The Kumbh Mela
Photography Project and interview with Dr. Amit Bijon Dutta
We had a little chat with Dr. Amit Bijon Dutta about his photography and projects in his homeland, India, in particular his project about the Kumbh Mela, a religious celebration held every 3 years. We invited him to share some of his photographs, and thoughts, as well as tips for those engaging with people on the street, attempting projects of their own, or planning a photography trip to India. So let’s get right into it.
Thank you for joining us for an interview Amit Bijon Dutta. Can you tell us about yourself and how you got started in photography? What type of photography do you enjoy?
“By profession I am a Civil Engineer, with a Doctorate in Management & by passion I’m a self taught photographer. Arts & creativity for me has always been a part of me, the way to be expressive, and I have chosen Photography as an option to flash my excellence and furnishing my dream of following my passion for the art of photography. Photography for me, was capturing memories using my father’s Nikon Reel camera. Later in life after gifting myself a Nikon DSLR six years back, I explored myself more in the art and still keep learning to know the different artistic aspects of photography. My passion also guides me to give my best to my profession. Photography helps me grow and give me eternal peace of mind and it also makes me a better individual. By following my passion I have been awarded eight distinctions in photography from India and abroad.
I had started to devote my eyes for multifarious lines of our society as nature, wildlife, live shows, portrait, and more. In the course of the time I have discovered that my ability of composition is getting stronger and I lean towards photographing street Life, cultural environment & rituals as well as portraits on the streets and other wise.”
You have been working on some amazing projects. One that you’ve told me about is your photographing Khumb Mela. For those who might not know, could you tell us just briefly what Khumb Mela is, and why you embarked on doing a photo project based around it?
“Kumbh Mela is a famous religious ceremony in the Hindu faith of gathering and bathing their sins away in a sacred and holy river. It is held every 3 years rotating among 4 locations.
I have heard about the Kumbh Mela from my grandparents, so it was from childhood that I was determined to visit. The love for photographing people was another reason for being there to cover the project. To know general people from our country and the much hidden sadhus who are present in large numbers only during such time. I almost spent 7 days this season, my first time photographing it, and plan to spend 7 more days on the next occasion.”
How do you engage with your subject? You told us you often engage them, get permission and even give back to them whenever possible. Could you tell us what you typically try to do? How you go about it before shooting and then even afterwards?
“The essence of street photography especially when it’s about people candid/street portraits, it’s important to talk to the person you will be clicking understanding the person and his/her background. It’s always better to greet a person with a smile, it has helped me always and I have never been refused for a picture. We know about the individual and story they carry. When we are on streets and know the people we are capturing are located in the same place, I always try to get them prints of the photographs I have captured. It has helped me understand the people and has created a bond which generally helps not forgetting the individual. It also usually makes for better portraits and you come away with better stories and memories. The most rewarding part of giving prints is the million dollar smile on their faces.”
Doing photographs of so many interesting people at these occasions you must have some amazing stories to share. Could you tell us a couple of your favourite memories, stories?
“One of my favorite experience was clicking a lady who had chained herself with the believe in god. She and her family believed that all her diseases and mental ailments will be cured, and as she is cured one by one all the locks will be unlocked and fall off.
I talked to her family one day during my visit to the streets, but they were not willing to let her be photographed or to permit me to go and talk to her. After a couple of days I visited them with few print of the family I had clicked last time I visited them and was lucky to get their permission to talk to the aged lady. After talking and understanding her thought for around 45 minutes she agreed to let me click her. It is strange the era we live in we still have such belief and following of people, this is we call faith.”
From your project, what are your favourite photographs? Could you tell us about the back story behind the photographs?
1.) “I call this Fire meditation: This saint meditates in the scoring heat of summer when outside temperature was around 48°C. The saint a Naga Sadhu meditates for a minimum 3 hours daily surrounded by burning fire all around him. The temperature is so high that a normal person cannot be in the periphery of the surrounding saint. The saint left his home at the age of 20 and his day starts at 4am in morning with morning bath, yoga and meditation.”
2.)”Morning Bath: this picture was clicked in early morning around 3am, this is the time generally the Naga Sadhu’s take their bath and start their daily routines. This is one of the rare pictures when a Naga Sahu and a Sadhvi (his disciple) are seen together.”
3.”The Little Saint: Age 12, he left home at the age of 6 and followed the path to be a Naga. It has been six years that he has followed a daily routine of a Naga and he loves to wear a hat. He has his own Trishul and a small drum known as dumbru”
Are there any other projects that you’re currently working on? Are there some projects that you are planning to work on in the future?
“I am planning to work on portraits and life style of some old tribes of India around the end of the year. That will require additional planning and permissions granted.”
What/who has been an inspiration to you and to your photography?
‘My inspiration is my family they have always supported me in my projects, Special tips from dad about framing and point of focusing were useful during my time I had first started trying to explore the art. Not the least I still read a lot of books and online articles and follow a few masters of the Art Shri. Raghu Rai and Mr. Steve McCary to name a couple.”
What advice would you give to others trying to get into photography, or even embarking on their own project?
“Just one thing, believe in yourself! Know the subject, do a bit of research before you are into the field for your project. Be friendly and talk, try and capture the emotions.”
What advice would you give to friends coming to India, to do similar projects?
“India is a country with many cultures and beliefs. We belive in “Atithi Devo Bhava it means The guest is equivalent to God”. If working on any specific projects it is important to know and understand the place you will be visiting and it’s always a great help if you have a local guide, so it becomes more easy to understand the people around and the cultures.”
We appreciate all your efforts and your time. Thank you so much for coming to join us and explain about your photography and project.
About Dr. Amit Bijon Dutta:
Dr. Amit Dijon Dutta started out exploring photography with his dads old camera. 6 Years back he purchased himself a DSLR camera, which he has used since to explore more behind the art of photography. He’s taken a keen interest in the lives of people in his home country, India and talks with his subjects, understands them and captures their stories in a frame. You can reach out to Amit through his Instagram, or through his Facebook Page.
My name is Don MacDonell, this is a part of my Talk Photography project. The focus of which is to inspire the next generation of photographer’s around the world. I feature interviews with amazing photographers the world over and help them tell their stories. You’ll be inspired from these fine artists working hard at what they love most despite their varying backgrounds and cultures. I’m happy to hear your stories, in fact I hope you’ll reach out to share your photography and stories with me! This project will soon be going to video as well. All for your inspiration and enjoyment. Simply subscribe to join in at no cost below.
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Leave us your thoughts and feedback in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you, and Amit would as well.