Photographer, Adam Bonn, author of MY LOVE AFFAIR WITH THE FUJIFILM X-PRO1, has over 17 years’ experience shooting with Fujifilm. In this interview he tells us how he got in to photography, and why he loves his newest addition to his Fujifilm family; the X-Pro2.
Tell us about yourself and what got you into photography?
I had a fairly round about route into becoming a full-time photographer. My background is in theatre and that’s where I worked for 20 years, first as an actor then stage manager. I bought myself a point & shoot digital camera to go on holiday with my wife in 2004 and just wandering around taking photos rekindled the interest I had in photography as a child. My dad had been a keen amateur and I often had a roll of film and an old Zenit 35mm to play with – then it was back home to develop and print the results.
Fast forward to 2005 when I started to take photography seriously again. I bought myself a DSLR and started to take photos around the theatre I was working in. I’ve never been interested in ‘posed’ imagery and a camera seemed an ideal instrument to document the ‘process’ of theatre – rehearsal photographs, technicians at work and actors acting. From there the theatre I was working at started to use some of my photos as marketing materials, the Arts Council UK commissioned me to photograph some things they were doing in schools, and I got some freelance work photographing Ballroom dancing for a couple of publications – all this work came through contacts of people I knew or had met, I didn’t even have a website at this stage!
Why did you choose to shoot with the Fujifilm X series?
I’m interested in documentary photography and telling stories. Once I started playing with the X-Pro1 (in late 2013) I found a camera that let me do this in a really subtle and intimate way. By this stage, I was a full-time photographer photographing mainly weddings and theatre. Walking into a wedding with an X-Pro1 and a 35mm lens was very freeing – I was no longer the person with the biggest kit in the room. People were not intimidated by such a small and interesting looking camera and I found I could be around any situation and get the shot I was looking for without anyone changing their behavior because the ‘official photographer’ was there.
Most of my work is taken in available light and I’ve never really had a problem getting the results I’m looking for from the Fuji X-series cameras. I work with two X-T1s mostly (with a bit of X100T thrown in) and will shoot on fast primes up to 6400iso without blinking – always I’m looking for the best light in any situation then working out how to tell the story in that light.
HOWEVER when it comes to the evening of a wedding and everyone is getting down on the dance floor that’s when I break out the flash!
By this stage of the day I figure everyone has relaxed and I can go for a more ‘night clubby’ look with the photos. Dance floors are a dark place, bands or DJs don’t often bring enough light to illuminate them so at this stage I often have to ADD light. But I still want to stay discreet, self contained and mobile. That’s why I choose to use the very tiny Fuji EF-X20 flash on a sync cord attached to my X-T1 (often with the 10-24mm).
With this set up I can get into the middle of the dance floor action, shoot from any angle and no-one cares you’ve got a camera (even when it’s getting ‘messy’ at the end of the night). If I was shooting with ‘Off Camera Flash’ I’d be limited in the look I would get by where my light stands could go – this way I’m a portable studio. Holding the flash in my left hand (usually high above to the side) and the camera in my right but away from my eye. I ‘zone focus’ so the camera is set manually to focus from 4ft to infinity – at f/10 this is really easy and means that I don’t have to worry about AF in low light but just what’s happening in front of my lens.
These are my default setting for Epic Dance Floor shots: ISO 2000, F10, 1/15th, 14mm, get in close and dance your ass off while photographing.
Do you have any tips or tricks you could share with us?
The best thing I could say is to develop your own style and approach to how you photograph. When we start out we all see amazing photographs in a variety of styles and try to copy those in our work – it makes what we do look a little scattergun and inconsistent. Work out what you love photographing, what you are passionate about and a philosophy about how you should approach your photography and then do that. Then do that some more. Then do that better. Then refine it. Do it more. Do it better. Refine it. And on and on it goes.
Every time I pick up a camera I want to create better photographs than I did the last time – better photographs for me equals better photographs for my clients.
