Photographs by Ian Atkinson
The work looks at the life of Indian taxi drivers, focussing particularly on the iconic Ambassador taxi. Through the series of images, we see the way the lives of the drivers are intertwined with work, family and national identity as well as their diverse religious beliefs.The work is based around the lives of the Indian Tourist Taxi driver To many of the drivers this iconic vehicle it is not only a method of transportation but a shrine to their God, a place of worship, home - with none of its comforts-, a place to display proud family photo’s and emblems of national identity. These Vehicles are portraits of the very people they represent, displayed for all to see and are in-depth studies of human life in all of its intricacies.
The images show a carefully selected view of the complex identity of the owner/driver, highlighting the cultural identities of the subjects, present or not and give us the viewer the opportunity to understand and revel in the communication between photographer and subject.
Each image is punctuated with its individual owner whether present or not, they tell the story of a nation of many different cultures and religions. Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jainsall represented within one single profession. Each driver and indeed Taxi have a story to tell, some tell of westerners purchasing an Ambassador and hiring a driver, after completion of their journey they hand over the keys, as a way of thank you and the prospect of a better life for its new owner.
Some tell of working away from families for months at a time, the Ambassador becoming their home and probably re-enforcing this idea that the taxi becomes a shrine to family and religious beliefs. It is a home from home.
The work was shot over two visits to India in September 2009 and March 2010, the first work was made in the South of the country and the subsequent visit was in the North, principally Jaipur and Delhi. The taxis were very different in the Northern part of India and in-fact very difficult to find. There has been a huge shift in transport in India over the last few years with the continuing booming economy many families now have the opportunity to own a car and with Tata releasing and developing the worlds most affordable car, more and more Indians find themselves proud owners. This is having a massive effect on not only local transport and in particular the taxi but also the increase of vehicles on the road. Soaring fuel prices have also seen many of the taxis converted to LPG, but even this has not stemmed the tide in the import and locally produced cheaper and more fuel economic cars. Much like their western counterparts there are massive environmental and social implications to this shift. It was once common to see a 30 year old Ambassadors trawling the length and breadth of the country, but sadly; they are in the short term becoming more expensive to run and maintain. However one of the issues relating to this is the fact that these wonderful old cars are incredibly easy fix and were built to last, some if not all of the current imports and locally produced vehicles seem to be ready for the scrap heap well in advance of their age, unfortunately the scrap heap is often the side of a road.
Much like the Ambassador the Tata truck has become synonymous with India roads and not only from a historic and somewhat western romanticised perspective but also from a political and often deeply controversial one. The drivers are often blamed, not without some evidence for many of the accidents caused on Indian roads, their interiors are often filled with lucky charms and in one image in particular a Hindi script exclaims “Still Alive” Plate, the drivers are also often attributed to the wide spread of HIV AIDS through one of the largest road networks in the world, many of the drivers spend long periods away from their families and engage with sex workers spreading the virus from urban to rural areas.
The truck stop can be a fairly lively and sometimes dangerous place to be, many of the drivers spend long periods of time awaiting repairs or phone calls determining their next destination for pick up or delivery. I found these people to be warm, welcoming and incredibly generous they would await my every return asking to see photographs from the previous days shooting and laughing at their friends posing for the camera. Much like the Ambassador these trucks are filled and emblazoned with personal and religious icons, they become a home from home resplendent in colour and decoration, relieving the boredom of countless hours on the road and time away from family and loved ones.
Photographs by Ian Atkinson
Interaction – reciprocal action or influence
This photographic essay looks at the interaction of individuals and how they have a reciprocal affair with the camera and how the camera influences their behaviour. The reaction one gets from a candid telephoto shot is completely different to that of a close up. For this project, I used a lens for that would bring me only a few feet away from my subject, which would either intimidate the subject or an immediate relationship would develop. With almost every household in the UK owning a camera, people have become very comfortable with it. Having our image captured has become the norm, but we are still inherently aware of our own appearance and a peacock like show is often performed to capture our best pose. I wanted to see, if working very quickly whether, my subjects would have time to settle into a pose or whether they would feel uncomfortable and intimidated. I began this project with only the thought of being interested in how people would react to the camera, which undoubtedly I have done, but what followed was something I found very interesting – the majority of my subjects were happy and smiley between the ages of 25 and 50, and all but two were white and predominantly middle class.
I began to ask, as my photographs were asking, were the majority of these people happy and smiley because they liked their pictures taken or was it because they were spending the day in the sunshine, in a relatively wealthy area, looking at art, the majority of which was from their own cultural heritage. I started to wonder what might my subjects look like if my exhibition/photoshoot was in a city location that was not quite as wealthy or so idyllic? Would they be the same because art will attract more affluent members of society or does it depend on what the art is? If we have an art fair that is heavily influenced by an Afro-Caribbean genre perhaps, will we attract attendees from predominantly that demographic? Or if the same exhibition that was on display in Leigh was displayed in a city location, would it attract a more culturally diverse audience?
Ian Atkinson, photographer
The 2010 Commonwealth Games, which will be held in Delhi in late October, has not been without criticism. Many controversial elements of the games are documented in the press, one being the alleged use of child labour to finish the construction of vital transport and sporting infrastructure, thus bringing in to question the Games themselves.
The photographs contained in this book are testament to the normal hard working Indians based around the New Delhi Railway station, itself undergoing a facelift in the district of Paharganj New Delhi.
Arriving in Delhi late one evening in March, I witnessed lively commotion on the main bazaar where angry Indians were discussing a letter they had received that morning. It instructed them to demolish the fronts of their shops and restore the street to its 1960 town plan. They had three days in which to complete the building work with no government or local support, financial or otherwise. Setting about their work with hammer and chisel, they took their businesses apart brick by brick, generations of shop owners standing by watching their livelihoods make way for a two-week sports extravaganza.
Each image is shot against the shuttered backdrop of a closed shop, something only ever seen in Paharganj in the very early hours of the morning; the landscapes and insets show the remnants of the shops’ façades.
Ian Atkinson, 2010