thebeautifulpeopleblog

Photograpy, India, Portraits, Anglo Indians, Family and me

Month: January, 2012

Finding Marguerite

Sitting with my grandpa’s photograph albums on my lap and talking to my grandmother after Sunday lunch many years ago she looked at me and stated, in a tone which sounded somewhat incongrously jealous for a woman in her late seventies, “those books are just full of photographs of his ex-girlfriends”.

My grandpa who was sitting opposite, either didn’t hear this remark or chose to ignore it – the snooker on the television providing a timely distraction. It is true that the books do have quite a few photographs of beautiful young women of the Raj but as far as I can work out only one of them was actually a girlfriend of my grandpa.

 As I have mentioned in the previous post, Marguerite Mumford from the Nilgiri Hills, there are an extraordinary number of photographs of one elegantly beautiful young woman whose name was Marguerite. The photographs of her are always infused with a certain playfulness during day trips to the beach or picnics by the river. There is something personal and intimate about the photographs of her. Marguerite obviously loved to play to the camera or to be more precise she loved playing up for the photographer, flirting with both the camera and the man whose eye followed her through the lens – my grandfather.

 As a family we had often asked my grandpa to add the names of the people to the photographs in his albums and at some unknown point in time, he must have succumbed, and done just that.

As time wore on, I became more intrigued as to whom Marguerite really was. I wondered why their romance had ended. Would I be able to find out anything else about her? I spent hours scouring the internet in the faint hope that I might be able to find someone from her family who I could share her beautiful photographs with, but sadly to no avail.

After months spent searching my hope began to wane and eventually almost petered out entirely, but I never stopped wondering about her however, or what had become of her.

Recently I was pouring over the pages of the albums once more and I noticed the faded words Marguerite ‘Lovedale’ that my grandpa must have written more than twenty years ago.

Intrigued as to what the word ‘Lovedale’ meant I returned once more to the computer and within seconds I realised that this was the break I had been looking for. Lovedale is the nickname of the Lawrence Memorial Military School in the town of ‘Ooty’ in the Niligiri Hills. My great-grandfather, Algernon Edwin Scott, had a summer-house in Ooty and my grandpa would spend weekends with him whilst he was studying at St Josephs College in Canoor. Ooty would have been the place where he must have met Margurite and their relationship subsequently blossomed.

 I immediately contacted the school in Ooty. They in turn put me in touch with ex-pupils who although now in their late eighties and nineties were still in touch with one another. My search led me to a woman in America called Moira who very kindly informed me that she was still in touch with one of Marguerite’s sisters, Gladys, who also lived in America.

 

 After months of searching it all happened so very fast, and I was soon sharing the photographs I had of Marguerite and one of Gladys that my grandpa took in New Delhi sometime after the Second World War. Gladys remembered my grandpa very well and the family then told me that Margarete was still alive and living in New Zealand, but she was now ninety-six years of age and living in an old people’s home. They told me her memory had dimmed, but she was physically quite well.

 I was then put in touch with Alecia, Margurerite’s daughter who also lives in New Zealand. and I began sending them pictures of the young Marguerite – images I presume they had never even imagined existed, let alone ever see.

 In my eagerness and excitement at re-uniting people with a now-life-time-ago-history, I also sent a photograph of my grandpa. Marguerite’s poignantly hopeful reaction was simply, “is Bertie here?” It hadn’t occurred to me that these long-forgotten photos would upset anyone.  I was told that my grandpa was the love of her life and after she had left India she had married an Irishman and they had moved to New Zealand.

 It had been obvious to me all along, by the very nature of the photographs, that they were in love. From the moment I first found negatives of Marguerite I could see thay were kept very carefully and separately from the rest of grandpa’s photographs. It was very apparent that they both meant an awful lot to each other. Proof if it were needed of the indelible nature of first love.

