Wednesday, February 18, 2009

E Is For Eyesight

Never Let An Opportunity Go A-Begging

Photograph copyright: DAVID McMAHON


In October 2006, I was briefly in Calcutta, the Indian city where I was born. Early one morning, a childhood friend of mine picked me up and drove me around the sprawling city. founded by Job Charnock, just so I could capture familiar scenes.

We had been out for almost three hours when he suddenly stopped without warning. It was not one of the spots where we had planned to stop – and I could not see anything that I might want to shoot.

Before I could ask him anything, he pointed through the passenger window, telling me this was not a run-of-the-mill scene. He explained that a group of four beggars frequented the area, and that they always walked together, chanting as they carried two multi-coloured rugs.

A rug? Why the rug?

He explained that they held the rug in the manner of a fireman’s blanket. It was their practice to walk to a series of apartment buildings early every morning, before the occupants left for work. From the windows and balconies, the residents would throw coins onto the rug. Then, when there was no more money forthcoming, the foursome would carefully turn around and make their way to the next apartment building.

I was fascinated.

But I had a question. Why did the four of them operate together as a team?

His answer floored me. They worked together because they were blind. They shuffled down the streets together, taking smaller steps because they did so in unison and because they were not blessed with normal vision.

"You can travel the world and you’ll never see anything quite like this," he told me.

He was right. The story of the beggars struck me immediately. So too did the bright colours of their clothing and the vivid hues of the rugs they were carrying. I was about to open my door when I decided to take a couple of shots from the passenger seat. So I rolled the window down and pointed my camera at the poignant scene. They were only a few feet away from me.

As I did so, someone called out to the beggars, telling them that a person in a car was about to photograph them. Things suddenly started to happen very quickly.

The four beggars wheeled around rapidly and took three or four steps (very much quicker than I reckoned they were capable of) towards the car. One of them was yelling something that I could not quite catch and the expression on the face of the closest beggar was suddenly hostile.

Before I could say anything, my friend had put his imported European car in drive and accelerated away swiftly. I only had time to shoot one frame before he made his escape.

Just one shot. Taken in a split-second before the opportunity vanished forever.

It was an incident - and a basic lesson in instinctive photography - that was to have an interesting echo, when I was charged by a grizzly recently. (You can see the photo and read the post at G Is For Grizzly.) As in India, one shot was all I had time for on that amazing day in the Yukon - but how many people are lucky enough to hit the shutter on a scene like a grizzly defending its piece of Canadian turf?

Maybe on this Calcutta morning, I was blessed with the understanding of the "Decisive Moment" that the peerless Henri Cartier-Bresson spoke about so eloquently. We have so much to learn from the masters of photography. And so much to be thankful for.

For the home of ABC Wednesday, go to Mrs Nesbitt's Place.

63 comments:

squawmama said...

Wow what a great story David... I don't understand how they came upon you so quickly if they were indeed blind...

(((HUGS)))
Donna
Loved the bear photo

jinksy said...

You do have the knack of being at the right place at the right time!

spacedlaw said...

Did your friend offer any explanation as to why they were hostile?
A real shame as they were indeed beautiful but all the better for you to steal this instant.

Nessa said...

That's an amazing shot and story. I miss alot of good photo opportunities by waiting too long. Good lesson.

Hestias Gem said...

It's amazing how his eyes are looking right at you. You sure they were blind? Amazing!

Maggie May said...

I bet they weren't blind, David. You had to be quick to take the photo though, as they may have been more dangerous than the grizzy bear!

TheWritersPorch said...

David..one is better than none and this was a great ONE!

Pat Houseworth said...

Great story and amazing colors on the rugs and folks.

Carolina said...

I don't think they were blind either. Isn't the mere fact that we even doubt their blindness not sad? But certainly the one that is looking in the camera doesn't seem blind to me. Great shot though. Beautiful colors.

Braja said...

The guys at the back look blind, but not the one right in front there...

Great story though...I'm just opening the bear one now. I don't believe you. What? You're gonna prove me wrong, right? :)

Carol and Chris said...

I'm with spacedlaw....any reason why they were hostile?

C x

Tracie said...

i agree.. i don't believe the one in front is in deed blind... that's one piercing look he's giving you!

