50 Striking portrait photos from Kerala – India
shared by Jackson Groves
Kerala, also known as ‘God’s own country’, was a destination that produced marvels around each corner and unique experiences each and every day of my two-week journey. I walked the streets, wandered down the alleys, clambered up mountains and trudged through mud to meet a number of the characters I was fortunate enough to photograph. Often the photograph that resonates with me the most from a specific trip is the photo with a little story behind it.
Often the photograph that resonates with me the most from a specific trip is the photo with a little story behind it. Several of these photos have a little story behind them, which I will share below the image.
I get lots of messages about how I approach the people in my portraits. The answer is simple. I do not ask permission to take every single photo. However, if I make solid eye contact with someone, I gesture to the camera, ask to shoot or try and read their expression as to whether I should continue or not. If I notice any reluctance I will reconsider the shot. Generally, if it is a more intimate portrait I will only shoot with permission but general street photography I just go with my intuition.
In Kerala, when people saw my camera they often called me over to take their photo. Men were often incredibly serious trying to look professional or tough in their photos. Women tended to be slightly shyer than men of the camera. However, when they did have their photograph taken they allowed their personality to shine through a little more.
All of these photos were shot on my Sony A7ii with a 55mm 1.8 Zeiss Lens.
I visited a nature park which offered elephant rides to tourists and tours of the local plants, herbs, and spices in the park. While riding animals isn’t something I am interested in being a part of, it is a job and a way of life for hundreds of elephant owners and trainers across India. This trainer stood by his elephants while posing and resting his head on theirs throughout the half hour I was with him.
When I first met this little guy in his Barcelona jersey he shouted at me to get my attention but then he got shy and ran back to the wall of his house. He was still smiling and I shot a few photos. I tried to give him a high-five but despite a nod from his mom, he was too scared. I said goodbye and headed down the alley but after a few seconds, he shouted at me again from the end of the alley. I crouched down and extended my hand for a high five from the end of the alley. He took a few tentative steps, looked back at his mother and then sprinted down give me a high five and skipped back to his mom. We played this game a few times and each time he skipped back as happy as can be.
When I headed over to chat to this wise looking old man I had no idea I was about to the subject of his art. He asked me to take a photo of him and his friend before telling me to give him a pen and paper. I obliged and then he ordered me to stare at the purple shutter right in front of me. Not quite sure what was going I did so. Three minutes passed and my friend and I were laughing and talking about how ridiculous I look, staring at a wall only a foot away from my nose. At one stage his friend even told me to shut up for two minutes! His drawing is actually quite good but he assured me if he had his better glasses the drawing would have been much better.
Taking photos of women in Kerala, India requires a little more tact than shooting men. Kerala is home to many different religions who live harmoniously but with each religion comes different customs. Some women are reluctant and head for the hills when they see my camera but others are even more outgoing than the men or boys. Women with small children and babies often ask to have their photo taken with their young one. Pride pours out of their smiles in these photos.
After taking a cruise along the backwaters I headed out a farm behind a small village. At sunset, this farmer was burning off some the crop. I decided to run out into the smoke and asked if I could shoot his portrait. He didn’t speak a word of English but nodded. I then spent the next hour running through the fires he had started everywhere.
On our press trip ‘Kerala Blog Express’ with the Kerala Tourism Board we visited a local museum. After exploring the museum I still had a spare twenty minutes before I was due back at the bus. Not one to sit around and wait I wandered around until right next to the museum I came across a fish dock in full motion. Hauls were being brought in, sorted and loaded. Thanks to my mate and fellow blogger the Tiki Touring Kiwi also known as Jub. He trudged through the fish guts with me only wearing flip flops.
I stumbled upon a group of kids playing soccer in the street with a ball made from tape. I joined them in the hot afternoon sun for a while before they decided to show me their talents. First was skidding on the bikes around the corners before they moved on to the acrobatics show where everyone was all about the cartwheels!
The colors of the Indian flag seemed to creep into a lot of the portraits I took. I’m not sure if these color choices were intentional or luck. If you are wondering why on earth anyone would dye their hair orange, I was told it was to hide the grey hairs. Not necessarily the most subtle of choices but rock on.
At the Chinese fishing nets, I found the most interesting things going on were behind the nets. Stalls selling fish, chai tea and ornaments were manned by some of the most interesting characters I saw throughout the entire trip.
People are more affectionate in India, especially the men. It isn’t uncommon to see two men holding hands walking down the street or with their arms around each other. Many times when I was about to take a photo someone would rush off to grab their best mate and it made the moment much more special. I got to see a lifetime bond in so many situations.
The Chinese fishing nets are something I had never seen before. Huge contraptions that haul in big nets multiple times a day, hopefully, full of fish. The men working these nets sit in fishing huts in between hauls hoping their next catch will be bigger than the last.
These three men are people I approached purely because they have an awesome beard. There is nothing more the story with these shots than beard appreciation.
Here are the final portraits I took while in Kerala. It truly is one of the most vibrant places with such a rich history and culture.