The first time I travelled to India was in 1999, I travelled there with my grandpa and close friend and fellow photographer Vicki Couchman. My grandpa was born in the south Indian garden city of Bangalore in 1915. Vicki filmed our journey together and the resulting footage was shown in the year 2000 in a half hour documentary for Channel 4 entitled ‘Back to Bangalore’.
Like me, my grandpa had also worked as a press photographer. His full name was quite a mouthful, Bertrum Edwin Ebenezer Scott. He had a very British name but he never lost his soft upper class Indian accent. The combination of both, were always reminders of the old Empires legacy of social engineering; to use the Anglo-Indian race as a human bridge between India and Britain, to help suppress and control and communicate between races, a lineage which of course is also my own.
So this is how my photographic journey across India began and how The Beautiful People project started. It started with myself, Vicki and my grandpa, three competent stills photographers together on a photographic journey across India, travelling from Mumbai to Bangalore but clueless in the art of documentary film making and let loose with video equipment that we had very little idea of how to use. My grandpa was 84 years of age and physically fit but he already had the early onset of Alzheimer’s. Often, my grandpa couldn’t quite remember some things that we had done the day yesterday, but the exact details of his past life in India, five decades ago were some times staggering.
It had been just over fifty years since my grandpa had last set foot on India soil. He had travelled across India to pakistan with his small family during the violence that erupted just after partition in August 1947. I know that Some of the last things my grandparents witnessed in India were terrible scenes of religious violence.
I will never forget what appeared to be a look of horror on my grandpa’s face at some of the first sights that greeted us on arrival in this new India. We had passed through customs without any fuss, changed our pounds for Rupees and we had effortlessly found our pre-paid taxi. Everything appeared relatively normal in India at first. Minutes after leaving the relative calm of Mumbai International Airport everything soon changed. I had never seen so many people and all of them seeming to compete for the same road space and there was noise, so much noise.
Our driver spent some of the time speeding and some of the time inching his way through the hazardous traffic avoiding dogs and people and cows and massive carts pulled by equally massive bullocks. Our senses were battered into submission, India welcomes you like no other country on earth. I admit to being shocked by what appeared to be the utter scenes of chaos when I first arrived in India 1999 but I love the honesty of this greeting now. India makes you feel alive.
Jason Scott Tilley