What’s next for you?
Put simply – see above. Doing more of what I’m doing but hopefully doing it better.
To see more of Andrew’s beautiful photography, please visit his website and social channels:
2.3 billion people worldwide lack access to reliable electricity. In Nepal roughly 80% of the population live in rural mountainous regions that have little to no access to electricity. With the devastating earthquakes last year (April 25th and May 12th 2015) the citizens of Nepal were left with a broken country, 9,000 people killed, tens of thousands of people injured and over 2.5 million homeless.
In Nepal, rooftop solar panels are being used in households to provide power for daily electrical appliances and activities; at schools to power computers, laptops and cellphones; and at hospitals and health posts to power patient needs in the rural mountainous communities. Solar integration for agricultural purposes has recently been implemented throughout various parts of rural Nepal to aid in the irrigation and harvest of crops year round.
My goal with my photography is to raise awareness around humanitarian and environmental issues globally. I focus on documenting the candid and capturing moments that inspire a call-to-action. Through a partnership with Photographers Without Borders and SunFarmer, a non-profit organization focused on delivering solar power to developing countries, I returned to Nepal in October 2015 to capture the impact of solar technology and build awareness around the work of SunFarmer on local Nepali communities enduring the difficulties of life without electricity due to energy poverty.
The country continues to rebuild with the citizens of Nepal struggling to survive in the midst of the current political crisis that has left the country with a limited access to petrol, medicine, cooking gas and other essential supplies.
How did you get started as a photographer?
My inspiration for photography began in early childhood when I travelled with my family throughout Asia. I took my first film photography course in high school at the Hong Kong International School, while living and studying abroad in Hong Kong. But it wasn’t until years later after working in the financial services sector and living close to 10-years overseas, did I find my hand in photography. Over the years while living abroad, I’ve gained an understanding and deep appreciation and respect for diverse cultures and places.
In the pursuit of my passion, I’ve travelled extensively throughout South East Asia with my partner and with a camera always by my side ready to document my environment, culture and people that I encountered. With my photography, I seek out stories that raise awareness and address social, humanitarian, environmental and cultural issues to evoke positive change for the natural world and its inhabitants.
How did you get involved with the SunFarmer project in Nepal?
The SunFarmer project came about through a partnership with Photographer’s Without Borders (PWB), a non-profit collective of journalists, photographers, filmmakers and passionate storytellers with a mission to inform and inspire positive change by visually communicating the ways that grassroots initiatives are addressing problems in their communities. I was assigned to document solar energy solutions for SunFarmer in Nepal.
SunFarmer is a solar engineering non-profit that installs solar energy in hospitals, health clinics, schools and agricultural sites throughout the developing world. Nearly 1.3 billion people worldwide are without access to electricity. Without electricity, a modern quality of life is impossible and the growth and prosperity of a country is severely hindered. SunFarmer has a mission to reduce this figure by providing best in class solar at an affordable rate to schools, farms and health posts. The team’s goal is to provide electricity access to seven million people by 2020. In Nepal, SunFarmer has partnerships with various stakeholders that include private organizations, NGOs, government organizations, banks, bilateral organizations, and microfinance institutions. The basic criteria when choosing to work with these organizations are like-mindedness, a vision to provide access to reliable and affordable electricity over a long period of time and access to transmission lines in areas that are difficult to reach often due to rough geographical terrain in the rural parts of the countryside.
Since SunFarmer started in Nepal in 2014, the team has successfully implemented over 100 projects in the country. The value SunFarmer works with is to provide the best in class, affordable energy solutions to their clients. Many developing countries are facing similar situations to that of Nepal with regards to energy and electricity crisis and are equally as important to focus on next. The team is still weighing out the various different countries to focus on next and has made a global announcement on their commitment to rebuilding Nepal at the Clinton Global Initiative. Their commitment will bring 1.5 MW of solar powered electricity to at least 2 countries in the next 3 years.
