This past weekend I happened upon a parade in Greenwich village called the Festival of the Chariots, one of India’s most ancient and popular festivals. It was cacophony of color and sound and I knew it would be a great location to work on making some new Touching Strangers. I rushed home and then back to Washington Square Park with my 8 x 10 camera. One of my main objectives was to cast a young Indian girl dressed in a sari ( to me they often appear as visions of loveliness) into a Touching Strangers photograph. As I have said previously on this blog these photographs are really challenging to make and trying to procure an Indian teenage girl, most likely raised in a traditional conservative culture to make a portrait touching another person proved even more challenging than you can imagine. After one awkward attempt where a girl backed out at the last moment and four more rejections, I finally found a group of girls accompanied by their mother who consented to my request. I now had one half of my photograph and went in search of the other. I quickly found two men that were tourists from Sweden, both handsome, blond and fair, and somewhere in their late twenties, who were up for the task. At this moment I start to work quickly, posing my subjects, framing the shot, and finding my focus. Behind the ground glass the scene I had created was of two beautiful girls with gorgeous hair and skin wearing vibrant purple and blue dresses standing in front of two handsome chaps with there arms folded around the girls, all in front of a large tent made of textured black tarp. I felt that feeling of magic that occasionally happens when making these images, that this performance was special and unique for all of us. At the very moment that I was ready to close the shutter a man that had been standing on the periphery burst into the scene and grabbed the girls out of the frame. I was devastated - it was over. Apparently this man was a part of the group that these girls came to the festival with and though he was not a relative felt that he had the authority to overrule the consent of the mother. This is patriarchy at its core. The distance between the behavior of that man and the horrible injustices inflicted by men on woman the world over is not very far at all...
Read about the experience from the mothers perspective here.
Here is the mother's digital shot of my sabotaged image.
©Dhanny Palma 2011