Capturing the plights of photographers clicking the festivities!

Photos of the festivals appear on our social media, thanks to the photographers. However, what happens behind clicking the pictures between the large gatherings? The Mumbai-based photographers Ujwal Puri and Anand Sheetal Ganesh Mankatty take our notice of the plights of photographers.

Amidst the countless people juggling to get sight of their ‘Ganpati’, the struggles of those who battle all hindrances to capture the idol through the lens are difficult to be explained in words. Handling cameras and tripods on the one hand and the supporting equipment on the other, the plights of photographers are many while shooting the festivities of India as much as it is enjoyable.

A land of festivals, rituals, and rich culture, India observes many festivals all year round, catering to various religions. However, a common thread that binds festivals is the perfect glimpses that come out of these festivities in the form of photographs to be cherished by people all over social media – at least since the time social media has become so relevant.

A picture of Dahi Handi celebrations taken by Ujwal Puri

But those perfect glimpses hold behind long and painful narratives of photographers who give their best to get what they call a “best shot.” Our discussion with Ujwal Puri, a Mumbai-based photographer, started on a similar note, who mentioned the problems that are likely to cross the way of photographers in shooting the festivals.

Started six years ago, photography turned out to be a great healing aid for Ujwal Puri, who was looking forward to giving up alcoholism. Living in Colaba, part of South Mumbai, Puri was also running his family business of textiles, but since the time he opted for photography, his life changed, and he never looked back. Puri learned photography on his own and carried the work as his passion, although he did not give up on his family business, for the disheartening fact that full-time photography was not enough to pay his bills.

Ujwal Puri

It has been quite a long that he started shooting the popular Dahi Handi and Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations of Mumbai – both being the biggest crowd puller in the city, and the first word that Puri has to say about his experiences is “challenging.” “It is challenging from all fronts for the photographers,” he says.

One obvious factor laid down by Puri for his statement is the presence of a huge crowd. “Due to people continuously moving during such events, the tripods are less likely to be consistent, resulting in hazy photographs,” Puri mentions. To capture the scenes of festivities in their most natural forms, Puri tends to keep diverse lenses and improvise according to the particular shots. He often carries three cameras and two tripods that make his bag weigh 20-30 kg.

Due to the large crowd at the festivals like Ganesh Chaturthi, Puri either has to take a bus to the spot or a cab, dropping him far from the crowd. Then comes the walking with the heavy weight on the back. On reaching the site, Puri decides the angles to take the photographs. “There are thousands of photographers shooting these events. So, I always try to present my pictures from a different angle to bring something new to the table, which is another challenge,” he says.

Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations shot by Puri

Sometimes, as Puri mentions, he manages to take permission from the residents of the area to use their windows and roofs to take an aerial shot of events like the breaking of a Dahi Handi. Being a drone pilot famous for taking aerial images, he gets permission easily but not always. “Very often, people do not allow for the same,” says Puri. However, what bothers photographers like Puri is the strict restrictions by Police.

Recounting a Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations at Girgaon Chowpatty, Puri says that he had to wait 3-4 hours for the idol of Lord Ganesha to arrive. Meanwhile, the police were not allowing the photographers to stand with their tripods. “The police told me to move, but I was consistent with taking the photographs,” he says, adding that once, he also got hit by their bamboo stick for not moving away. However, Puri laughs when he terms it to be a “part and parcel of being a photographer.”

Another click by Puri capturing the essence of Ganesh Chaturthi

Due to the lack of a “media card,” police often become persistent in sending the photographers to stand with the crowd and not allowing them space to click pictures. On the other hand, Puri highlights how the cases of eve teasing are common to the women photographers shooting with multiple men around. “The women are well sufficient to handle the situation on their own, but it’s our responsibility to provide them a safe environment by keeping an eye on any mishappenings,” Puri says.