How do you go about determining your focus for a project of this size?
My goal for partnering with SunFarmer was to capture the impact of solar technology as Nepal continues to rebuild after the earthquakes that hit the country earlier in the year.
The vision I had was to share a story that chronicles the lives of the Nepalese families and local community members that we visited throughout Nepal’s countryside and to show their shared hardships, stories and experiences. Through a series of photo essays, I illustrate the struggles faced by the citizens of Nepal as the country continues to rebuild and how solar energy is changing their lives.
I’ve lived in many of the world’s major cities and remote areas of Southeast Asia and it has been an invaluable experience that has become a strong influence in the way I shoot and go about determining my focus for long-term projects. Before I pick up the camera, I enjoy seeking out new places and diving into unfamiliar scenarios where I find my way by building strong relationships with the people I end up encountering.
Over the years, my curiosity to explore has taken me to the top of the world on a month-long expedition trek across the Everest Region, to the bottom of the Red Sea free diving in Egypt and on to studying meditation and traditional Muay Thai boxing in the mountains of northern Thailand.
My project with SunFarmer took me back to Nepal for a second time. The first time I visited was in April 2012. I landed in Kathmandu on my birthday. My partner and I stayed in Thamel where we purchased our gear and equipment for an expedition trek. It was an incredible, life changing experience. We started at the famous ‘world’s most dangerous airport’ in Lukla, acclimatized in Namche Bazaar Village, crossed the Chola Pass, summited Gokyo Ri and Island Peak and made our way to the Everest Base Camp and back to Kathmandu in one piece.
We ended up spending three months in Nepal and I had a genuine connection with the people, community and country. The Nepalese are a very special kind of people with a strong sense of dignity, compassion and unity.
What did you do to prepare yourself for the trip to Nepal?
Of critical importance to successful assignment photography is the research you do before you book that plane ticket. The more legwork and planning done upfront, the better your images will be when you land.
My first point of contact for the project was SunFarmer’s Director of Impact & Partnerships, who is based in New York. SunFarmer has operations in the US, Canada, and Nepal. Planning began with logistics and safety discussions in late February 2015. Over several months we coordinated the solar site visits at SunFarmer and with SunFarmer’s partner organizations throughout Nepal’s countryside.
There are several factors to consider when working on location and in a developing country. Not surprisingly, the first avenue of information is from the Internet. I have a quick look at tourist information and government sites, travel advisory boards, official country tourism boards, news outlets for the most updated look at the country’s political standing and issues, guide books such as the Lonely Planet Guide and Rough Guides for high level country profile information, sites to see and places to stay, and travel sites like WikiTravel, VirtualTourist and Trip Advisor. It is also extremely useful to take a good look at the best time of year to head over to your destination.
With this information, I also prepare a concept and shot list with details on the shoot objectives, location, setting and contact list. Purchasing a local map and marking off sites and locations of importance will be extremely helpful to ensure you get all the shots you need for the project and your creative curiosity.
What were some of the obstacles you had to overcome while planning the trip?
The biggest obstacle was looking at the best time of year to visit. In Nepal, there are two preferred times a year for travel. Peak season, particularly for trekking is from late September to early December when the air is crisp and fresh with clear skies for the best mountain views. From the end of February to mid-April, it is warm and dry; the rhododendrons are in flower and bloom. This season brings a second wave of visitors. The summer months of June to August are also the monsoon season in Nepal and not an ideal time to visit. The weather is hot and wet. It rains almost everyday with occasional thunderstorms in the evenings.
Another factor to consider is the festival season. Throughout the Nepalese annual calendar, there are several religious holidays. Dashain is a very popular festival in Nepal. It is the longest and most auspicious festival celebrated. In Nepal, it is a celebration of family. People return home from all over the world to spend time with their family and loved ones. All government offices, educational institutions and businesses remain closed during the festival period that falls in September or October and lasts for fifteen days. Making a visit during the festival season can be great for street and travel photography, but is not always the ideal time to visit while on assignment. Many of SunFarmer’s partner organizations remained closed during this time and we had to work around the festival schedule.
