This sights are considered a “must” for every photographer.
Eventually the first part of me, the “I-think-I-am-different-than-everybody-else” won, so I challenged myself in trying to get a nice picture of the Taj without going inside. Not only that, the challenge was about doing it in the spare time, because the reason I flew in Agra was not to be back with a nice picture of the Taj Mahall, but it was to produce a story on one of the most polluted river in India.
The first challenge was to find an interesting point of view. Probably 2/3 or more of the pictures of Taj are shot with the reflection of the palace in the rectangular-shaped pool inside the garden. Some other images portray the palace from the other side of the nearby river. But I happened to be there in the dry season and the the big river is just a bunch of ponds and a lot of sand (well, it’s a bit more than this, but my italian-drama side always come out in this moments). Not really encouraging…
Regardless the lack of water, I decided the other side of the river would have been the better option: photography is in many cases a matter of taking challenges and making decisions, and I took mine, for the good or for the bad.
While working in the area, obviously I occurred in to a lot of souvenirs shops, and I noticed that of all the images in the postcards there is not a single picture portraying the landmark during the blue-hour and illuminated with artificial lights.
Bingo! I love shooting at dusk and I thought “it will be easy to make a great picture!”
While getting there, for just a second I wondered why nobody would make a picture in the right time of the day.. dusk-blue sky, all the lights on, perfect balance between ambient and artificial light… why nobody?
I found out the reason a little later, after standing like an idiot in front of the Taj with my tripod for well over 2 hours, with a pitch black sky in the night, and no sign of artificial light at all.
At that point, it became obvious: the palace is not light, there are no lights at all in there. That’s why there are no pictures of it. So, Taj Mahall scores 1, Gianluca scores 0.
I learned the lesson the hard way, and I really felt dumb.
The only decent picture I got was taken a few moments before the dark arrived.
The next following days I was so busy working in the nearby slums (and I was so ashamed for being such a dumb at a first place) that I didn’t really had the time nor I didn’t really want to go back to my own challenge. I was working on a tough topic and I was totally focused. Suddenly the day of my departure approached, and I took the time to explore a bit more the area. I tried framing the Taj with people in front of it, but the time of the day and the situations never really worked well.
So on my last night I got back to the lodging quite frustrated: I meant to capture the mystical sense of the place, the magnitude of the palace, I wanted to show the sense of magic you breath when around the Taj, and not only I was far away to accomplish that, I was about to leave for another part of India the following morning!
I felt bad for my choice of not going inside the monument, it would have probably been the easier option to get a good picture.
But hey, I made a choice, I took the challenge, and guess what? I’ll make it work!
So, rescheduled a later train for departure, the next morning I went back at 4am, pitch black, head lamp on my head, walking in the river bed, paying a lot of attention to 1- not falling in to the water ponds with my gear 2- not stomping on the numerous human feces (the river is used as a toilet by most of the local habitants..)
I looked for an area with enough water to reflect the building (and I found it), I waited for the perfect light (and it came) I hoped for a bit of myst to give that touch of magic (and it was there). Everything looked almost perfect, i was just missing something. While thinking what could have improved the picture, suddenly a flock of birds arrived, filling the top part of the frame and bringing just enough dynamic to the image, filling the right spaces and…voilà! mission accomplished!.
A little later, on a slow and busy train bringing me back to New Delhi, I was thinking what my friend and colleague Mike Yamashita told me once: photographers are paid to be lucky. Definitely, the birds on the last frame where sent by one of Hindu ‘s Gods, and made the entire difference.
I couldn’t be luckier.
Here below you can see a gallery with images shot during the assignment on the working poor.