« Too Much? | Main | OT: Beatles on iTunes Deal Expected This Morning »

Monday, 15 November 2010


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Holy schlamoly. My mind has been blown and it's only Monday. Great work, Peter.

Stick THAT in your B&W pipe and smoke it!

Just adding to the chorus - great, great, great.

Some stories are SO much better realized in images...

The photos are all outstanding by themselves, but the series lack a certain variety. Most if not all photos are wide-angle close-ups of poor people and their surroundings.

Perhaps this is more a reflection on my own photography though. I often take photos in the same fashion, but lately I've grown a bit tired of it.

Absolutely stunning photography.


Nice, but too much.

To capture india like this is very tough, and exhausting. I know from street shooting in New Delhi that scenes like this, although they occur on every corner in Calcutta, are incredibly hard to document. I wish my attempts were half as successful.

There are time in india where you don't know where to point the camera, so much is happening around you. When I came back from 3 weeks there I passed out for 4 days. I simply didn't realize I had been shooting 20 hours a day for 20 days. For some reason, in india, the cameras won't let you rest.

The only problem with india, it makes black and white photography obsolete :) If every country had the color palette of india, they would have stopped making tri-x years ago.

Thanks to Peter for this document. The two words I can use to describe the series is "subtle" and "honest".

Poetry in photographs.

What an inspiration Peter!

I'm in the process of moving my family to Bangalore from the US for a work (non-photography) assignment.

I traveled to Bangalore on a reconnaisance trip during October, but did not capture any photos like yours.

If I come away from the nine month assignment with a single image that is as good as one of yours, I'll consider myself fortunate.

Thank you for sharing.

Frankly, I believe these photos would have been much more powerful in bw. Unfortunately the colors have a sameness I find boring.

Poverty can be so colourfull. I'm not sure I find any of these insightful or memorable over and above what the average photographer shoots. Too many weak images ruins the overall impact. If these were in a book I wouldn't buy it. I wonder if he did a set in B/W.

Did something go wrong at TOP? I didn't see any reference to Pentax in this post!


Stunningly beautiful images, Peter. Thank you so much for sharing. I am going to share the link to this post with my family (most of whom aren't photography enthusiasts.)


India has long been on my 'short list' of places to visit. These stunning images have propelled it to the top! Thanks Peter and Mike! (Now if I could just stop humming that old Connie Francis hit, "Who's Sari Now?"...)

Fantastic..love the way "spirit" of the city has been captured. Truly wonderful. Transported myself once again (i had been to Calcutta, now Kolkatta, only once before).


Not only do I find beauty and glimpses of our shared humanity in your images, Peter, but I really enjoyed how you weaved your separate visits to India -- and all the flurry of death and life surrounding them -- into compelling narrative. For me, very moving and well done. Thank you for sharing your inspired vision yet again.

Ned. You're wrong. I have taken every
letter in 'Pentax' that appears in this
article and all its frequency and
permutations. I'm trying to decode the
secret message that Mike has left us
to figure it out. Have to go the attic
and dig out my Captain Marvel decoder ring.
:) :) :)

Wonderful, powerful, graphic human images with an inner beauty.

Hey Peter,
Try taking a vertical every now and then.

The name of the city is "Kolkata" since 2001.
A little history of Kolkata:

I would like to argue against Louis McCullagh's implied charge that Mr. Turnley is somehow exploiting poverty. India is a poor country, no doubt, and poverty has a way of inserting itself into the frame, but we should ask whether it's just our western inclination to irrevocably equate lack of wealth with misery. Some of it is relative. Are the subjects of these photographs always bent under poverty's crushing weight, or do they have business to conduct, food to enjoy, friends to meet and families to go home to?

I recently went shooting in Guatemala, Belize and southern Mexico (pictures available at the link), traveling on a low budget. I was right next to the poverty, I suppose, but I tried to filter it out of my photos. Some of my blog commentary may betray my status as a comfort-addicted gringo, but I hope my photos rose above that. The beauty, humor, energy and general quirkiness of Latin American life makes for a visual bounty. If poverty edges itself into the background, don't assume it is the photographer's theme.

