Western Zone of the Indian Railways


I heard there’s a train strike in Paris. The passengers know, and I regret this with a smile, some minor inconveniences. So I can’t resist the pleasure of telling you about the indian trains where, to use the formula of the quidam who wrote a special theory of relativity, “everything is relative”…

A few days late… trains.

The train leaves a few times a day late. It’s not because of the strike, no, it’s a delay problem. Western Indian Railways has indeed a complex network across the country. The slightest incident, even minor, has a domino effect of gigantic proportions in each state. For example, the Mumbai train may be delayed by the monsoon flood, the Delhi train may be held up at the station by a member of Parliament who is dragging his feet and taking advantage of Western Indian Railways. There are also mechanical problems, electrical problems, station loading problems, railway track problems, vandalism, theft on trains or accidents. Taking the train in India is an adventure. 
In France, the distances covered are limited to a few hours. In India, trips last more than one day, often two to four days. India’s rail network has a total length of 115,000 km. It is estimated that over 30% of India’s railways are overcrowded with trains. And to make it worse, most of India still has single-line connectivity. This creates problems at crossings. Trains have to make unexpected stops at many locations, again resulting in delays.   

To endure these incredible delays, the best thing to do it is to take the time to get the best of them… - What else could you do? 

If you are rich or if your name is James Bond (or Hercule Poirot), you can take the “Palace on Wheels”, the “Maharaja’s Express” or the “Rajasthan on Wheels”, with amazing interiors, sumptuous lights and remarkable cutlery. But if you like meeting India, the real one, take the 3rd class of Western Indian Railways. When the train starts, it moves so slowly that you can catch it running. If you have a quick trip planned, you may be a little disappointed. 

To better appreciate the Indian train, forget that you’re in a hurry. At this level, time no longer matters. You will have time to read a book by Amartya Sen or Suketu Mehta, time to share tea, time to take pictures, time to get off the train to buy doughnuts, time to sleep, time to look at the landscape, time to lose all notions of time, time to see India and time to finally meet again.   

The delay of the French trains is nothing compared to the Indian one. 

I took the train from Paris this morning, it was 40 minutes late because of the strike… I can’t believe how patient the Indian trains have made me. But with this winter cold, here in Paris, I must admit that the time seems longer on the train platform. “That’s relativity!” would have declared the father of the general relativity theory.


Street Photography in the City of London

Businessmen and passers-by in the neighborhood of the City of London

I was in London. I had to make about 30 portrait photos for company. During the lunch break, one hour, I took advantage of it to take a little street photo. Curiously, I was very intimidated at first. Usually, I’m like a rhinoceros running around in the savannah, like a madman. And then I spotted a man with a bald head who made me think of a character from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. And then, for 30 minutes, I chased the faces out of the neighborhood.


Four glances that caught my eye

It was definitely a thrilling exercise for the gaze to browse the stands of the 149 galleries selected in Paris Photo, the international fair of Parisian photography. Four glances caught my eye, and I’m going to present them to you.

I’m always searching for inspiration when I browse through photo books.

Do you know the Cannes Film Festival? Well, Paris Photo is pretty much the same thing but centered around photography (it’s also a little less glamorous). Paris Photo is an international art fair of photography held annually since 1997 in Paris, in November. The fair takes place in the Grand Palais, exhibition hall and museum complex located at the famous Champs-Élysées. Every year, Paris Photo invites a selected country and their native artists. I had the pleasure to meet some great photographers, whose books are in my book shelves.

I am a passionate amateur photographer, and above all I am an avid photo book reader. I think books are the lifeblood of every passionate photographer. Photography cannot be practiced without a culture of the image. We’ll always need some inspiration from the photo books. Let’s meet these four talented and inspiring photographers.

Mao Ishikawa 石川 真生, who documented the American occupation of Japanese territory in the 1970s  

Have you ever read Hot Days in Camp Hansen or Red Flower, The Women of Okinawa by Mao Ishikawa? The first book is very hard to find and is now very expensive. Red Flower is still available and its price is affordable. The book contains magnificent black-and-white photographs taken between 1975 and 1977, showing Mao and her friends, along with black soldiers who frequented bars in the occupied territories of Okinawa. 

Speaking a little Japanese, I was able to sympathize with the famous photographer who has a lot of humour! She began photographing American soldiers in a bar in the Afro district of Koza city. To make this project Mao worked there for a period of around 2 years. The result is a frank and cheerful portrait of the girls she worked and lived with and the GIs who frequented the bar from that district of Koza city.

