Chasing the light on the streets of Delhi

Streets of DelhiGet bitten by a dog at 5 and you’ll jump at 50, the science is truly fascinating. From the amygdala to the pre-frontal cortex and fight or flight responses, it has been on my mind since I returned to the Indian capital. It is of course the place that was my introduction to India just over a year ago, and to cut a long story short, she bit me hard in my naive state. The three days I spent in the central region of Paharganj couldn’t have passed quickly enough!

Delhi is a hard place to avoid as you crisscross the country and I now return for the 6th time. Previous visits have been short, and Paharganj was always given a wide berth after our first encounter! But it’s now as a supposedly more seasoned traveller that I find myself back in Paharganj for an 8-day stay. Kind of like a mini challenge I suppose! So how did I fair? Well after a near mini breakdown on the first day, pretty well! You’ll get used to anything in this world, but you somehow can’t suppress those amygdalic responses  entirely. The need to retreat to a quiet relaxing corner to recharge are still a necessary part of every day.

Photography in Delhi

Plans for making a timelapse movie of Delhi were quickly tossed aside after arrival. Much better I thought to slap a “nifty fifty” on the front of a small camera body and head out to discretely  photograph the streets.  Ladakh aside, in India’s far north, her landscapes have never overly inspired me but her streets have, no end. The interaction between light and subject is what good photography is all about, and where better to reliably get it than on the narrow alleys which crisscross the Indian capital. Come evening, those longs shafts of light that filter through the dusty air provide no end of opportunities for anyone with an eye and a camera.

Two consecutive afternoons of thunderstorms provide that welcome benefit of a cleaner horizon by the third day. The sun allowed to dip a little further before sinking behind the haze prolongs that golden hour light a little, where before returning to grey that wash of colour on the Indian streets lights up and thrives for a short while longer. Evening after evening the traversing sun funnels down the narrow alleys, its beams illuminating a slender line awash with activity. The camera of course is the ultimate tool to suppress the distracting mayhem around that lone subject while bathed in that very stream of golden light.

In Delhi, few are shy in approaching, and in truth it can be an overwhelming place at times.  The brashness of the locals however is in some ways what makes it such an easy place to do photography. It merely encourages me to reciprocate. I have yet to visit a country where people are so open to being photographed. They seem impossible to offend when I stand behind a camera.

With the Delhi streets awash with constant activity, the recipe for a striking photo is to find the light and wait for the action to come. You rarely have to wait long for this. The sheer amount of activity ensures that a distinctive face will inevitably wander through your field of view before long.

The oftentimes uncomfortable occurrence of a local staring unashamedly can in fact be the making of a great photo. The almost uncontrollable urge they have to glance my way with a curious stare as I stand in the shade on a street corner is what can transform many a photo. It’s them in their environment, the best way to photograph them and document their lives. Take them out of that moment, and like most Asians, the head sinks into the shoulders, and a genuine expression is difficult to extract in what becomes an altogether awkward posture. Quite the opposite from the west, where with our instinctive poses, a moment somehow can’t be enjoyed unless photographed. A tragedy in some ways perhaps, but here I like to think that it’s the opposite.

Funny how the noise and chaos on the Delhi streets can suddenly become almost entirely unnoticeable, and how time can quickly become a non-issue as I find myself almost oblivious to the commotion around me. I’m in my element in these circumstances, it’s a million miles away from those wasted years spent in an unfullfilling job wishing Monday was Friday, and 9am was 5pm.

I’m abundantly happier wandering the busy streets following the arc of the evening sun as it dips toward the western horizon, seeking out those shafts and the playful interaction with the countless interesting subjects certain to saunter through before long.

Making peace with Delhi

After all our differences I had at last found something I love about this city, having finally found a way to adapt to the surroundings. Locals don’t walk the streets of Delhi jumping at the sound of every honking horn, nor do they hurry past the line of people stalled behind a parked rickshaw on a narrow alley, nor do they feel agitated by the honking motorbike that decided to use the footpath rather than deal with the stagnant traffic. Once you get beyond these perceived inconveniences you see the city in an altogether different light. What follows are a number of shots I took on the streets during my time in Delhi. Enjoy!

P.S. I left Delhi a few days ago and have just returned to Ireland after two years on the road for a break from the travel! Hope I can keep the blog going though!

Connaught Place, New Delhi

Stuck in Traffic

Muslim Man in Delhi

Indian kid

Young Indian Muslim girl

Indian Woman

Indian Muslim

Indian in evening light


Indian woman in evening light

Local on the Streets of Delhi

Muslim beard

Woman in rcksahw in evening light

Indian Muslim woman

Old Indian man on the streets of Delhi

Burka in evening light

Indian spitting

Locals in Delhi

Burka Eye

Muslim in Delhi

Indians on Delhi Streets

Rain and Rickshaws in Delhi

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  • Jack Stafford

    Lots like a hustling bustling place. Too many people for my liking 😉 But you captured the diversity very well.