Street Portraits From India

My favourite photographs from India are of people.

My candid shots were often foiled; people noticed me, even at quite a distance, and smiled and waved. As the only white people around–Rob blond haired and blue-eyed, and Deb and me dressed respectfully but not wearing sarees–I guess we were pretty conspicuous.

But I really prefer what I call street portraits. I don’t ask people to pose, but I do make eye contact, and a connection, when I take their picture.

In India people were usually as interested in me as I was in them. Our conversations were often limited to “where from?”/”what country?” and our answer, “Canada”–a bit confusing at times, where the local language is Kannada! And we could say “Namaste” and a few other words we tried to get right. But even without language, a smile goes a long way.

Markets are the epitome of colour in a colourful country; here are some of the vendors we saw in produce and fish markets, and ad-hoc stalls along the way. We bought things when we could: mostly fruit and flowers. Other times–at the fish market, for example–without cooking facilities all we could say was “no kitchen!” and hope they understood.


A chili pepper vendor on the street, outside the fish market in Honnavar:

A man with a reddish beard stands looking at hte camera with huge bags piled high with dried chili peppers, under a red umbrella.

At the fish markets, most vendors have stalls with counters.

A woman in a blue floral and polka dot safari looks at  the camera, standing behind her counter laid out with large fish in a fish market

A seated woman laughs and looks at the camera. SHe's wearing a multi-coloured saree and in front of here is a pile of fish on a wet counter. Around her are baskets and other market items.

But at smaller markets, on the periphery of the big ones, or sometimes just on the side of the road, there are always some women sitting on upturned pails, their fish in bowls or spread out neatly in front of them.

A gray haired woman in a light green sari sits on a yellow pail. She's wearing sandals. In front of her are two large shallow bowls with handles, and a small cloth on the ground is covered in small piles of small fish and shrimp. She's looking down and in the process of putting a shrimp on one of the piles.

There are ad-hoc fruit and vegetable “stalls” everywhere.

With afternoon temperatures around 35C/95F, the tiniest bit of shade is important. This is not an easy way to earn a living.

A woman in a blue and gold saree, with flip flops on her feet, holds an umbrella to shade her body. She is selling watermelons and some vegetables that are all laid out on cloths on the ground. She's sitting on a stoop, up against an old building.

This woman was squeezed into the sliver of shade provided by the wall. Her serious face became a smile when I greeted her and bought some peanuts.

A barefoot woman in a blue and white flowered saree is squatting in a tiny patch of shade against an old stone or cement wall. She has a pile of peanuts on a cloth on the ground, with some piled in a cup. She is looking directly at the camera with a very serious expression.

I’m so intrigued by the women carrying loads on their heads.

Through the car window as we drove through town (OK, these aren’t vendors, but I’m including them here anyway)…

A messy shot through a car window: One woman in a yellow saree is carrying a soft sided printed bag on her head, smiling at the camera. Another woman in a green sari, with a similar bag on her head, is walking and smiling with a cell phone to her ear. Two men at a banana and flower stand are turned to look toward the camera.

Near a busy market…

The back of a woman in a yellow saree, her hair tied in a bun, carrying a purple plastic basket and a on her head, in front of a  small crowd of women in colourful sarees and a few men

And carrying a basket of ice at the harbour in Malpe.

A woman in a colourful saree is carrying a green plastic basket full of crushed ice. She's walking past stacks of yellow and orange plastic crates, with the rigging of ships in the background.

This woman is measuring out a string of flowers that Rob is buying to decorate the hotel room. They’re used in women’s hair and to decorate everything from temples to trucks. I could do a whole series of just flower vendors!

A woman in a pink saree is sitting cross legged in front of piles of yello, pink, and white chrysanthemum blossoms. She is smiling and holding a long string of yellow chrysanthemums, with an occasional red one for accent, in her outstretched arms.

Another flower vendor in the same market. You can see she’s stringing the blossoms together.

A woman in a pink saree sits cross-legged on the ground, smiling broadly at the camera. She is sewing a string of yellow flowers.

Nearby, this man called me over and signed that I should take his picture!

A man with gray hair and moustache, in a white button down shirt, sits on the ground with a huge variety of wares piled on the ground around him and hanging from teh ceiling above him.

These women were part of a group of a dozen or more cleaning fish–or preparing bait?–at the fish market in Kundapura.

Four women in sarees sit low on upturned pails, their hands low in front of them as they clean fish. Two of them are looking at the camera and smiling

Her toe rings–one on each foot–signify that she is married.

A woman in a saree, sitting low to the ground, looks up at the camera as she cleans fish.  There is a silver toe ring on the second toe of her bare foot.

And one last portrait for now, another vendor at a produce market.

A man in a blue button down shirt, with dark hair and a trimmed gray beard, looks at the camera. He has a pile of tomatoes in front of him and a bowl of tomatoes in his lap.

More to come…

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4 Responses

  1. Darla Crane says:

    I feel as if I’ve been transported there through your photos. What beautiful faces and colorful surroundings.

  2. suzanne renaud says:

    The colours are so vibrant! Raises one’s spirit immediately! Really love living virtually through you in the blog on your trip to India! Lovely!

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