Travel and logistics are equally as important to work out long before the project starts. We had to secure well in advance a four-wheel drive vehicle and experienced driver to take us across Nepal’s countryside and up the mountainside to visit the agricultural solar sites and solar water pumps that lift water from the valley below to a tank above the community on a hill. Access to water from tap stands outside each house gives families back time they would otherwise use for collecting water and gives farmers water to irrigate their crops.
How are solar photovoltaic systems used and are they anymore beneficial than the more traditional energy gathering techniques such as hydro or wind for Nepal?
A solar photovoltaic system or PV system is a power system that harnesses the power of the sun which is composed of particles of energy called photons that is converted into electricity via solar panels to power electrical loads. Simply put, solar panels absorb and convert sunlight into usable electricity.
SunFarmer Nepal team has noted that Nepal has around 720-740 MW of hydro power plants installed in the country and import around 200MW of electricity from India. There is a large demand of around 1300 – 1400 MW of energy for consumption. The supply and demand clearly doesn’t match and there is a large energy deficit in the country. Nepal has not been able to upscale their hydropower installations to meet its citizen’s demands because the demand for energy grows roughly 10% every year. An additional problem is that currently there is only one hydro station that has storage capacity in the country. The remaining hydro plants are run-of-river power. So during the dry season Nepal only has 25% of energy generation leaving the population with around 12-16 hours of load shedding (scheduled blackouts) during the dry months that runs for more than six months. This is why it is important to have a healthy energy mix of renewable energy sources in the country to address the energy crisis, to be independent and to be climate resilient. With the earthquake, most of the hydro stations were damaged. Nepal lost around 150MW of power due to the earthquake.
What were some of the obstacles you had to overcome while filming in remote locations?
In Nepal, 80% of the population lack access to reliable electricity and live in the rural parts of the country. Naturally, the biggest challenge we were faced with was keeping our equipment charged and ready to shoot at all times. A few of the project sites we had on the agenda required a days worth of travel and off-road driving up Nepal’s countryside.
For the project, we had arranged in advance with community directors at each of SunFarmer’s partner locations to join us for the site visits. SunFarmer provided me with a translator and solar operations engineer to interview our subjects. Once on site, I setup my equipment for a series of interviews with the local community members and a series of portraits to follow.
We shot under all environmental conditions, rain or shine, indoors and outdoors. We were blessed with good weather during the tail end of the monsoon season with sunny skies and little rainfall. It became a bit of a challenge to work with the changing sunshine. While shooting outdoors and interviewing our subjects, we had to wait several times for the clouds to pass and the sun to shine to keep a consistent exposure. For portraits, we shot mostly indoors or in a shaded area outside with a 3” Octabox providing warm light to envelop the sitter in their natural environment.
How does travel affect what you bring to shoot?
I try to be a minimalist when it comes to things to carry while traveling on assignment. When I traveled throughout Asia for over 2 years, I had with me two camera bodies (one for backup or video), a laptop for quick edits and social media updates, a cobra flash, a 3’’ octabox, tripod, light stand, transmitter/receiver, extra camera batteries, CF cards, rechargeable AA batteries and a reflector. Today, I wouldn’t go without my Fujifilm X-T1 with X Mount lenses and Voltaic Systems 17-watt solar charging kit.
Traveling has taught me to shoot creatively in difficult situations, think on my feet and problem solve various scenarios that come up. Oftentimes, you will be uncomfortable, but as long as you keep your equipment close, stay safe and keep a flexible attitude and an open mind, travel is the best kind of education that will take you to some of the most intriguing and wonderful places the world has to offer.
What advice would you give to someone interested in documentary photography?
