20 Jan 2017

A Look behind the Scraps:
Portraits from Delhi' s Black Collar World

Should I stay or should I run? Or: posing is a serious business in India!

On my first visit to the Delhi scrapyard I felt rather shy. I had no idea, how the people would receive me - me being a European tourist, a woman, a photographer.  When I got out of the car my first impulse was jumping right back into the car as soon as I had set eyes on the many dirty workmen populating the streets and looking – what I thought quite hostile. What a misinterpretation!! I started halfheartedly with some portraits and showed them to my “models” who immediately began to giggle.

 But as soon as I pointed my camera at them again their faces would turn to stone and their bodies would assume a stiff posture again as well. It took a while for us to get familiar with each other but eventually they joined in enthusiastically and enjoyed the photo session just as much as I did. I was overwhelmed by the friendliness, the gentleness and the enthusiasm of these dirty guys, who so eagerly and generously bestowed their smile and their time upon me

Half a year later I returned to the scrapyard with more than 60 printed portraits and was so happy to meet almost all of them again – what a delight to watch their surprise and joy when they looked at their probably first ever printed photo of themselves and their friends.

As I found out during my second visit these people live in primitive living conditions, for us impossible to imagine, mostly in a nearby slum which borders directly on the railway. They work without a minimum of protective clothing in an extremely dirty work environment full of hazards. So altogether my visits to the scrapyard were a deeply moving experience, an important lesson about gratefulness.

 That’s why I got two of the portraits printed to hang them up on my kitchen and office wall to remind me every day of how lucky I am.

Once more it became apparent that when you stay curious and face the unknown with an open and friendly mind, "when you are aware of the people next to you, give them a smile, look them in the eye, always at eye level", (by Andreas Altmann), then you will experience the most impressive moments in a foreign country.

Big thanks to Andreas Altmann whose books and reports about India are a never-ending source of inspiration, of joy, of wonder and food for thoughts to me.


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