© 2009 Benjamin Chernivsky Two Udaipur autowallah portraits, Bhanwar and Himmat.

Departing Udaipur, and India…

The suggestion to return to Udaipur to fix up some gaps in the research I started back in October has been incredible. On this departure day I’m enjoying a cup of black tea while post processing some portraits of the autowallah drivers. It’s sunny, and I’m to return to snowy Chicago.

Just a week short of three months and I feel ready to return to the states for some holiday magic and the familiar friendships and family.

This has been my first time really researching and photographing something of substance overseas, and I’ve really loved making something more of my journey than simply traveling. While creating portraits at Udaipur’s Ganghor Gat these past few days, I realized that the only images I’ve been satisfied with were of the drivers I created some kind of relationship with. Now, those relationships varied, but never did I just pull a driver off the street and capture their personality right off.

I tried it, actually. Yesterday I found a Sikh driver, which I’ve not ran into yet in Udaipur, only Muslim and Hindu drivers. Interested, I spoke with him for a few minutes and asked to take a few photos. The results were less than stellar. Ack, far from stellar. It was exactly what I thought it to be – shallow, quick, insensitive. It could have been my attitude, the driver, our personalities, or a combination. Regardless, my best work has not been any technical feat alone.

There is no substitute for this invaluable combination: time and releasing ego. And when I mean releasing, I mean escaping the confinements of our own ego, and allowing a greater Ego to take charge.

It’s interesting that these two portraits grabbed my attention this morning, of Bhanwar (Bhamu) Singh and Hammit Lal Vashita (pictured above). I’ve known Bhanwar since researching with the Principia group in October. He was never my own research driver, but he drove our resident counselor, Chestnut Booth, all around the city helping her find ATM’s nearly every day. He was always around the group, and always asked me to take photos of him and the students he liked. It always annoyed me a bit, but I tried my best not to let it get to me, and knew that I’d probably like the same thing if I were in his position. He also really annoyed me and a group of friends one afternoon when he notoriously overcharged us for a ride to Tiger Lake (at least he nagged us enough about the price, we ended up paying him a reasonable fare). Our friendship has taken some time to simmer down and become comfortable, but I really like the guy now. It was joyful to see him on the streets when I returned to Udaipur.

I met Hammit only when I returned to Udaipur. Right outside of the Royal Palace Hotel, the guy screamed a sense of Udaipur-gansta. He’s incredibly outgoing, and came right up to me and started talking to me about driving around the city. I wasn’t interested, but he insisted I take his name down. Later in the evening he whizzed past me in the dark of the night; I heard my name from a speeding rickshaw that was passing me, and he turned around and told me to jump in, “No charge Ben, no problem, come on man!” I honestly didn’t recognize him, but when someone knows your name like that, it’s easy to go along with things. I jumped in and only a few minutes later recognized him as the guy I met earlier. Later in the week he got a new sound system installed into his stylish rickshaw (it’s even fitted with a white-tiger interior) and Guy Walker and I spent some time with him while he bumped some of his tunes. Jay-Z, Bob Marley, techno beats and the such. There was no pressure with this relationship, but we always happened to run into one another. He never pushed me to spend my money on him, which I’m sure helped our relationship. One of my favorite lines from him that about sums up his personality: “I’m not funny, but happy by nature.” He laughs at everything, and easily triggers a smile.

But had I only been okay with one type of personality, a type of person, a religion, this manner or that manner, I don’t think I’d have gotten anywhere with these drivers. Spend a little time with someone and eventually that initial ego just strips away. People are people after all, just like you.

It’s an experience, and I’m curious where my next one will bring me, what it’ll be all about…


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