When you first arrive at your destination, begin to quickly familiarize yourself with the lay of the land. Don’t be afraid to walk around while always being cautious of your surrounds and self-aware. Look for interesting vantage points and characters, and keep in mind when the sun rises and sets to scope out areas the day before for where you will need to be during the ‘magic hour.’
Be present, shoot in the moment and become inspired by the rich, diverse cultures of the people that inhabit the world. Everyday we are faced with environmental and societal concerns that challenge us to look inward, encourage us to re-evaluate our actions towards one another and inspire us to look closely at the world we reside in. Be true to yourself and follow your curiosity and passion.
In Nepal, the streets are so full of life with people who are proud to share their stories and life experiences if approached. Their strength of character shines through and it was important to me to capture this in the best light possible. With every photo you take, try to find a way to create images that humanize various situations and cultures. With my photography, I hope to open avenues of understanding between people and cultures and inspire positive change out of difficult situations.
Developing countries must expand access to reliable and modern energy services if they are to reduce poverty and improve the health of their citizens. Nepal is currently facing a petrol crisis on top of their electricity crisis. As a landlocked country, Nepal depends heavily on India for the import of goods into the country. Nepal is facing a shortage in fuel stock with the continuous blockade of supply at the Indian border.
The sad reality I witnessed by working alongside SunFarmer is that the current petrol crisis is worse than the April 25th 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit the country. Nepal received a lot of support globally with regards to earthquake relief. The earthquake has caused around USD $7 billion in damages, and it is estimated that the current cumulative loss from the blockage significantly exceeds that amount.
About Kristin Lau
All images in this photo series were shot on the Fujifilm X-T1. To view more of Kristin’s images from Nepal and project “Light for Life: Solar Energy in Nepal,” visit her website: www.kristinlau.com
Kristin Lau is an award-winning Toronto-based documentary photographer from Queens, New York. She’s focused on social documentary, portraiture, and underwater and aerial subjects. Kristin seeks out stories that raise awareness about the environment to evoke positive change for the natural world and its inhabitants.
FujiGuy Marc meets with X-Photographer Chris Upton to speak about his current exhibition: Thoresby Colliery: The end of the mine.
Details of the exhibition
Exhibition: Thoresby The End Of The Mine features around 50 framed images Venue : Mansfield Museum, Leeming Street, Mansfield NG18 1NG Dates : 9th January – 27th February 2016 Open : Monday – Saturday 10am – 5pm Admission: Free
I was lucky that I had a grant to go to art School with. Most of that money was spent on film, and by the time I was an undergraduate I was addicted to E6 ( Tranny, Slide )
My college was in central London and it was surrounded by labs that for £6 I could get a roll of E6 processed in an hour, this could be done 24hrs 7 days a week.
I loved the immediacy and the aesthetics of E6. I loved the challenge of the E6. There is a 3rd of a stop lattitude, not much… a hard school of exposure learning, I enjoyed the tight constraints of the transparency.
As soon as I got my hands on the X100T I found my self thinking about the good old days of E6 film. The simplicty of it. I decided to put into practice what I have been thinking about for years now… abandon the RAW format go Jpeg all the way, get simple, get immediacy.
The preset Film Simulation jpeg profiles, classic chrome.. etc, are the same as choosing a film.
The Transcontinental Race
My most recent assignment was to follow an unusual bike race, the Transcontinental.
A race from Belgium to Istanbul, via Mt Ventoux, with some rather harsh roads over the Alps, the Black mountains and assorted craziness via Albania. Unlike the Tour de France, on the Transcontinental the clock never stops – this is Ultra Endurance racing!
As the the ‘official’ photographer of the event, my first duty is to provide social media updates. Print is something that comes much later on. The Transconti is very much a social media phenomenon. The official website is almost a holding page, its vibrant life is on Facebook, Twitter (and now Instagram). All the riders carry trackers so people can watch the progress of the race on their computer. The Transcontinental is an ever moving entity
The Fujifilm X100T Camera is just brilliant at ‘social media first’ and perfect for this event that in permanant flux.