The best such photo essays take the viewer beyond a visual experience. The best tend to make you think you can hear and smell the setting. After three viewings Peter's essay did just that for me.

I do, however, agree that one last edit was probably in order for display on a blog, perhaps whittling down to Mikes "ten-set" suggestion.

To each his/her own but, frankly, I cannot imagine this in b&w. This is not the "colors of poverty", as suggested above. This is a bouquet of colors of life closer to earth, swaddled in ancient beliefs, and celebrating common realities. Color is just about the only distinguishing characteristic most of these folks can afford, if that. To dial-out the color here is to truly dial-down the life captured in Peter's lens.

Wonderful, Peter & thanks, Mike for bringing this to us.

Hi there.

One photo, of the woman holding a red cloth and, presumably, her daughter close, I find quite interesting. There seems to be a lot happening in this photo and I can't help but try to invent some kind of story when I view this image. What is actually going on in this frame, do we know?

(forth last photo - pops up here http://tinyurl.com/2esme4p)


Thanks for the great shots, Peter.

I visited India on business a few years ago, ditto for Sri Lanka (more than a few years ago) and lived in Pakistan for close to 3 years. While the photos are compelling, one thing that they evoke to one who has been there before is the smell. Those countries smell a lot different from the rest of the world.

On my last trip to India, as the plane descended into the airport in Delhi, the cabin air system changed from pressurized to outdoor air as we dropped below a couple of thousand feet. Immediately the smell of wood and dung fires entered the cabin. I knew we were there.


I just don't know.

Apologies I wasn't suggesting exploitation (I know nothing of the photographer's finances or dealings with his subjects).
I was commenting on the allure of colour and its juxaposition with the poor. That contrast is a well travelled route and I found nothing outstanding in the photos. I am not saying they are poor.
Black and white is a more unforgiving medium when we must see stories, composition, tones and impact. I guess I might suggest if it only works in colour than its not so good.
Ken I don't imagine these would be better in B/W, I just wondered if there were B/W images from the same trip.

thank you Peter and Michael!
I enjoyed this collection, it shows the heartbeat of the culture.
So this collection happens to be in colour; beautiful. Now, I always had one camera with colour film (back in the day) and one with black-and-white. It was surprising what my two sets would show, in terms of representation and interpretation. Never a basis for argument, though.
Very well done, Peter.


I can self edit, so you did just fine. Ken, I agree; these do need the color. And, though I find the images fascinating, I still have no interest in visiting the country, just me, as rural China, or rural France have the "physical" presence in my mind that the high plains of Montana did for many years after living there for a few years as a youth.

Peter, for me, some of the images are just exquisite.

Pretty fortunate that PT keeps sharing his work with the site. No better way to learn than seeing great work.
I'm as much a b&w shooter as the next guy, but this is an example of where colour works and - actually - adds to the work.
I also get a kick out of people complaining about the number of pictures. For years we bemoan the lack of venues to show work and extensive essays. Give the people what they want and they decide they want something else. Go figure.
Thanks again for sharing.

I spent two years travelling regularly through Calcutta/Kolkata to an inland destination reachable only by train. The images in this post are true to my experience and the colour and chaos that India presents are all part of it. It's true that after a while as a non-tourist you tend to become more aware of the poverty and filth but in general it's sensory overload from morning until night. It is possible to make a B&W series but in general colour gives a far better representation of what you see.
I think a few of the comments above are way off of the mark and probably reflect a lack of experience of India.

Photo is good. But the first impression I cannot stop myself to say that it is somehow a bit too clean, too bright and too colorful. I would try to look at it again in a couple of days.

Travis, you'll find that Kolkata and Bangalore are quite different. I've stayed in both. Your family might still experience a little culture shock but, overall, Bangalore is a relatively soft landing for Westerners compared to Kolkata. The climate is better too!

Gorgeous pictures and all of them in less than a month? Wow. I don't think there are too many of them. I'm so taken with the wafting from color sensation, to a fleeting expression caught, an emotion suggested, and "simple" reportage.

