Monday, 23 March 2015

Chitpur Local Photowalk

With a name that sounds like a local train, Chitpur Local is an event, or rather a collection of events aimed at reviving Calcutta’s Chitpur area, which was once known for its association with “Jatra”, the popular Bengali folk theatre form. Two photowalks were part of Chitpur Local and I decided to join in. Chitpur gets its name from the temple of Chitteshwari, and Chitpur Road (now Rabindra Sarani) is one of the oldest roads of Calcutta. Old roads = old architecture, I thought, and hence decided to join in. But the theme, I was told wasn’t flat architecture, this was more in the nature of street photography, and the best photographs would be used to create picture postcards of Chitpur. I decided to do what the pros do, shoot with a “prime” lens. A prime lens is a lens with a fixed focal length, no zooming. I chose the only prime in my arsenal, the Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM, and turned up at Lal Bazar Police Headquarters, on the corner of Chitpur Road and Lal Bazar Street.

Rabindra Sarani in the morning presents a stark and extremely high contrast scene. The fa├žade of the Mercantile Buildings, which is at an angle to the street, is hit by extremely bright sunlight, and thanks to its pale yellow colour, appears almost blindingly bright. The sun however, was to my left, and tall buildings cast shadows all over the other parts of the street, making it very dark. Try and take a picture of this, and you have a problem. Expose the building properly, and everything else is blackened. Expose everything else properly, and the building gets totally bleached. One solution to this dilemma is to use HDR, but just then, I noticed something else. There were gaps between the buildings on my left, and there were slivers of sunlight on the road, perhaps some twenty or so feet apart. Anyone who passed through these spots would catch the light. So, I came up with a plan. I framed my picture, and waited patiently for someone to walk down the road, and at the precise moment that they stepped into that light, I opened my shutter. Since I am no expert in predicting human movement, I of course used the high speed burst mode, or what is pejoratively referred to as “spray and pray”. As luck would have it, the first person to walk into my “light-trap”, so to speak, was a cop. And here are the results…

Ok, I’m not saying this is going to win me the Pulitzer or something. But what I am saying is that this is new for me. This thinking, and planning, and scheming, I had never done this before. Of course, photographing buildings takes planning; deciding when the light will be best, which side to shoot it from, things like that. But buildings are easier to shoot than people; they never move. I doubt I would have done so much thinking if I was using a zoom lens too. I’d just zoom in, cut everything other than the building out of my frame, and have a completely boring “full frontal”. As I continued shooting with the 40, I found things to be getting easier. Yes, on my camera, it was effectively a 64mm lens, and that meant that it was a bit too tight at times, but I adjusted pretty fast. All the zooming in and zooming out happened using my feet. More work for sure, but a lot more fun as well. This was a whole different kind of photography; a new experience. I noticed there was a lot happening on this street in the morning, and there was a chance to create images that would have a lot of contrast of a different kind. There were goods being hauled using archaic forms of transport right alongside the latest cars. There were people who were starting their day, brushing their teeth, while large groups of goats were being led, no doubt to a nearby abattoir. There was the glorious chaos of a market selling fruits, vegetables and meat while cooked food was also being sold. And there was this policeman, sitting calmly under a tree and perusing the morning paper, oblivious to the traffic rushing by right beside him.

Perhaps this is what street photography is all about? If it is, then I must say, it takes a lot (and I mean a whole lot) of hard work, thinking on your feet (and often on your knees), and patience. You can’t expect to turn up at some place and immediately get great shots. You need to turn up ahead of time, you need to sit down and observe, sense the rhythm of a place, and only then, will you have some inkling about what you should be doing. Although that was not the original intention of Chitpur Local, the event opened up a whole new world for me. Wish me luck as I take my first steps into this world, and if you’re into street photography, share some tips and stories with me, will you?

- by Deepanjan Ghosh


  • Check out the Chitpur Local FB page here.
  • Thanks to Iftekhar Ahsan for leading the photowalks. If you want to take a walk with Iftekhar, check out Calcutta Walks.
  • Thanks to Rangan Datta for his company and for some awesome sweets at Makhanlaal’s outlet in Natun Bazar. Check out his blog here.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Yumthang Valley, Sikkim

North Sikkim Travelogue Part 2

For 2 ½ hours we were enchanted by the beauty of India’s 2nd highest lake, Gurudongmar, but we finally had to make a move for the equally beautiful grazing pasture called Yumthang Valley, in North Sikkim. After a short stop for lunch, I and my friend Prasenjit reached the little town of Lachung, where we would rest for the night. Our tour operator had set us up in a top floor room and we had a beautiful view of the mountains from our window, and since I can never sleep peacefully in a new place, I woke up obscenely early, and managed once again, to get that “sunrise in the mountains” shot, that so fascinates tourists.