 Jason Scott Tilley

 

 

Train-spotters and stalkers

Street portraits have been around almost as long as photography itself and they are a part of most photographers’ repertoires, but some photographers are obsessive in their collecting of types to the point where street portraiture is their practice. They are entomologists, train-spotters, archivists, stalkers, genealogists, who trawl the streets searching for types to add to their own eccentric taxonomy of humanity; a taxonomy that carries conviction through the photographer’s consistency of vision rather than any more objective measure.  It is the clarity of vision, the ability to see people, rather than just look at them, which determines success in this field. The modern master of this practice, Hiroko Kikai, offers a musical analogy; of transposing the ordinary from a minor to a major key. Kikai’s haunting of the Asakusa Temple in Tokyo for the last 4 decades in search of selective specimens of humanity achieves a quiet majesty, forming a body of work that is more of an offering than a taking.

In the same spirit Jason Tilley’s wanderings are on the streets of India from where he brings us a reminder, and I welcome frequent reminding, that people are weird, wonderful, and us.

Chris Steel Perkins

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It has often occurred to me that I could be described as a collector of people and faces and whilst I was travelling through India, I did on occasion, recognise that I could also be  described as a ‘stalker’of sorts, but I had never previously been conscious of the fact that I might be collecting ‘types’.

Admittedly , when I delve through the six boxes of black and white film and the thousands of negatives that I collected between 1999 and 2009 I realise it is natural to typecast me as an ‘obsessive’ and within my collection I admit there are lots of different ‘types’ to be found.

Many will naturally question: Who is this white man who spends time looking at the ‘other’, pointing his camera at people in areas of the world that do not concern him?

And so they should. The very act of questioning and criticising suggests the photographs have provoked thought and in turn a response.

 What is the context in which I make these portraits and what do other people think about me photographing ‘the other’?  Had these questions ever entered my mind, I may never have made any portraits.

Is it an obsession? Is it stalking, compartmentalising, stereo-typing or even fetishism? Probably all of the aforementioned depending on your own personal take. After all, is it not endemic of objectivity to be the slave of human subjectivity?

As E.M. Forster highlighted in his novel ‘A Passage to India’, it is a complex world where ‘the Spirit of the Indian earth … tries to keep men in compartments’.

 Jason Scott Tilley

Platform 14

Just before 7.00am on platform 14 at Chhatarapati Shivaji Terminus, which during British times was known as Victoria Terminus, one of the two daily trains that run between Mumbai and Margao departs. All of the street children who live in this area know this train and all of the street children know that rich pickings are to be had from the hordes of foreign tourists who have to catch this particular train on their journey south to the golden beaches of Goa.Platform 14 VT station

 

Children wait next to the open windows pushing their arms through the bars or they run up and down the inside of the entire train from carriage to carriage tapping tourists on the shoulder for any loose change, trying at all cost to avoid the eyes of the local police who if they are caught whack them with their long wooden Cain.

 

Some of the children wait by the food stalls hoping that they will be bought biscuits and cakes which after the train leaves they can then exchange back with the stall holders for Rupees. Sadly and rather ironically most of the children use this money to buy glue which they sniff to help them cope with the pains of hunger.

Every child appears to have lived a life time already and they wear their scars and tattoos with pride.

Jason Scott Tilley

 

Looking at me

When I look at this particular portrait I immediately spot a recognition of ‘me’. It is a distant recognition that I do not spot in the mirror every single day, or in the small number of photographs that I still have of him. It is a likeness of me that is found only in three or four of the precious photographs that I still hold of him.

The man in the photograph is Algernon Edwin Scott and he was born in Bangalore, in 1893. Algernon Scott was the fifth child and son of Edwin  and Emily. Algernon, or ‘Algee’ as he was affectionately known, was my great-grandfather.

A dormant recognition of ‘me’ from my subconscious mind stimulates a deep connection that is sparked from his close-set eyes and the heavy forehead that we both share. When I look directly at his face in this photograph I feel that I am looking into my eyes in the mirror. There is a genetic family likeness shared between his face and mine that is evident to me when I look at this photograph today. Each time I look at this portrait I  think that we have shared the same thoughts and that although we never met, I think that he some how knows who I am, and in turn that I know him.