Thank you Peter & Mike.


Dean - the lady with her daughter in red - I suspect this is during a ceremony just before the end of Durga Puja (the equivalent of Christmas for Bengalis) where ladies first put "sindoor", the red powder that is a sign of being married, onto the goddess Durga, and then on each other. It can be quite a boisterous affair. Some of the other pictures are taken during this time as well - the pictures of the goddess being submerged ("Bisharjan") is how she symbolically returns to her consort after visiting the earthly domain for four days.


First, thanks Peter and Mike for sharing these pictures. I hope I don't offend with my observations below.

I'm from Calcutta/Kolkata. I was born there and lived there for the first 19 years of my life. So I respond to these pictures very much as a local, and I have to say they don't do much for me.

This is not to say they're bad pictures. Several of them are quite good, e.g. (numbers from hover-text) 012, 014, 026, 041, 048, 061. However, to someone who doesn't value them as exotica, there are very few that show a deeper understanding of the local milieu, or are simply very good compositions in and of themselves. I call this "Lonely Planet" photography: it has a certain documentary value, and probably piques travel interest in folks who've never been there, but it has little to offer beyond that.

I hesitate to say such photos are dime-a-dozen, but I have certainly seen far too many photos of this type, taken by photographers far less well known than Peter Turnley, if known at all. Indeed, I don't think this collection is of the standard of much of Peter's other work.

There is also this pervasive notion that India needs to be shot in colour (and rich, over-saturated colour at that). Forgive me for saying that colour is the easy way out in India (just as it is in, say, Venice). See the first two pictures here for what can be done in B&W: http://todayspictures.slate.com/calcutta/ . These pictures (by Raghu Rai) certainly make full use of local culture. But like great photos in either colour or B&W should (and I'm not saying all the photos in that set are great), they go beyond simple documentary and reflect a moment of insight.

Lastly, several people have observed that the set could do with some whittling down. I must confess I agree. As Louis McCullagh observes, "too many weak images ruins the overall impact".

Trust me people, you have no idea how amazing these images are!!

I was in Calcutta with Peter and worked along side him in many of these situations. My images pale in comparison.(and I imagine many of yours would too!:-)

The comment about how you don't even know where to point the camera, it's all so overwhelming, is so true. Peter's managed to create an incredibly strong collection of images out of the overwhelming chaos of Calcutta.

Whenever a foreigner states that he/she was in the UK at some point in the 2-3 weeks following the death of Diana, I have an overpowering urge to apologize for the mass insanity on display during that time. Apparently (and I was told this by one particularly demented woman whom I had regarded, until that moment, as quite of this world), she died 'for all of us'. Other gems included 'Mother Theresa died of sorrow for Diana' (reported in the press here). And I was almost punched in the face when I suggested to a good friend that a national memorial should read 'We're sorry she's dead. That's it'.

It's as if we Brits tried to compensate for our usual (alleged) sang-froid by demonstrating that we could do Heads-Turning-Completely-'Round-On-Our-Shoulders also.

Love the pictures, by the way.

"Poverty can be so colourfull. I'm not sure I find any of these insightful or memorable over and above what the average photographer shoots."

"Most if not all photos are wide-angle close-ups of poor people and their surroundings. "

You find poverty at every step in India. All around you, part of everyday life. If you're taking photos on the street, you'd probably have to try really hard to avoid it. And the photographs would actually tell a lie, or at least part of the truth.

Having photographed in Calcutta myself several times, I think that Peter Turnley's photographs are an excellent representation of the seemingly chaotic activities on the city streets and of the atmosphere during Durga Puja.
The photographs are 'timeless' and could have been shot 25 years ago. Yet Calcutta (and other parts of India) are subject to rapid change, both economically and socially. I found learning about these changes and seeing the old and the new Calcutta in extremely close proximity an intriguing experience.
Ironically, the association of Calcutta with death, as exemplified by Mother Teresa's work and cited in Peter's text, became reality for me when one of my best friends, a fellow photographer whom you, Mike, know from the Compuserve Photoforum days, died in the city this summer.