The X100T shoots native 1:1 aspect ratio, natural for Instagram. and an aspect ratio I love from way back to my Hasselblad days.
Shooting with the X100T is familiar, simple, like a camera used to be, like my old Leica but smaller and more practical.
After you have got your photograph with the X100T, its just a press of the button and the image is there on my smart phone, in a usable file size while maintaining the original image on the SD card in the camera. With this little camera there is no need for faffing around with cards –> laptop –> photoshop –> email etc…
I have never been one to crop my images, selective sharp and all that buffing. I only ever used Capture One for exposure, contrast and maybe colour balance and processing. With this camera I have reached the point of ‘no laptop’.
This is true liberation. Just using my smartphone was a little fussy, but workable… the next step is a medium-sized android tablet.
The X100T is such a brilliant tool. I will (once the lease agreement is paid off) be getting rid of my other brand bodies and lens and getting two X100T cameras.
I’m that photographer that drops a camera on a job, so a back up would essential. A couple of times while shooting 1 : 1 ratio I wanted wider in the square, maybe I could not step back any more, the Wide Conversion Lens that makes it equivalent to 28mm would have been perfect. So two cameras on me, a 28mm one with the WCL and a 35mm one “au naturel”. Both set up the same, maybe one B & W.
I also hate dust on sensors, now I have forgotten about dust on sensor The X100T’s Fixed lens is brilliant. I do hear photographers grumbling about converters, but why? Back to film again, Large format lens they unscrew or reverse etc … hey, this kit is brilliant.
I see myself with a small camera bag.
28mm and 50mm converter
A clutch of SD cards
2 x spare camera batteries
Battery power pack
Portable Hard Disk Drive with SD slot
and one USB cable that can be used on all devices!!
I’m Danish, born in 1964, and have been living in Rome since 1997. I have always loved writing and at a certain point, after my arrival in Rome, I started to collaborate with magazines producing travel articles. It was from this that the Danish Daily wanted to publish a travel article of mine from an Italian island. Unfortunately the PR-photos were of a too poor quality. In other words, I had to do the photos myself. This is when I purchased my first ever 5-mega-pixel camera. That was back in 2003, and since then, my interest in photography has been steadily increasing. I had been working for the Danish Embassy in Rome for ten years, but in 2009 I took the jump to become a full time freelance journalist and photographer shooting travel, culture, food & wine and interviews. Everything with my own imagery.
The journey to Marrakesh
We – a total of eight persons – were doing a 7 day on-the-road-trip round Morocco, two days of which were spent in Marrakesh. As I needed to travel light, I packed only my Fuji gear – Fuji X-E2, the 18-55mm kit lens and the 35 mm lens for portraits & food. I must say that I find this a excellent combination and the overall weight is significantly reduced compared to DSLR gear.
Travelling in a country with a completely different culture to my own I wanted to play it safe. So I asked most people if I could take their photo, especially regarding portraits, which I guess is quite obvious. There were occasions where some scenes were too good to miss, and in these circumstances I fired from the hip, looking elsewhere.
Generally speaking, Marrakesh is a very photogenic location. There are so many varied situations, so wonderfully exotic, with such incredible faces, emotions, the colours, the textures. Everything seems to be calling you to be immortalized.
Aside from my daily work, I like to have detailed, lengthy photographic projects and I’ll soon be leaving Rome for my summer holidays. I’ll be driving through the south of Italy to the island of Pantelleria, south of Sicily. During that month of holiday I’m planning on doing a project called “People I met”, taking portraits of people I’d casually meet during that month. On a long term basis, I’m working on a project where I’ll be photographing different kinds of Roman artisans in their working environments. This project will be continuing into 2016.