Craig Glenn said...

E is for Escape! and Evade!

Not the same as being charged by a bear but scary just the same.

Craig

Moannie said...

Wonderful picture taken with your split second refexes, David. I am reading Shantaram [it is taking me forever as I have to read every word] an amazing book which is giving what I hope are truthful insights to that fabulously diverse and beautiful country-for example-the 'head wiggle' How could we know that it has so many meanings?

GutsyWriter said...

Great story and photo. So they weren't blind? The guy facing the camera, looks like he can see to me.

Lorna said...

The man closest to you is looking straight into the camera. Hmmm. But nonetheless, a great shot. :-)
~Lorna

Maddy said...

Fabulous photo with a lesson that we can all learn from in our different ways.
Cheers

Shammickite said...

He doesn't look very blind to me. His eyes are looking right at you!

introspection said...

Great picture, as always..!!
The guy looking into the camera is certainly blind; he is looking into the camera all right, but does'nt appear to see it...!

George said...

What a great picture and interesting story. When looking at the picture I didn't realize the men were blind. Thanks for the lesson on taking advantage of the opportunity to get a good photo.

Ackworth born said...

I was wondering where this was leading as I read it and waiting for some explanation but none came - sometimes we must take our shot and not await explanations.

Pam said...

This is a beautiful blog. I can't wait to read more. I have added you to Noteworthy Blogs on my Horse Pucky blog.

The Quintessential Magpie said...

Fascinating, David! What an interesting ritual and an excellent photo opportunity. I wonder why they were so hostile? That's sad because had they not been, they might have been gifted with something rare.

Sheila :-)

Rafael Freitas said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Denise said...

Incredible, kept me riveted from beginning to end and I also enjoyed the bear link which I missed the first time round but fortunately for me you linked it again and thank you by the way. Outstanding post David. Thanks again.

The Finely Tuned Woman said...

I have my doubts, I have my doubts. Why did they not want to be photographed? Were they worried about being found out? That man is looking straight at the camera with seeing eyes. He looks angry. He is reacting to what he sees.

Charli and me said...

What an interesting post. The photo is actually amazing! I love all the vibrant colors. The story though is sad.

Tranquility said...

Did you ever find out what the reason for the hostility might have been?
It is amazing that these four have not only found each other, but have found a way to work together.
Very interesting... and what a moment to capture.

JoAnn's-D-Eyes said...

Hi David,
Interesting E and very informative thats why I like to treavel through blogs YOURS is great David:) welldone.


Happy ABC
from JoAnn's D Eyes/Holland

www.joannwalraven.blogspot.com

Crystal Jigsaw said...

Fascinating story. Absolutely beautiful colours. What a shame they do not see them.

CJ xx

RuneE said...

I don't want to sound unpleasant or anything, but I feel that a discussion of taking/using pictures of other, unknown, people without there consent might be on the agenda.

mathures said...

How come we never see anything on the man behind the blog? These great stories provide a great start to anybody's day. But we want to know more about you, David!

cheshire wife said...

From the expression on his face I do not think that the beggar nearest the camera was blind but like you I would not have waited around to find out. A great photo opportunity!

ChrisC and JonJ said...

Neer thought of eyesight.
Interesting.....

M.M.E. said...

Absolutely gorgeous photo. At first I assumed they were moving toward you to get money. I understand getting the one shot. My boyfriend is doing street photography for his BFA and I have to come with in case people get hostile. I'm supposed to start crying or look innocent or something. In other words, I'm his diversion.

Country Girl said...

What a fascinating story! Beautiful colors, too and I loved how you explained the picture. I sensed something in the picture before I even read it.
Am off to read about the bear. And I am a little afraid.
Thanks for stopping by my blog.

Tiaras and Tantrums said...

yes indeed we do!

Reasons to be Cheerful 1,2,3 said...

Captivating photo, sounds like a puzzling moment. Perhaps they were afraid of the repercussions of being photographed begging.

Gaelyn said...

It's a great shot, yet that man is angry and it shows. It's almost spooky, but is also very real.

Granny Smith said...

A striking photo and also the story that goes with it. I don't understand their hostility, though. I would have thought that they would have asked for money, since they were beggars and now had something to sell - their photos.