Sunrise at Lachung

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Gurudongmar Lake, Sikkim

North Sikkim Travelogue Part 1

Yumthang Valley and Gurudongmar Lake had been on my travel wish-list for a long time. Both of these places are in the Northern part of the Indian state of Sikkim, high in the Himalayas of North East India. Our travel agent in Calcutta suggested we add Dzongu, a forest valley that has been reserved for the Lepcha peoples of Sikkim, to our itinerary. Since I am not the type who treks, me and my friend Prasenjit chose to do the normal tourist thing, i.e. travel from Calcutta to Bagdogra via air, and take a car from there to Gangtok, Sikkim’s capital. A four by four would then take us for our week-long vacation in the mountains. I don’t know why, but to me, music always sounds better in the mountains, and I find myself quietly staring out of the car window at peaks and valleys, listening to classic rock. Sikkim is magical, they say, and the first piece of magic happened as we pulled in to Gangtok. I had just turned on Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy album on the iPod, and as if on cue, as the first strains of The Rain Song started playing, it began to rain! We arrived at out hotel as it was getting dark, to the sounds of thunder echoing in the mountains.

Thunderstorm in Gangtok

Monday, 2 March 2015

Gillander House, Clive Street

It is fairly simple business to pigeonhole a building based on its architectural style. The Writers’ Building is Greco-Roman. The High Court is Gothic. The Esplanade Mansions are Art Nouveau. But one building in Calcutta completely defies such pigeonholing, partly because it was designed by a man who was a musician, alongside being an architect. The man in question is Harry Stuart Goodhart-Rendel, and the building is Gillander House.

Gillander House

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

The South Park Street Cemetery

Located at the corner of Park Street (now Mother Teresa Sarani) and Lower Circular Road (now A.J.C Bose Road) is the South Park Street Cemetery, known to many as “the great cemetery”. One of the largest colonial cemeteries of its kind, it is today one of the many tourist attractions of Calcutta (Kolkata). The South Park Street Cemetery replaced the St. John’s Church graveyard as the principal burial ground of Calcutta and the road leading to it, which is today called Park Street, was originally known as Burial Ground Road. It is perhaps difficult to imagine that this part of the city was a jungle back then. Clive hunted tigers in what is today Free School Street. Indeed, so far away was this from the main city, that the Bishop who had to be present for the burial, had to be paid a special allowance so he could maintain a carriage and horses. The reasons behind siting a cemetery so far away from town are not difficult to understand. Calcutta was a malarial swamp, and in an era where there was no understanding of tropical disease, poor hygiene and poorer diet, the mortality rate was shockingly high. The monsoons were particularly bad, and every year at the end of the rainy season, feasts would be organised by those left living to give thanks to God. In such a scenario, repeated reminders of death in the form of funeral processions were thought of as undesirable.

Graves in the South Park Street Cemetery

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Mahishadal Rajbari, Haldia

Located around 60 km to the Southwest of Calcutta (Kolkata), in the Mahishadal administrative division in Haldia subdivision of Purba Medinipur (East Midnapore) district is the Mahishadal Rajbari, home to the Gargs of the Mahishadal Raj. Spread over a large area, Mahishadal Rajbari consists of two palaces, a cutchery or court house, a ghat, a large navaratna temple, all surrounded by a protective moat spanned by bridges. The vast property left to decay for many years is now being renovated and opened to visitors. Mahishadal Rajbari is an ideal weekend getaway from Calcutta, especially for history buffs.

The Phul Bagh Palace, Mahishadal

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Shaniwar Wada, Pune

Pune’s Shaniwar Wada is a rare example of a fort right in the middle of a modern city. It was the residence of the Peshwa, the prime minister of the Maratha Empire that dominated central India from 1674 to 1818. Once the centre of Indian politics, it was considerably reduced in importance after the Maratha loss in the third Anglo-Maratha war, which left the East India Company in control of most of India.

Shaniwar Wada: Dilli Darwaza