Saffron Miracles by Sean Lotman
In my six trips and eleven total months in India I've developed an extraordinarily ambivalent relationship, of both love and loathing. During my first visit in 2003, I formed an idea for novel set in Northern India. Writing the novel with an accurate eye to place entailed extended research trips that physically exhausted me but were nonetheless inspiring. I never found a publisher for the novel-- however I continued to be intrigued by India and would frequently return to photograph it when I became interested in photography as an alternative narrative means. My last trip to India, in 2013, I'd intended to go to Kumba Mela, which is a stupendous religious festival in central India. In preparing for the trip I developed some considerable reservations and decided to forego the festival (it would turn out to the be the largest gathering in human history and I was glad to have skipped it). Instead, I returned to Gujarat, one of my favorite regions in India, stopping in Pushkar, in Rajasthan, en route. The specific area within Gujarat I especially care about is Kutch, which is India at its most Indian, the way India might have looked when Henri Cartier Bresson photographed it in the late 1940s-- very rural, tradition-bound, and caste-structured-- an entirely flawed social system and impoverished economy, no doubt, but still mostly unknown and very authentic. The region's sole urban area, Bhuj, is much less modern than most Indian towns. It's in the countryside that you really find the India of your dreams. So I hired a driver and guide and set off for two days. There are Muslim tribes and Harajan villages and they are all welcoming. It is almost too easy to photograph their gypsy clothes, to romanticize their ingenuous capacities. And the photographer will be helpless before all that color. It is very bright in this region and most of the time I was using my Nikon f3 camera set at F16. But unbeknownst to me, there had been a problem with the lens. It didn't really open at that setting so only very little light was actually reaching the film. Consequently, when I got my negatives back and looked at them in on the light board, around half of them looked completely dark. Traveling in this part of India is serious business and so much of photography is luck so I was horrified that so many shots I'd been excited about appeared compromised. I actually put my head down on the light board and wept for all I'd lost. It was only when I began darkroom printing in earnest that same year that I discovered something remarkable: that if I exposed the paper to the strongest light for about 100 seconds, I was able to salvage the image-- that it would not just be salvaged but would come out with a strange, ethereal texture that made the print look aged, as if it had been shot in a bygone era. As a sentimentalist who loves old things and romanticizes yesteryear atmosphere I was thrilled by the consequential photographs. For me, this eccentric creative process makes them miracles in saffron. Herein are some of the images from that February, 2013 trip, which included the towns and cities of Pushkar, Ajmer, Ahmedabad, Bhuj, Jamnagar, Dwarka, Junagadh, and rural Kutch. All are scanned from 8 x 10 color darkroom prints.