Thursday, July 06, 2006
Varanasi notes - The death photographer
We were introduced to each other as the writer and the dead body photographer. He was a short and chubby man who worked out of a paan stall near the cremation ghat with a basic digital point-and-shoot and a very old SLR, the makers of which closed down long ago. His portfolio pictures included an old man with his eyes closed and mouth open with a backdrop of wood, and another man with his eyes open and a frown perhaps because the garlands around his neck were too heavy. There was another, of a bald boy holding up a lit torch beside a pyre ready to go. In the end, he said, there was no point in getting upset about your subject because it was all about business. "At first I used to be upset," he says with a smile, "because they were not alive. Gradually things changed, and I'm completely okay now." Besides these pictures he keeps no others for himself, or the police will take him away. But who needs pictures when moments stick? Once, a young girl was brought for cremation. She had an unhappy look. When he adjusted the lens, looking at her through the camera, he says she smiled. And then there are the weird ones: the man whose eyes popped out of their sockets ("I get those regularly"), the ones who were brought there by people unrelated. "With the way things are, you could bring the murdered here and nobody would ask you a question." Like others who deal with death regularly, he has overcome his initial hesitation by looking at things rationally. It's funny. When people can't handle something they usually find solace in God. But then presented with a side of God they can't handle, they often look for answers in rationality.