Photographs copyright: DAVID McMAHON
In 2003, during a family holiday to Hong Kong, Thailand and India, we made the decision to take the Australian-born Authobloglets to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. Mrs Authorblog had already made two trips to the Taj, but I must confess that despite growing up in India and spending my first few years of journalism traveling around the country , I never took the trouble to visit Agra.
So when we were working out the itinerary for our 2003 trip, we realised we would be in New Delhi for a few days and Mrs Authorblog announced that we could make a day trip to Agra so that our children could have the privilege of seeing one of the wonders of the world.
This was a few months before I bought my first digital camera. I had two cameras with me on the trip – a 35mm Yashica that was an old favourite, and a little Ricoh point-and-shoot Instamatic. I had stocked up on film before I left Australia, and had several rolls of Kodak film, 100 ASA for bright conditions and 400 ASA for low light shots. But I was worried about running out of film at the Taj.
So the day before we took an early-morning train to Agra, I went to a well-known Delhi market to buy some books. While I was there I saw a store that sold film, so I ducked in to the shop, bought a 36-exposure roll of Kodak film and put it in my camera bag.
The next day, I finished the roll that was in the 35mm Yashica and replaced it with the roll I had bought at the Delhi market. It was a random decision, but it would have major consequences later. I shot several frames of the Taj from various unusual vantage points.
For the next couple of hours, perspiring in the fierce heat, I photographed one of the most stunning buildings I have ever seen. Unfortunately, it was a hazy sky, with little perceptible colour, so I had to work hard on the angles and the composition to compensate for this.
Among the many nuggets of information we were told by our guide was a really interesting piece of trivia about the four towers that surround the main building. Each of the towers was designed to lean slightly away from the building, rather than being exactly perpendicular to the ground.
The reason? Simple. If the tower was to collapse, it would collapse away from the main structure. You can actually see the distinct angle in the photo at the bottom of this post.
Just before we left, my son and I took the cameras and went in search of some more unusual angles. I rubbed my hands with glee when I found this courtyard with ornate, open doorways. My son gave me the thumbs-up, because he could see what I was doing.
I went beyond the doorway, deep into the shadow, to frame the Taj against the beautiful doorway. I shot a couple of frames with the Yashica, and just before we walked away, my son suggested that I should duplicate the shot on the Ricoh Instamatic. It was good advice. It was very good advice.
When we returned to Australia at the end of a wonderful trip, I took all my rolls of film to the Kodak shop where the staff always treated me like royalty. I told them proudly about the trip to Agra and how I had captured so many wonderful shots on the Yashica.
The next day, when I went back to pick up the prints, they told me there was a problem. The entire spool of film that I had bought in New Delhi and placed in the Yashica was blank. There was not a single image of the Taj.
The only shots I had were the ones taken as backup on the Instamatic.
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