This series os spot on! Beautifully made, let's see more!

Every single time I look at photos taken in India, Petrut Calinescu's work pop up in my mind. Do not know exactly why but I consider his work some sort of benchmark for that place (you can see them here: http://www.petrut-calinescu.com/). Having said that, Peter Turnley provided us today with stunning images that indeed celebrate life.

Expiring_frog, thanks so much for some insight from a local.

I haven't been to India but I've been around Asia so i have experienced chaos, dirt and colour. You end up clicking too much, the differences beguile. Recording the differences is not the same as telling a story/getting under the skin of a place.
Steve McCurry scouts places and people then the next day he goes back and photographs (not always but it is his normal way of working in a new location). His photos reflect this.
When you ask yourself "what am I shooting" if the answer is colour it may not be a lasting favourite shot.

ggl: I was not critising the fact that the photos show poverty. It's just that there is much of the same in this series. More variety or less photos would have been better.

The photos themselves are amazing, and I wish I had taken every single one of them, but as a series it's somewhat too long.

I have to say these images are not any different from the stereotype that the western world has about India. Some people will claim it is hard to not see poverty in India. I want to tell them, you see what you want to see. If you come from Europe, there are more billionaires in India than perhaps in your country. Please do some research and equip yourself with some concurrent data. Unless you are an American or a Chinese, you cannot claim India is a poor country, because in comparison India still has more rich people.

Why then your camera doesn't see them, has to do with the fact that you don't want to see them. Those photos have no value in your circles and will not attract any comments from your fellow. Because those swanky cars, people wearing international brands, having a lifestyle at par with western world will not make a difference to photos taken in your own backyard, unless you turn on saturation +3 and sharpness +5 to accentuate the darker skin tones.

The very same Kolkata has tons of streets that look fashionable, and people shopping there don't look poor by any standards including standards of your country. Unfortunately, no western photographer will be interested in those places. Because, one more time, those photos will not be any different and will have no literary value.

Congratulations Peter Turnley, on a nice series of photographs that earned you some good comments. A camera sees what the man behind it wants it to see.

All the best for your future visits to India. You know as we say - Atithi Devo Bhav.

I hesitated long before I make this comment. First impression--somewhat disappointing. The contrast with Raghu Rai's Calcutta (http://todayspictures.slate.com/calcutta/index.html) is painfully obvious. IMHO, Peter Turnley has been unable to go beyond the superficial. Another outsider, William Gedney, (again, IMHO) did a better job in the 70s and 80s: http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/gedney/ (then search for Calcutta). While discussing these photos a friend wrote, "why is a place always type-cast like that? No one ever photographs the squalor in Paris although there is a lot that I saw or depicts the elegance in Kolkata or Dhaka. I think in western people's brain there is a hardwiring to see India, Bengal etc through a prism of filth and squalor to make it look more deep?"
I, however, don't think it is the depiction of poverty that makes Peter Turnley's work less appealing to me...Calcutta's squalor is certainly what hits the outsider the most--there can be no debate about it. The so-called elegance that rises above the garbage heaps ...and starving children can only be legitimized as an ironic contrast, as Raghu Rai does. But where Gedney and to a more fundamental level Rai succeeded is to feel the pulse of the city-- where people come and go as in all cities, squalor and elegance notwithstanding, but their participants look inward unto themselves. Peter Turnley reacts to the city, and his participants react to him. I get the impression that he walked across the city in a blaze of shutter clicks, half entranced by the color and compositional beauty, whereas Gedney and Rai meditated.


Great work and thanks for sharing it with us through TOP. I've been looking through this portfolio a couple of times for a day or or so to think about what to write (as I have also been to Kolkata for a friend's wedding -- so as a first hand witness I guess at first your photos gave me pause to think).

I think what I like most about these photos is the sense of transparency. I can almost feel the constant action, noise, sights, and smells in this portfolio. I think that's why I needed a day to sit back and look through them again and again -- because besides the basics of photographic technique, colours, or perhaps empathy with certain subjects here, the overall impact of these photos is really something.

