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Henna, by Michael J Amphlett

1 December 2023

Lottie Davies invited me to submit something for the December 2023 EPUK Showcase, so I actually submitted two images of the same subject. She’s chosen the close-up of the original subjects’ hands, and I’m very happy with that!

As I’m sure many of you will realise, the Indian sub-continent is a boundlessly interesting place to visit, both for its people and their extraordinarily colourful lifestyle and culture. But, everything seems to step up a gear during the wedding season, with even more colour and, more audibly, lots of noise from musicians and recorded music blaring at ridiculous volume from loudspeakers at the wedding receptions!

In many parts of India, the months of November through February are considered the most auspicious period in which to marry, and there’s plenty of evidence to support that if you ever visit during these months. It was estimated that 3.2 million weddings would take place in India during the November 2021 - February 2022 period!

Be it a high value wedding of wealthy city peoples at an expensive hotel, with hundreds of guests or, a small rural wedding in a remote village, gold is heavily featured. Ladies wear their characteristic Nath (nose-pieces) through a pierced left nostril, with a golden chain connecting it to a hair band, or the left ear. Gold armbands and necklaces are also worn, all of which show marital status and wealth. However, in the Showcase image here, we see the traditional use of Mehndi - temporary decoration of the skin - more commonly known as ‘Henna’. Henna is produced from the dried and pulverised leaves of the Henna plant (Lawsonia inermis), a smallish shrubby plant which grows in Asia, and is used for decoration of the hands and feet with traditional patterns, contrasting with the colourful armbands and garments worn by the women. In Rajasthan, the grooms are often decorated with henna, and just as elaborately as the women!

At 73, and having now retired from a 27 year digital imaging career in 2020, I’m not certain how many more visits I’ll make to India, so it’s lovely to be asked to submit a picture and look back through the catalogue of images I’ve made over the years. But, as I said in my September 2019 Showcase, and will repeat here, as I believe it still rings true, regarding photographing in India - “the rewards are many and great, but I do worry that these rural lives will change, or worse, unwelcome change will be forced upon them.” Our photography documents these changes, often unwittingly, as things seem to change so quickly and dramatically these days. Maybe nostalgia and history go hand-in-hand.

The Showcase image is part of a personal portfolio. Shot on a Nikon D3S, with a Nikkor 28-105mm at 55mm, ISO 800, 1/80 sec at f8.


Michael ('Mike') J. Amphlett worked for the non-profit organisation, CAB International, as picture editor for digital Compendia products until his retirement in 2020. For more than 25 years he was involved with digitizing, manipulating, and publishing their content.

See more work by Michael J Amphlett

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