Colours and faces of India, a book by David Krasnostein AM, is so organised that there is a great elegance to the presentation. As the title suggests, the book is Krasnostein’s photographic journey of India drawn inimitably from his travels as a portraitist holding his curiosity on the streets.
A portraitist at heart, Krasnostein captures people and faces as this is how he sees and feels India most powerfully. “A book largely of portraits aspires to be a family album—family in the sense of family of humanity,” he says.
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Krasnostein’s love affair with India began years ago as a young man when he first visited Delhi on business. The scent of sandalwood and other aromatic spices, the roads streaming with vehicles, wandering cows and camels, a wedding procession of ‘caparisoned elephants covered in marigolds’, the blaze of colours, et al—were enough to hook him.
Over the years, he has gone back to India many times learning and absorbing as much as he could. Krasnostein believes the reason why the country has maintained his curiosity for a lifetime lies in its “astounding diversity… no other country has such diversity in all aspects of its culture, nor such intensity. It is impossible to be indifferent about India”.
Further, he says, “The diversity of thought and freedom of religion within Hinduism leads to an astounding variety of expression. Unlike most western religions that require obedience and an adherence to rules or dogmas of what to wear, what to eat, how to pray, and ultimately what to believe, Hindus are free to roam intellectually and spiritually.”
Given his western education, Krasnostein says he had no idea that nearly 5,000 years ago Indians were flourishing in the Harappan civilisation while Europe was just emerging from the Stone Age into the Bronze Age. “Modern Europeans saw civilisation as the product of the classical world in a Euro-centric view of world history. They couldn’t contemplate that India was far advanced long before history even began to be recorded in Europe.”
Understandably, Krasnostein’s fascination for India has led to this laborious photographic passion, a kind of a spontaneous story telling from a vantage of abundance that you find in the streets of India.
Since retiring some 10 years ago after a flourishing corporate career and as a lawyer, Krasnostein devoted himself to photography, focussing on travel, street photography and portraiture. In 2019, his first book A Resilient Spirit—Greek Life During The Lost Decade was published by The Hellenic Museum of Victoria. Colours and faces of India (teNeues) was released last month. When not engaged in photography he is actively involved in various charitable endeavours, including being a Director of The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, The National Breast Cancer Foundation, The Aikenhead Centre For Medical Discovery and The Hellenic Museum of Victoria. In 2019. he was honoured with an Order of Australia by The Queen.
In conversation with David Krasnostein AM.
You chose your journey from Old Delhi, Jaipur, and Varanasi to the tribal villages of Gujarat. Any reason for that particular trail?
Yes, this is but a tiny slice of India. India is a massive country of 1.4 million people. It is incredibly diverse. Trying to capture all of it would take a lifetime and 100 books. So I felt it was necessary to just take a slice of it and try and do that justice. There are a million photos of such sites as the Taj Mahal, so I tried to find aspects that hadn’t been so exhaustively covered by others. Gujarat fascinated me as it is home to many of the 80 million native Indian tribes and not as well-known as other places. Some of these tribes preserve ancient traditions, songs, traditions and ways of life going back thousands of years.
How long did the whole process of shooting and bringing out the book take?
I made two trips to India for this book, one in 2019 to the Ganges, Old Delhi and Jaipur, and the second trip in early 2020 to Gujarat for two weeks. I have travelled to India many times over the years on business and for pleasure, but these two trips were specially for the book.
How would you describe your presentation of India in this book?
In designing this book, I have not sought to give a balanced view of India. It represents, instead, the personal journey of an intimate stranger. What the country and its people have taught me, where the eye travelled, and the meanings I made from what I was lucky enough to see. I make no judgements, attempt no comparisons and, above all, do not pretend to interpret what you see. Nor have I chosen to include images of its modernity. Traditional India is what drew me in and fuelled my passion to learn more.
Who are your influences?
I greatly admire photographers like Steve McCurry who is a great portraitist at National Geographic, but also William Eggleston who I discuss in my Introduction as a photographer who searched for the extraordinary in the ordinary of everyday life. I also greatly admire artists like Francesco Clemente (a Neapolitan artist living in New York) and the late Sir Howard Hodgkin, both of whom were fascinated by India. Hodgkin travelled to India some 30 times during his lifetime and as abstract expressionist captured the colours of India like no one else in his paintings. Even though his work is completely abstract, those who know India well immediately recognise that these colours could only represent India. I also greatly admire great historians like Michael Wood and William Dalrymple who write about Indian history in a masterful way and are quoted in the book.
What is the gear you have used?
My camera is a Nikon D850 which is a versatile camera perfect for India. While I prefer using prime lenses for their sharpness, my 28-300mm zoom lens came in very useful.
What genres of photography do you work on?
I see myself as a portrait, travel and street photographer. Some of my work is on my website www.flaneurimages.com.
Can you share any tips for shooting in a crowded vast country like India?
This is a real challenge. On the positive side, I have always found Indians love to be photographed. I rarely ask permission and get a refusal. In fact, many times people walking by or their friends will call me over to have their photos taken as well. And there is the decision about what not to photograph. I think it is important to be culturally sensitive and careful about not intruding on those who are praying or engaged in spiritual or personal activities. Much Indian life is spent in public on the streets, so this not an unusual experience. Also, I choose not to photograph some of the more confronting aspects of Indian life. While it is a vast and spectacular country with amazing sights, sounds and smells, there are some very confronting aspects as well. I chose not to photograph that aspect as I am not a documentary photographer and see no need to present a warts and all ‘balanced view’.
Lastly, what’s your next ambition in photography?
I am fascinated by Morocco and hope that will be my next book once we are over the Covid 19 restrictions and are free again to travel.
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Colours and faces of India, a book by David Krasnostein AM, is so organised that there is a great elegance to the presentation. As the title suggests, the book is Krasnostein’s photographic journey of India drawn inimitably from his travels. #TheIndianSunhttps://t.co/46To9jb33P
— The Indian Sun (@The_Indian_Sun) March 5, 2021