Jason Scott Tilley

Grant me

GRANT ME

Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers but to be

fearless in facing them.

Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain but for the

heart to conquer it.

Let me not look for allies in life’s battlefield but to

my own strength.

Let me not crave in anxious fear to be saved but

hope for the patience to win my freedom.

Grant me that I may not be coward, feeling your mercy

in my success alone; but let me find the

grasp of your hand in my failure.

Rabindranath Tagore

Photographing ‘the other’

“Hello” she said. “I’m on holiday from West Bengal, would you mind if I take a photograph of you”? I said “no, of course I don’t mind”. She lifted her camera and she pointed it at me. I said “please hold on for one second, let me get my camera ready so I can take a photograph of you” she said “yaa, for sure”.

So, both of us stood there, undressed up to a point, our feet sinking into the soft Keralan sand. Both of us were now pointing our cameras at each other and both of us were poised to record the exact moment in time when we were both standing on Kovalam beach pointing our cameras at each other. It was a wonderful and comical moment.

Before this moment in time we had never met, we had never spoken to each other; both of us, perhaps for slightly different reasons, felt the same desire to record for posterity our short, beautiful and intimate encounter together. Two people from different countries both photographing ‘the other’.

The body, Benares

His friends were calling me, shouting at me to take a look at him. I was on my usual mid morning walk along the bathing Ghats of Benares. His body was covered with the silt from the Ganga; his young male friends began begging me to take his photograph, absolutely in awe of their friends worked on physique.

The stunning Keralan man

The Keralan man stood still, staring out to sea, his dark skin sun tanned by long hours and too many years of manual work slaving outside in the hot south Indian sun, the sweat was shining against his muscle toned body. I nodded towards him to acknowledge his proud figure and handsome face, not one grey strand from his thick head of hair was out of place. He knew, he just knew.

To you, who at first glance appear different

It is not that  I find it easy to photograph people who at first glance are physically different from the  rest of us, ‘the norm’. I just find it impossible to ignore you when you are infront of me. I am like a child who cannot help but ‘look’ but because I was brough up to be polite and not to stare,  I am supposed to pass  you by and to pretend that you do not exist. Or I can choose to walk past you and throw a coin in your general direction and then carry on with my day without even a comment? Can I stop and talk to you, can I ask you some questions? Can I take your photograph please?

I would prefer to acknowledge you.

Jason Scott Tilley

Encountering New Delhi

I have a love-hate relationship with New Delhi. As much as I love arriving at Indira Ghandi international airport and as much as I love that first drive from the airport to the Main bazaar of the Paharganj district, close to  New Delhi’s largest train station and as much as I love my first few days spinning around in a yellow and green ‘Auto’ during mad day-time trips and after I have spent the first  few nights drinking myself  into a catatonic state with old friends at the ‘Gem Bar’ on Hayward’s 5000 super strong beer, I always find myself wanting to leave within a days of my arrival. Delhi just exhausts me. Or do I exhaust myself?

Delhi is a weekend break to me.

I could never live in New Delhi; Even after just a short period of time spent breathing in the toxic soup that is produced by the two-stroke vehicles that buzz this city like large mechanical mosquitoes ,  my throat becomes dry and sore and my eyes end up blood-red in colour and they sting like hell.  Then my nose becomes blocked and with-in just a few days of breathing this chemical haze I get the first train out and I head towards the clean mountain air in the north. I’m sure that these ailments are caused by the persistent traffic fumes that when mixed with wood burning fires produce a smog that would rival a London pea-super from the late 1950’s. In the past I have  occasionally treated myself to a night out at the luxurious Imperial Hotel off Janpath lane; a beautiful old colonial Hotel where my grand parents used to court in the mid 1940’s just to breathe fresh filtered air.

During the day time I have often wondered, on foot, for mile upon mile exploring the uneven pavements and the dusty Delhi suburbs, always dodging the suicidal pann spitting rickshaw wallahs whilst breathing in the blue smoke that spews from the back of their three wheelers.

Jason Scott Tilley