Hands of Tashi Putit, 85. Sakti village, Ladakh.
Sometimes it's hard to take out your camera .
Visiting a mask dance festival in the Indus valley this week I became part of something I try so hard to avoid, something that always feels slightly wrong.
I take photos. Of people, buildings, whatever catches my eye. And sometimes I don't ask before I do so. But when I'm shooting people, most of the fun is the interaction, the little chat that can come from a simple meeting, the invitation to a house or the introduction to a family.
At this festival I didn't see a lot of that happening. In fact, quite the opposite.
The old lady above was a perfect example of Buddhist calm. She sat there zen like, twirling her mala, almost oblivious to the five long lenses stuck in her face. Maybe she sees it every year, tourists travelling in groups, pockets stuffed with memory cards and brand new SLR's slung over their shoulders, jumping out of buses to take the same photos in five minute bursts before hopping back on board and speeding to the next destination.
It's not the way of travelling that bothers me. Most people only get a couple of weeks off work a year, and those coming this far to Ladakh are obviously the more adventurous ones, travelling far to experience a culture completely different from their own. Respect to them.
It's the zoo mentality I can't understand. Look, shoot, run. Then move on to the next local who looks vaguely authentic, vaguely exotic.
I shot her hands because to me they summed up her life. Creased and twisted, baked from the desert sun, they tell far more of a story than any portrait of her face could.
As promised, I printed the picture today and took it to the post office to send to her village. The woman behind the counter wouldn't take any money, instead she called over a local bus driver so he could deliver it to her personally.
He looked at the picture and smiled. A smile worth more than a thousand portraits.