Friday, March 11, 2011

Varanasi, holy city for photographers (Part 1)

Varanasi, also called Benares, Banaras or Kashi, is the holiest city in the world for Hindus and Jains. Its also the place where Buddhism was founded. Every year countless pilgrims visit the city by the Ganges to remit their sins or to die and release their souls for eternity.
City of Shiva, City of lights, City of temples. Varanasi with its labyrinth streets, its ghats on the river shores, its poetic fog, and its mystical spirit is also the destination of pilgrimage for many photographers visiting India. And of course every person who has crossed this place once in their life can understand. There is something magic about Varanasi. Not just something that you see but something that you feel. And thats where the real challenge for photographers is.
In a way its easy to take good pictures there, there is so much going on, the place is so extraordinary that everyone can capture incredible moments and unbelievable scenes. But how do you describe its strange beauty and celestial energy? How do you give a new vision of a place that has been photographed so many times that it became its own stereotype? How do you show its soul?
Many photographers have tried; here are a few who succeeded in creating their own story about the city of thousands histories and faces.
The Magnum Photographers and Benares

Marc Riboud, 1956. After bathing in the Ganges.
Over the years many Magnum photographers have given their own interpretation of Benares. From Italian photographer Ferdinando Scienna with his contrasted black and white or subtle color images to Steve McCurry with his vibrant vision of the world, they have contributed in building the universal image of the city. This couldn't be done in one visit only. They had to come back several times to start understanding the essence of this Indian world. Steve McCurry has been to India 75 times and he admits to have only scratched the surface. Benares feels like the place where all "Indianity" comes together. It feels like a theater where every subject - pilgrims, children, dogs, cows, gods and death - are on stage. Year after year Magnum photographers have managed to make their way back stage to tell the true story of the holy city. 

Bruce Gilden. Varanasi. 1998. Dog on Banaras street curb.

Steve McCurry. Varanasi. 1996. Floating offerings.

Steve McCurry. 1996. Astrologer.

Steve McCurry. 1996. Boatman on the Ganges River.

Steve McCurry. Varanasi. 2010.

Ferdinando Scianna 1972. beggars

Ferdinando Scienna 1972

Ferdinando Scienna 1972. Dog on the ghat.

Ferdinando Scienna 1997
Ferdinando Scienna 1997
Ferdinando Scienna 1997. Cremation on the ghat
In 1985, 86 and 87, photographer Carl De Keyser has also traveled India to give his own interpretation of this incredible country. He chose to travel during the Monsoon with the objective of producing artistically responsible images. The images he brought back from these trips revealed him before he joined Magnum agency. Of course he spent some time in Varanasi, and his pictures give a new perspective of the place where movement and lights create an intangible environment between dream and reality. He reveals images of a complex society, of a profound belief between optimism, resignation and mysticism. Carl De Keyser wants to question the images that are in our memory. There is always a double level in [his] work; what [we] see is true and at the same time not true.
Carl de Keyser - 1986
Carl de Keyser - 1985
Carl de Keyser - 1985
Carl de Keyser - 1985
Carl de Keyser - 1986
 Check Magnum website for further details on these photographers:

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