Following on from the blog post of the 19th Jan, the alarm was set for 06:30. Perched on two grand chairs at the front of Sambhavna besides a roll of carpet at the crack of dawn must have looked an odd site. We’d ordered a loading-auto to transport us and our over-sized items to the clinic for transformation. We waited and waited and then chased up our driver by phone, who said we were to wait just 20 minutes more. When this time lapsed, what arrived was a man on a motorbike who explained politely (via translation) that it was a very cold morning; the driver doesn’t like getting up in the cold.
So later than expected we finally arrived to the clinic to set up. It was very dusty so we spent most of the morning crouched with a dustpan and brush clearing up. Sadly we had found out on Sunday that our Zardosi work hadn’t been completed on time either, so next we were off to collect four more strips of 12ft material from Old Market for the backdrop so not to hold up the shooting time. This proved a waste of time, albeit useful for testing. By the time we’d hung it, placed the carpet and chairs and done some tests, we were completely out of daylight again and being hounded by mozzies. On the Monday evening we collected the now embroidered backdrop, and Tuesday morning was much the same as the day before… It turned out we needed another full day to get things right. This time we’d realised it was far too time consuming to have eyelets put in the material to hang it (unfortunately, a pole wasn’t possible as we’re in a tin hut with a sloping roof and nowhere for attachments), that we went on a mission to bulk by some big clips which proved far easier (with thanks to help of the people of Sambhavna who were willing to help us track them down). I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it in the first place. Then, with a slightly bemused material vendor, we were back for yet more material. After reviewing the initial tests I realised the floor of the clinic was far too grubby to look like a studio, or at least the one I had envisaged, so we decided to cover it. It was then down to content placement and lighting and, without wanting to rush this, I wasn’t actually ready to photograph a family until Wednesday. A little disappointed, I was reassured that only two days behind schedule was actually pretty good for India.
I’ve now been photographing for seven days straight, and yesterday was our first, and deserved, day off since shooting. It was slow at first. On the first day there were 3 families. Then 14, then 6, then 7. It had been a bit cold, in fact it was Bhopal’s coldest day of winter so far, and again proof that people didn’t like to come out in the cold.
It was much discussed with Sanjay, Deven and Sathyu that if we produced peoples’ prints throughout the project, rather than at the end, we’d generate a lot more interest for people to come and have their portrait taken. This way they actually had a visual reference to what the studio looked like, and what they would receive in terms of a print of their family portrait. So on Saturday evening we had one print made up for every family that had turned up so far. Just to clarify these are also self-funded, but a gesture I wanted to return to every family that came for a portrait. Without people’s commitment to the project none of this would have been possible, after all.
Then it was Sunday, and Sunday happened to be a public holiday. And by this time news had spread and people had seen some prints. 46 families turned up in one day, by far exceeding my estimate of an average of 12 families a day, per 6hr day. If anything this was too many people, and I think we were all a bit exhausted.
Although we had the prints to show, we didn’t start giving them out right away. I wanted to get the right print sleeves and labels first, so that each one was presentable. I think we also needed a strategy. Each day has been busier and busier (though thankfully we’ve not exceeded 46 families in one, albeit longer, day). We’re now into the routine of shooting from 8am until 1pm, then packing away the kit, preparing the prints and handing them out from 2pm. After the break-in, where they were inevitably looking for laptops and cameras (which were obviously not left in the studio), we haven’t been able to start any earlier than this as there just aren’t enough people up at that time to warrant our safety. But we have a routine now, and I think that’s a good thing.
The first day we gave out prints it was manic. Lorenza, Sanjay and I were carefully trying to match up each print with someone in the photograph so that each one went to it’s rightful owner, but it was very difficult to fend off the enthusiastic recipients who bombarded us at all at once. Thankfully, the prints were very well received when they got them.
Now that people have prints, more people want prints. Yesterday we had queues of families waiting outside the Nawab Studio for a portrait, and we even had to turn people away. Still, we managed to shoot 33 more families in a day.
Thus far, in the first 7 days shooting, we have photographed 131 families. This was the first, and thankfully Rafiq (left) who owns the small shop close to the studio has now abandoned his work in favour of Nawab Studio crowd control.