Janie said...

Interesting story and a great photo. I think the hostile man seems to have adequate eyesight. He was going after you! Perhaps having one's photo taken was some kind of taboo to those people.
I went back and read the grizzly story. Wow, that's terrifying.

joan said...

Really interesting story David! Very colorful photo and story. I wonder why they would be hostile though.

Mara said...

Such lovely and vibrant colours. And still in focus, despite the speeding away! Well done...

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SandyCarlson said...

An unbelievable story. Amazing. To be so saturated in color yet blind. Still getting my brain around it. Great photo, David.

Babooshka said...

You ended this with my favourite photographer and his philosophy which I have adopted. Natural is best and timing is just do it. Wonderful post to illustrate this.

Nicky said...

that was an interesting story. i am amazed at the fact that you actually took the picture and it came out so well! when i first saw the image i never realized they were blind until i read on...good job!

Sylvia K said...

Great post, David, and the photo is lovely because of the rich colors, but I do wonder why they were so hostile? Interesting! Thanks for sharing and have a great week -- or what's left of it.

Artist Unplugged said...

What an interesting account and a good photo, that man looking at you does not look blind.....gotta go see the grizzly photo, well, not a grizzly photo, but a photo of a grizzly!

Tumblewords: said...

Incredible story and fascinating, as well. I understand that many cultures don't like their photos taken because they feel as if their spirits are being stolen.

AliciaMarieB said...

Wow! What a picture and what a story!

Paula Scott said...

Hoo whee! What a shot! Great story (as usual) to go with it.
I did not read your post until I posted mine.
I'm feeling very superficial and humbled at this moment. And, awestruck!

photowannabe said...

Fascinating story and such vivid colors.His look is piercing.

introspection said...

I decided to comment again after reading the thread of recent comments and questions this blog has raised. Intriguing picture for sure.

according to me 1 of the following could be the reason of their hostility:

1. Could it be that begging is illegal/banned in Kolkota ? And they got scared of being caught.

2. Some one informed them about being photgraphed by a foreigner: They would have preferred to make big money before being taken a shot of. Beggars in India are known to take advantage.

3. Some one (an alien) had been looking for them to settle scores. or vice versa...!

Vinayak said...

Hi, I got here through "Google's blog of Note" and read this interesting post.
Here's a bit of info. about the people you see in this picture, they are a very common sight in India. Hope this helps!
The people you see in this picture are muslims and followers of any one of the many sufi peers (muslim sufi saints) of India. (In most cases just some local saint)
These people go around carrying the peer's rug (chaddar) asking for alms in his name, mostly on Fridays, sometimes so that they can can have enough money to go on hajj or for the construction or repair of the dead peer's dargah(abode) and mostly for their own sustenance.
Since these people are followers of Sufi saints and ask for money in his name, even non-muslims offer them money.

But, now as the religious divides and tensions are growing, even they are looked down upon with contempt and suspicion (thing like: "who the hell knows where the money actually goes?").

In your case, they probably charged because they saw a white foreigner and thought they could get a lot of "dollar".

splummer said...

Hi!
Awesome "E" story and photo! Thanks for sharing it! Have a great day!!

Sherrie

Pat - An Arkansas Stamper said...

You get an "E" for an excellent, exciting, and educational post.

bernthis said...

That is amazing. I have never been to India and mercifully never been that close to a grizzly. I cannot believe that photo either. Mine would surely be fuzzy b/c when you run and shoot I'm guessing the photo is not very clear

Jay said...

Blind? Hmm ... but certainly colourful (in more ways than one) and interesting!

whateverdanny said...

I'm sure I will be thinking about this story throughout the day. I enjoyed reading! Thanks :)

Dragonstar said...

You've caught the moment there! The colours are wonderful.
I tried to read your Grizzly post but it won't open for me - I'm having the odd computer problem, so that's probably the reason.

Woman in a Window said...

This is, I believe, my new favorite, for many reasons. A whole post's worth, at least. The irony of the colour and their blindness, their joining together to beg and to ward off, the desire of a photographer to get the shot but yet the invasive of a shot. So many questions, this raises.

sohbet said...

Interesting.....