As Puri says, famous for adding to the beauty of the photographs, rain also turns out to be a disturbing element during large gatherings for the photographers. Managing an umbrella along with the camera and tripods is as challenging as preventing the gear from being damaged. Coincidentally, events and festivals like Independence Day, Janmashtami, and Ganesh Chaturthi, fall during the months of monsoon. “The low light prevents the pictures from appearing sharp, and the rain also affects the lens,” he adds.

Another photographer from Mumbai, Anand Sheetal Ganesh Mankatty, throws light on the celebrations, especially in South Mumbai, and says that the festivities are peculiarly distinct from the suburbs. “Although the Matki Phod competitions are organized all across Mumbai, the energy of the Southern part is doubled. Almost every house throws water and colours to the participants, a.k.a Govindas, which falls on not only them but also the photographers,” he says.

Dahi Handi celebrations captured by Anand Sheetal Ganesh Mankatty

Mankatty has been shooting the festivities since 2003. “It is challenging to protect myself and the camera from the water during Dahi Handi celebrations,” he adds. The worst happened to him in 2013 when he was shooting the immersion of Goddess Durga’s idol on the last day of Navratri in Lower Parel. Not only did his camera get covered with the gulal or colours, thrown as customary, but he also suffered it in his eyes. “That incident has been the most challenging for me till now,” he recounts.

How COVID-19 doubled the problems

Although the COVID-19 restrictions were in place, Ganesh Chaturthi was celebrated in Mumbai but not with the usual crowd in 2020 and 2021. One of the prominent places for the festival, Lalbaug, also witnessed a complete closure during the pandemic years. With the small-level celebrations, however, Puri had moved out to capture Ganpati on Girgaon Chowpatty, but people were not allowed to go to the beach. As a result, he had to take photos from the roads at a distance.

Ganpati Visarjan (immersion of the idol) at Girgaon Chowpatty shot by Puri

Even the other festivals celebrated in the last two years posed serious threats to the people, including photographers who had to wear masks amidst their already-existing challenges. “There is always the threat of bringing home the contagious disease, and it scares me a lot,” Puri says. He also adds that the increasing cases of Coronavirus double the fears.

Struggles for the due credit

After experiencing the hustle-bustle, when Puri comes back home, he has to be quick in not just cleaning his camera and lenses but also editing his photos. “Festivals like Ganesh Chaturthi is a short-time event that loses its relevance very fast as once the festival gets over, there is no point in uploading the related photographs,” Puri laments. For the same reason, he says, photographers work during such festivals within a very short deadline.

It affects them even more when after all the hard work, photographers have to deal with the ignorance of online publications that use the photographs without giving the owners the required recognition. “Many times, people use my photos and upload them on their social media pages without giving me credits. I have also come across my video content receiving much more appreciation in terms of “reach” posted on other publications as compared to mine,” he says, adding that it “mentally affects him.”

An aerial shot of South Mumbai by Puri

Nevertheless the shortcomings in the field of his passion, Puri is determined to bring the true colours of Mumbai to the front of the world. He says, “People often complain about Mumbai because of its crowd and traffic, yet they choose to live here. Hence, I aspire to showcase how beautiful the city is, not just to the Indians but everyone in the world.”

But what Puri likes the most about his work is the warmth of people for his skills. While on this Independence Day, he helped a few take better pictures by guiding them, he once was overwhelmed with immense gratitude when a stranger told him that it was through his pictures that his parents were able to see the essence of Ganesh Chaturthi as they could not go out. “Such responses indicate that I am doing my work right,” Puri says.

The immersion of goddess Durga shot by Mankatty

Similarly, Mankatty urges the organizers of the events to allow a safe place or a small space for the photographers to carry out their work amidst the crowd. He says, “A courtesy of providing us space is the least we photographers ask for.” But despite the awful experiences, Mankatty also loves to enter the crowd and click them during the festivals. On asked why he does so, he says, “Festivals are incomplete without people celebrating them.”

Also Read: This is how “mach gaya shor sari nagri re”, aka Dahi Handi, became a bygone episode during Janmashtmi because of the pandemic!

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