When I was in Kolkata, I was amazed at the way that many people I saw were living life at both a very basic physical and spiritual level. The philosophy of their existence and how they existed. This was something that being from Australia, I had never seen or questioned before; and for me this is the celebration of life.

These photos remind me of that. Well done.


Thanks to TOP for the chance to comment. I went on a photography tour about 7 or 8 years ago. The one thing I remember is the way the majority of tour members treated the photography as a visit to a human zoo. (Please do not think I am suggesting Peter does.)

Respect comes from talking to people (most of the time it is appropriate) and photographing if they wish.

Those from India who are posting here are voicing concerns I have heard before.

A Malaysian guide said to me that tourists (photographers are regarded as tourists) seem only to want to photograph poor people and the poor things in their country.

He was upset he was very proud of his country and wanted the world to see it at its best. The best I could say to him was that whilst I admired the Petronas Towers I was only interested in people and I what caught my eye was what I didn't see at home. So BMWs & Mercs & Starbucks & expensive restaurants in Malaysia were not why I came around the world to visit.

I ate in local restaurants, talked to old soldiers etc. not so unusual but in his experience not so usual either.

If anyone wants to see a set of photos I took in 3 weeks in Cuba I put a selection up on flickr. The links are on my website. Nothing extraordinary, simple but the best I can do.

nice pictures. vivid colors. great job.

Powerful story, you've been through quite the journey. Your photographs are stunning, you have a truly wonderful eye. I traveled to Calcutta in 2006 for three months and must have taken over 2500 photographs, when I returned I was asked to show my photographs in an exhibit. I spent my time working with orphans and sick and dying children and my experience there altered my life, the children, the environment and their resiliency. I remember thinking to myself when looking through my photography seeing people who looked at peace, children laughing with huge grins on their faces and then seeing and feeling the pain and agony of what they suffer though everyday. I now have friends over there and will one day return to do humanitarian work with my daughter once I finish becoming a paramedic.
Be well,

I love the pictures, they seems so real. I have seen these pictures over and over again. Every time I see them, I feel like I am there experiencing the life with those people. I am from South Part of India from a town called Dharwad and even though we follow customs they are still different from other parts of India. I guess that is why they call India to be one of the unique places in the world, almost every state has it’s own culture, custom and of course food. It is hard to write it all but would suggest to experience it.

There are a couple of pictures that made me laugh, in a good way. One of them is where an older man is getting his morning shave, it reminded me of my grandfather getting the exact same service during my childhood and me sitting right next to him on the ground drawing/scribbling something on the ground with a tree bark or with my nails. I am sure it still happens in India but you have to be there at the right moment to capture it.

You have captured the daily happenings very well. Yes, I can see poverty in the pictures but that is how most of the India is. We are still developing; IT boom has changed bigger cities like Bangalore, Hyderabad and Delhi but towns and villages haven’t changed much. I go to my grandpa’s village on my visits, my relatives and neighbors are poor, most of them are farmers and live day today, but they are happy and content in life. The city people, like me, are the ones trying to find happiness.

I was glad to see the customs in Calcutta being followed to this day because we somehow lose them over the generations and I hope they/we keep it alive. Thanks for sharing your experience in Calcutta; it is hard to capture everything you see. I love the colors in the pictures; if you had B/W I would have been disappointed. Color speaks for itself of a place, you don’t need to explain. If you go back to India I would suggest you to travel to another state/place, you could then compare it for yourself with your camera or your notepad or your presence just being there. Hope we get to see more pictures.

There is a wonderful flow in your Calcutta portfolio - the thematic repetitions have a pleasant meditative effect on me. No single picture calls out to be recognised for its star quality or special features - they form a magical whole and when viewed a few times leave me with a strange sensation that I have been there myself - heard the sounds and smelled the smells - walked amongst the people - which of course I have not.

