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Marwari horse and owner, Rajasthan, India, December 2013 by Michael J Amphlett

1 September 2019

About India, Sir Don McCullin wrote in a caption at his recent exhibition at Tate Britain, London: "...One finds one's camera held up to the eye for most of the time. It is, in my opinion, the most visually exciting place in the world."

After seven visits to various parts of the Indian subcontinent, I can only agree with his words: wherever you go, city, town or rural village, there is inevitably something to focus on and make satisfylng images, whether as one-offs or as a themed story.

Yet, the whole country is a paradox and a conundrum to our western sensitiblities and despite India's economic and social rise in recent decades there is equally inevitably the very reverse in the fortunes of many of its peoples, from persecuted tribals still living in the remaining forests, to those who choose to make the Rajasthan desert their home.

The picture I've chosen to showcase was made in 2013 on a personal trip to an animal fair in southern Rajasthan. It shows a typical early morning scene at the fair as the sun rises over the canopy to the left with a dusty, smoky atmosphere (from the animal dung fires!). We were just about the only westerners at the fair and the locals were friendly but mostly amazed that we showed so much interest in them, their animals, and way of life.

The gentleman pictured is holding is prized Marwari horse (note the naturally bent ears), and was insistent on me making the best of the opportunity to photograph him with his prized animal. It's always difficult to take in the astonishing variety of visual stimuli and to assimilate just precisely what is happening around you, but this situation occurred pretty much spontaneously as I expressed an interest in the horse and owner, and this allowed me to make three or four usable frames.

I'd like to believe the image shows the incredibly atmospheric nature of such places and the indigenous people who, despite many hardships, just get on with their lives and always manage a smile and handshake and, sometimes, even a smattering of English.

For me, the image brings alive not only the memory but incredible dignity and pride these people retain in circumstances that most of us would not care to imagine (but I make no claims to being a hardened photographer). For some reason, India has always appealed yet I didn't get there until 1998. Since that time, much has changed, particularly in cities such as Mumbai and Delhi, yet in the rural areas little seems to change despite tirades by the Indian government to rein in peoples such as the Rabari (or Reika) [camel and sheep herders], and their like.

At 69, I'm still able to make these visits and will do for as long as I can; 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. We cannot expect such situations to last forever, and they do not exist for our own satisfaction, and the archetypal image of the 'noble savage'. But, for the moment at least, we are fortunate enough to be allowed to observe and document such people and their extraordinary and ever colourful lives.

The showcase image (and all similar work) is part of a purely personal portfolio. The image featured in a portrait exhibition at the Cornerstone Arts Centre in Didcot, south Oxfordshire.

(Nikon DS3, ISO 6400, Nikkor 16-35mm f4 at 21mm)

Michael ('Mike') J. Amphlett works for the non-profit organisation, CAB International, as picture editor for digital Compendia products. For the past 25 years he has been involved with digitizing, manipulating, and publishing their content.

See more work by Michael J Amphlett

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