of concern all across the world but more so in developing countries like ours.


  5. I first looked at this when you posted it but felt I had to study it in greater detail and I loved it. Your idea of splitting various topics is good and I hope you do not mind if I use this method. I have sort of started this project. What a wealth of colourful images. Each photo could be the basis for a whole story.

    I ought to say that I love India. I was brought up there, Shimla and Delhi mostly but was brought home in 47. Broke my father’s heart. I have been back a lot. In March 2017 we went back and I tracked down the (once) family house in Shimla – a saga and a half. But successful. Probably the outstanding event was being taken to the Old Delhi Gundwara – and I have photos to prove it!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Wow! What a story! I had no idea. Would love to see pictures. Am very curious about how you got to be brought up in India. Would love to hear the story if you would like to share. I hope you enjoyed your time here. Yes, the Bangla Sahib Gurudwara is quite a place. I often visit there myself. I live in Delhi and next time you come would be great to catch up. India can be quite an experience but you seem like a veteran now 🙂 Please feel free to use any method that might be useful. We are all here to learn from one another so it’s absolutely my pleasure. Am sure you will enjoy Haridwar if you ever get a chance to visit. All the best. Cheers


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