I believe it is essential that the portfolio looks and feels deceptively like a series of snapshots from a holiday - they have a genuine real life feel to them. When I go back and spend time with each photograph individually I realise that they are not mere snapshots - they are indeed carefully crafted photographs each in their own right - close ups - juxtapositions - colours - human contact - spirituality - engaged in every sense in the life within them. They massage my subconscious by signalling individual quality in a unobtrusive manner thus easing the flow of the portfolio experience without breaking the spell.

The overwhelming volume of work helps build and hold my sensation of participation and engagement - this is not easily consumed - and I feel rewarded with a lasting feeling that life is wonderful and that it is certainly worthwhile taking the time needed to consciously appreciate it.

the pics are beautiful no doubt.. but being an Indian it really upsets me how ppl are always projecting India as some poverty stricken country.. i love the colors, life and vibrancy that India is usually associated with,which is why i guess slums and poor people are any photographer's favorite subjects when it comes to India.. but if you look beyond poverty you'll see India is a beautiful country and has much more to offer than all this...

i really appreciated being able to see these pictures, and to see as many of them as appear here. i thought half a dozen were extraordinary. it is also educational to see the consistency of style and processing applied.

i have to say a word on presentation, however. this is a horrible way to view the photos, and i don't mean just that they are on the internet. what i mean is that the sizes are too small before you click through, and the long 'list' view is both clunky, and fails to load on portable devices like ipads.

i assume that the reason for sticking with the in-blog tools is server bandwidth issues. i can appreciate that, but i think that there are alternatives. for instance, it could be worth creating a flicker account just to host displays like this; some of their presentation options could work, and one could group different projects in albums. or maybe that isn't the answer, but something better has got to be out there. (for sure i don't mean a flash site--yuck. at least this way we can open larger copies of the pics in their own tabs to peruse in the order and juxtaposition which is most helpful to us individually.)

i imagine it can seem unfair to criticize this sort of thing, but as a site which regularly publishes reviews/critiques of photo books and museum shows, including presentation technicalities, it seems like a glaring oversight here.

and i can't help but suspect that most of the people calling for a shorter edit of the set might have reacted differently if the pictures were presented differently--even in a book, or pdf book, for instance.

Thanks for the feedback Chris. I'm working on a solution...it's just going to take a while is all.


Those who follow world renowned photographers must know Ami Vitale. A powerful series of photos about India.


Something for people to think about and learn from.

Ranjeet Rain

I live in Calcutta and admire Peter Turnley's photojournalism as well as his studies of cities like Paris. But I must say this set of photographs of Calcutta disappointed me. For someone who experiences these realities daily, the photographs convey no illumination, no moment of insight. Let me say right at the start that I have no quarrel with the depiction of poverty. The images are perfectly authentic, they show Calcutta as it is, and indeed not everyone in the photographs is desperately poor. But I found a certain sameness in the compositions, as well as an inability to enter into the moment that is captured in the frame. Perhaps they speak in a superficial way to the western viewer. But would Peter Turnley want his work to be viewed only in the west? That certainly would be 'marketing' Calcutta for a western viewership, wouldn't it? As a citizen, I would be looking to learn something from how my city appears to a visitor. I'm sorry, I didn't learn anything from this set of photographs. The quality seems to me rather uneven, definitely not the photographer's best work. To me, they reiterate stock images.

Thanks for the great photos Peter.

I just got back this Spring from eight months in India/Nepal.

What strikes me with peter's work is how he relates to people. When I do my (amateur) photographs. I am across the street. As a westerner, the Indians/Nepali stare at me. Peter has the ability to reach out to these people for close up photographs without intruding on them(his brother David as well). None of these people look posed or intimidated by the photographer. They are natural, even at this close range. I wish I could do reach people like that.

"When I do my (amateur) photographs. I am across the street. As a westerner, the Indians/Nepali stare at me. Peter has the ability to reach out to these people for close up photographs without intruding on them"

Yes, that's quite remarkable, isn't it? The mark of experience--


As much as I want to like these photos they are very ho-hum and typical of most peoples attempts to photograph India. I know I was there for over a year and failed miserably.

For an example of how India can look please take a look at the work of the French couple Roland and Sabrina Michaud.

The comments to this entry are closed.



Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 06/2007