At 86 years old, this Gujjar Bakarwal woman still walks over 100 miles twice a year between the peaks of the Indian Himalaya to the lowland plains. Her stories can be read in the lines in her face. To me, this photograph epitomizes the strength and beauty of the Gujjar women. Unlike the other photos in this series that were photographed wooden huts, this image was made in the canvas tent where she was cooking over an open fire.
Today I did something I never do, I entered a contest. I have been getting these emails from PDN about this contest they run every year. It is called Faces. As the name suggests, it’s a portrait contest. From environmental portraits to studio portraits–from animals to people it doesn’t matter; if it’s a photo of a face it can be entered. Several people have been encouraging me to enter contests. My wife is always saying, “You’re so good, why don’t you enter contests?” But she is my wife. She has to say nice things like that. Then I started hearing it from Ami Vitale. Ami often judges contests and has told me over and over that I should enter. Ok … enough already, I have entered.
The contest entered is in the Personal Project Series category. As I looked through old projects I remembered how Mitchell Kanashkevich often commenting about how much he liked my older shots of Gujjars: the shepherds of Kashmir. As I culled and dug through old images I found several that I felt carried a theme of strength. These people are some of the most amazing people I have ever met. How many 86-year-old great grandmothers do you know that still hike the mountains, and for over a hundred miles? There was also a stylistic theme that came through as well. Each portrait was taken in a doorway of either a hut or a tent. This gave a studio feel to the image with soft light wrapping their faces and a background where the light dropped off. If you would like to vote for one of these images on PDN feel free. Just click the button below it and it will take you to that image. I hope you enjoy these.
A Bakarwal Gujjar shepherd young mother and daughter in Kashmir, India. The Bakarwal are a nomadic tribe that live in the highlands of Kashmir in the summer and migrate to the lowlands during the winter. I found this small extended family of Bakarwal as I was trekking in this region.
This young Bakarwal Gujjar shepherdess was sitting in her doorway shyly waiting to have me take her photo. Her mother was unsure about me till I asked about their life using my little bit of Urdu. This seemed to break the ice. The Barawal women are strong and proud and possess a wonderful sense of humor. The intense mountain light reflects off the bright granite stones around this girl’s house to give a wonderfully soft light on her face.
While sitting and having Noon Chai or Salt Tea with a Gujjar family in Kashmir, this young woman kept staring at me. It was hard not to stare back as she had the most amazing green eyes and to my delight her duputta or scarf seemed to match them. I shot this image as she sat and appraised this stranger drinking tea with their family.
I call this photo the “The Aunt”, because everywhere I visited, this woman seemed to be in the background. Making salt tea, chapatis, rice or just stoking the fire, she always seemed involved in life in this tight knit community. Personally, I love how this photograph shows the intricate braided hair that the women wear and the embroidered hats that are unique to the Gujjar women.
This young 16 year old Gujjar shepherdess was the big sister to many of the children in this small community. Whether she was actually their sister or not I’m not sure. Like many of the Gujjar women I have encountered over the years, she seemed to possess the maturity and self-assurance that seems to come with living the hard and difficult life of a nomadic shepherdess in the Himalaya. I think this photograph shows this strength.