Portrait photography is kind of a universal language. A passing expression can say so much, and be so widely understood without the intermediary of language. I love capturing portraits when I’m in India because of the honesty of people’s faces. In my experience, if you ask respectfully, and in the case of Sadhus, respect their offering with a reciprocal offering of chai, people are delighted to stare boldly down your lens.
This series is from my travels in the South Indian states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. In Karnataka, I was interviewing young women on the subject of child marriage for the social impact campaign of the documentary Driving with Selvi. When I was lucky, I’d have 2-3 minutes after our interviews to snap a quick portrait before we were ushered back onto our bus and driven to the next location. The portraits were always taken after the women shared their hopes and fears about their future career and marriage prospects, and as such express a certain vulnerability.
The holy men pictured here – known as Sadhus in India – live at the base of the sacred mountain of Arunachala in Tamil Nadu. The mountain is 14km in diameter at it’s base, and is ringed by hundreds of temples. I took these photos on a parikrama of the holy mountain, which ended up taking me two days because I was so intrigued by the shiv babas that I kept stopping and buying them chai in exchange for a portrait, which they accepted gladly.