At some point during 2013 it dawned on me that I hadn’t had an adventure for a number of years. Bored with my job and in the need of a change, I began looking at voluntary positions in India. A year later I boarded a flight to Delhi with high hopes of adventure, new experiences and great photo opportunities. Luckily, all of these wishes were granted.
6 weeks of my time were spent volunteering in a small village called Nagwa, just outside the intense city of Varanasi. My job was to teach young people from the local area how to use cameras. The students of the charity (named ‘Fairmail’) then take photos which are in turn made into greeting cards, and sold throughout the world. The students receive money from sales, which pays for their education/health/housing costs etc.
During my time teaching there, I became good friends with the students. One student had previously mentioned that his brother takes part in Kushti, an ancient tradition of Indian wrestling which still thrives in Varanasi.
He told me that we could go to the the temple where they train to meet and possibly photograph the wrestlers. I was super excited at this prospect as if it happened, it would allow me a glimpse into the mostly unseen world of Kushti wrestling.
We arrived to the temple a little before 7am and were met with some suspicious eyes from the wrestlers (foreigners are not normally allowed into the training grounds, especially those with cameras). My student spoke to the wrestlers while myself and a few other students (each with their cameras) held back. I was nervous and felt out of place, especially as I had brought a small lighting kit with me (which I imagined made the wrestlers think I was shooting for professional/commercial reasons). After a few minutes one of the wrestlers came over and my student introduced us; he told us that it was ok for us to take photos and I was incredibly relieved. I felt like a National Geographic photographer on his first assignment, with feelings of intimidation and self doubt. Was I ready for this? What if I screwed it up?
The training grounds were basic, but very serene. The ring reminded me of a temple, and there was a beautiful tree in the middle of the grounds. The various weights and equipment were made in traditional, and primitive, ways. Examples included solid wooden bats which are swung around your head, and a 50kg circular weight which you wear around your neck.
The training began with the wrestlers entering the ring to pray. I couldn’t understand the words, but the feeling transcended language barriers. As with many other moments in Varanasi, there was a momentary sense of peace. These moments always took me by surprise, as Varanasi is the most chaotic place I have ever experienced. It was refreshing to see religion and tradition still deeply rooted in a land that often idealises the West.
My work began slowly, taking a more documentary style approach, allowing the wrestlers to get used to me being there. I kept a distance and began documenting their training and their gym. After a while (and after I put down my camera and began training with the wrestlers), they welcomed me to come closer to photograph them.
Despite my initial intimidation, the wrestlers were very friendly, and after they had warmed up to the camera, I felt like they began to show off. At times I had different wrestlers asking me to take photos of them as them attempted heavier weights and more difficult exercises. You could tell that they were proud to be continuing the Kushti tradition, and wanted it to be recorded.
There are two things that I think helped me in this situation – firstly, I was a volunteer, working with the local youth, so they knew my intentions were pure. Secondly, I had been growing an awesome Indian style moustache that they all found hilarious (this actually helped me out in many situations during my travel!).
The highlight for me was when the wrestling began. Usually witnessing a fight makes me feel uneasy, but when I watched Kushti, I could appreciate the skill and dedication of their art. Perhaps it was the beauty of the surroundings, or the inner peace that seemed to radiate from the wrestlers, but I sensed absolutely no aggression on a personal level between the wrestlers. They seemed like a band of brothers.
Towards the end of the training when I was taking group shots, they insisted that I was included in the photos. The also insisted that I took my top off so that we were all the same. I felt like they had accepted me; somebody who has lead a completely different, and completely privileged life in comparison to theirs, but at that moment when we shirtless, bare footed and stripped of our normal identity, we were equal.
In total I was lucky enough to spend 2 mornings with the wrestlers, and I felt extremely privileged to have seen this beautiful art form in action.
Upon leaving Varanasi, I regrettably didn’t have time to visit the wrestlers to say good bye, but I left my student with prints which they gave to the wrestlers. Apparently they loved them.