Baggage handlers, Agra, India, 2008
I don’t show them handling baggage. Instead, I use the first image of this picture story to launch my theme – the nature of the people who travel by train in India and those who depend on them for a livelihood. These men represent a cross section of those who serve the traveler’s needs: one is old, the other young. I shot it from the window of our bus as we waited for own luggage to be unloaded and transferred to the train platform at the Agra station. I don’t show them stacking mountains of baggage. Instead, I allow my caption to tell the viewer what these men do. I leave it to the image itself to convey a sense of resignation – their work is hard, their pay minimal. They must do whatever they can to survive.
Station beggar, Agra, India, 2008
Poverty is widespread throughout India. Beggars aggressively accosted travelers at stations on both ends of the trip. This young girl holds her younger sister as a device to draw attention and gain sympathy. She probably works for her own parents – this is how her family survives. I shot this image from the window of our tour bus as we waited at the Agra station for our luggage to be unloaded. As I shot, I noticed the younger child unconsciously echoing the hand to head gesture of her sister, a gesture implying frustration and despair. My black and white format intensifies the mood. Both children wear colorful clothing to draw attention. I negate that color by reducing it to monochrome, leaving the eye to focus on frustration and need alone.
Heavy lifting, Agra, India, 2008
As he waits on the platform for the train to Jhansi, this man casually reads a Hindi language newspaper. It gives the image its sense of place. Incongruously, he travels with at least a dozen huge sewn packages, using one of them as a seat. We wonder what may be in them, and how he will get them from the platform to the train and then out again at Jhansi. Who will do the lifting?
The Agra-Jhansi Express, Agra, India, 2008
This image is the turning point of the picture story. All that goes before is prelude. All that follows is the journey and its aftermath. The train itself makes its appearance. Horn blasting, it rumbles towards us on the tracks we first noted in the previous image. Incongruously, two young men scamper across the tracks just in front of it, something we would rarely see in an American or European train station. The men who wait patiently on the platform just above them provide a counterpoint. We wonder if these train dodgers will make it in time – they not only must cross the tracks but also haul themselves up on to the platform. The image prompts us to wonder why they take such risks. That is part of the nature of India itself. What may seem risky behavior to a Westerner may be everyday living to these young Agrans.
Soft seat coach, Agra-Jhansi Express, India, 2008
These upholstered seats are premium accommodations on this train. In India, many still travel long distances packed into coaches with hard benches. Others may buy standing room fares, hanging on to the train from the sides, or even squatting on the roofs of the cars. The coach was dark and dingy, reminding me a US commuter coach from the 1940s or 50s. The passengers seem determined to make the best of it.
Mid-point stop, Agra-Jhansi Express, India, 2008
Our express train made a station stop at Morana. I photographed a family in the process of leaving the car. Shooting at 1/20th of a second, I deliberately add blur to both the car and the people, providing a sense of movement and urgency. I also contrast the genuine emotions of the passengers to the faked smile of the model in a cellular service advertisement on the wall at right.
New passengers, Agra-Jhansi Express, India, 2008
I shot this picture through the window during our brief stop at Morana. The window provides a frame within a frame. The surging confusion on the platform contrasts to the relative quiet on the inside of the car suggested by the darkness surrounding the window.
Multi-tasking, Agra-Jhansi Express, India, 2008
A young mother entering the train at Morana must not only handle the heavy door to the coach. She must also carry her baby and supervise another young child as she enters. The dark and gritty nature of this image complements the difficult nature of this moment. (I was sorely tempted to help with the transition, but decided otherwise. I might have made matters worse. So I stayed in my front row seat and made photographs of the logistical struggles.)
Arrival at Jhansi, India, 2008
This is the only image showing the exterior of the coaches themselves. As I alighted from the train, a man ran up waving his arm and talking to us in Hindi. I had no idea what he might have wanted. However his gesture suggests a big hello, a spontaneous welcome of sorts, and an end to the train ride itself.
Postscript, Jhansi terminal, India, 2008
As we walked through the dark Jhansi terminal, numerous beggars made desperate appeals to our tour group. We were instructed by our guide to “look straight ahead and keep walking.” If just one person had stopped to give money to any of them, we might have been mobbed. And so we walked briskly -- and somewhat guiltily -- past them, one culture virtually stepping over another. I kept my small camera pressed to my hip as I walked, ensuring camera shake. This image was made at 1/5th of a second, a rolling, quivering group of beggars seemingly passing below me. I was soon out of the station, and they were left behind. I felt this image concluded my picture story effectively. It offers a bittersweet ending to a fascinating three-hour journey on the Agra-Jhansi Express.