Street Photography In India: Contradictions Abound

Sometimes a photographer can choose between two drastically different titles for an image.

When I initially saved this image to Flickr, it was and still is titled Feeding the Pigeons. I could have just as easily named it Fucked-Up Guy Clutching His Bike.

But why did I choose to title it the way I did?

There are a couple reasons, the first of which is I really don't care how I title my images for archiving purposes. After I edit an image and I decide to keep it, I'll upload the high resolution jpeg to my Flickr account for back-up storage. I'll additionally add it to folders based on location and year and what camera and lens combination I was using, among others.

The other reason is, I'll side with dark irony whenever I can. This isn't a common naming scheme for me because getting such stark contrasts in one frame can be difficult, but here's one great example that burns bright in my memory.

India is full of contradictions and bittersweet irony (like any other nation really). But here we find an example which is difficult to ignore entirely as a third party looking in.

It was around 10 am and this man was seemingly passed out and holding onto what's presumably his bike. The man next to him is innocently feeding pigeons. For me, this captures the essence of the streets of India in a very general way. On one hand, there is what we must do and enjoying doing while on the other side of the spectrum, abject poverty and suffering. Often the two worlds are literally at arm's length away.

Another thing I notice quite frequently is people feeding animals while the people in need go largely ignored. But what's to be done about it? At what point in our lives does serving our community take precedence over our daily routines? At what point does feeding the pigeons become absurd and maybe even cruel considering there's a downtrodden individual literally right next to you?

But there is more than one way to interpret this image. It could be that this man was merely sleeping, or drunk, or drugged in some way, etc. Maybe he's not starving? Maybe he's not really in need like many of the street people. This is also an important consideration before we dive into self-righteous territory and cast blame where blame may not belong.

If we were to interpret this image in the way that I personally saw it when I was taking the shot (choosing to feed pigeons over a starving person), then what my wife said after she saw the picture makes perfect sense, in the not-so-nice world we live in: "We all choose what we save."

If you zoom in you can actually see the bird seed on the man.

How would you title this image?

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