Some assignments are straightforward, some take a bit more thought. When the London School of Economics assigned me to photograph Delhi for their global cities conference I was delighted but also slightly nervous.
The brief was to image the city illustrating the difficulties of living in and governing India’s sprawling, chaotic capital. My preference is always to try and make beautiful pictures – but trying to marry that with an exacting shoot list that focused on academic concepts was always going to be challenging. It was however, the shoot list (and my drivers and assistants – notably the ever-cool Sunayana) that saved me. I’m always talking about the importance of scripting what you shoot and this was a perfect example of how it can really help. This wasn’t an assignment about what I wanted to show of Delhi or interpreting the city – but clearly illustrating issues that affect it. In fact, it was a very interesting way to work – trying to find places or people that evidenced concepts as diverse as public/private space and illegal adaptions of utilities.
Born and brought up in London, I’m fascinated by cities and the way that they develop and change and Delhi for me has been a kind of surrogate city – a sort of prism through which to view myself and see how metropolises (and I dare you to find the correct plural of metropolis…) evolve and change. Delhi, like London is palimpsestic in that cities have been built on top of cities. I can walk through any number of places in Delhi and find the exact same things that Dickens wrote about for example – the very foundations of a modern industrial world – but I can also find something much older – the Vedic prayers intoned by people still worshipping on the banks of the hideously polluted Yamuna.
One of the highlights was returning to Kathputli Colony that I’ve written about before and making work with the people there trying to save their homes and way of life. I was delighted to be re-united with the singer Bhagwan Das and it is his wife Sarbati that’s shown at the end in the last picture here at the conference in front of a giant poster and on the cover of the magazine.
Here are some of the images that I made.