Mark Cohen, an intrusive street photographer

I had an other appointment with photographer Stuart Freedman. When I saw this gentleman with thick glasses. His face looked familiar. Shit! Mark Cohen, over here! Unbelievable. He was presenting his new book, Mexico City. Always close to his subjects, Cohen manages to release from his images the surrealism and strangeness of a daily life. Like photographer Stuart Freedman, Mark Cohen becomes a magician, he makes the most banal details poetic. He really captures the strangeness of everyday life.

Mark Cohen may not be well known to the French. He is, however, one of the greatest street photographers like Bruce Gilden. Mark Cohen is a trailblazer in invasive, or as Cohen calls it, intrusive street photography. He works with his rangefinder, flash and photographs often just fragments of bodies, foot, limbs ,lips, details of clothing… I have been deeply inspired by his book: “Grim Street“ and “Dark Knees.”

If you look at his video, you may notice, Mark Cohen approaches his subjects very close, in the space of a few fractions of a second, and takes them to flight, sometimes dazzled by the artificial light of the flash. For me, he belongs to this family of action photographers like Dougie Wallace, Bruce Gilden or even Nick Turpin. He’s a master of street photography!   

Dougie Wallace, a funny street photographer

Dougie Wallace is also called Glasweegee. These colored photos remind me of Garry Winogrand or Bruce Gilden. I love his large format Hardback book Road Wallah. His style is an overabundance of post-production in terms of warm colors, but they have raw, filmic energy. Obviously, the theme of India, has made me buy this book published by Dewi Lewis Publishing. Like Bruce Gilden or Mark Cohen, Glasweegee’s approach consists in capturing the subject just before they become aware they are being photographed. The result is a bunch of human expressions, from astonishment to amazement, while the overwhelming heat, noise and movement of the city are palpable beyond the cabin. 

Now you might think it’s easy right? Back in 2012, I tried to do the same thing with the Delhi autorickshaws. I missed all my pictures. You could always see my reflection on the windshield. So I asked Dougie, curiously, how he did it. Do you think he kept it a secret? No, he enthusiastically explained his approach technique to me. That’s why I encourage you to go to Paris Photo, to discuss with these famous photographers and get some advices. During the fair, Dougie Wallace was presenting his latest book Well Heeled. My children and I laughed as we watched these incredible portraits of dogs. My daughter told me, they look like tex avery dogs because of the strong expressions. It’s not a touching book about cute dogs. It’s a relentlessly intrusive photography book.   

Stewart Freedman, the photographer who writes love letters

On December the 13th,2015, I was talking to Steve McCurry at the Artazart bookstore in the 10th arrondissement of Paris. Next to the piles of books belonging to this photojournalism star, there was a book with a red and blue cover that caught our attention. When I leafed through the pages of this book entitled The Palaces of Memory, I was struck by the serene beauty of photography. I did not hesitate to buy the book and I even wrote to its author, Stewart Freedman, to congratulate him. I think this is the first time that I have taken this photo book in my bag, which I consulted every day. I found the book calm, soothing and romantic. And then he reminded me of the Indian Coffee House where I was going to relax. The Palaces of Memory focuses on the history of Indian Coffee House, a restaurant chain in India, run by a series of worker co-operative societies, originally founded amidst the cultural and political tumult of India in the 1930’s. Palace of Memory is a love letter and pictures tribute to Indian Coffee House. In 2017, Stewart Freedman wrote a second love letter to London’s Eel, Pie and Mash shops. 

On Saturday, November the 11th, at 6:30PM, I met Stewart Freedman for the first time at the Paris Photo fair. He dedicated his second book The Englishman and the Ee at the stand of Dewi Lewis Publishing. The Englishman and the Ee is a photo documentary, a journey into that most London of institutions, the Eel, Pie and Mash shop. In my opinion, his first two books should be seen as stanzas of epicurean poetry. The first stanza was dedicated to the pleasure of the table of Indian Coffee House and to the behind-the-scenes life in restaurants. The second stanza was dedicated to the behind-the-scenes life in London’s Eel, Pie and Mash shops. If you like poetry in pictures, I advise you to discover Stuart Freedman’s work.

Information about photographers

Maho Ishikawa: Mao does not have an official website but she is very active on Facebook.
https://www.facebook.com/MaoIshikawa2017 or https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mao_Ishikawa

Mark Cohen: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Cohen_(photographer)

Dougie Wallace: http://www.dougiewallace.com

Stewart Freedman: http://www.stuartfreedman.com/

Using Format