India. Far-flung and famous for its food, colourful festivals and fast-growing population, the Asian Subcontinent has unsurprisingly become a popular destination for holidaymakers, entrepreneurs and big-businesses alike. It’s a country where perilous mountains give way to golden sands as visitors traverse, baffled and bewildered, through countless countless cultures, languages and climates. It is so utterly distinct from the UK and yet, in part due to its deeply troubling history at the hands of colonisation, we here in Britain have a longstanding connection with the country.
Yet, despite this relationship unfurling through the ages and continuing today, there remains much of India that is still unknown, unappreciated and, frankly, misunderstood by many of us.
Photographer, traveller and former anthropology student Cam Macfie has spent the last couple of years since graduating documenting these parts of the country, shedding light on the vast expanse of culture hidden within them. Equipped with little more than a Canon in hand and a Bourdain-like thirst for adventure, Cam’s travels to parts unknown offer a coup d’œil of an India unseen by most, highlighting both the country’s beauty and brutality, and affording viewers a glimpse into areas even many seasoned travellers have never seen.
Encapsulating the nation’s many regions in impressive scope and depth, from quiet communities nestled in secluded mountains to bustling city streets, Cam’s work blends close, intimate portraiture with considered street and documentary shots, retaining an artistic quality that serves to paint a stunning picture of the country, while doing so in a way that offers so much more in the way of social commentary than the standard travel photographer. Recently home from a trip to the region and fresh off the back of a submission to the LensCulture Visual Storytelling Awards 2019, I thought it as good a time as any to catch up with Cam and discuss his beginnings in photography, future plans and the inspiration found in embedding himself in remote cultures.
EJ: Hi Cam. Given your eye for a great shot, it’s undeniable you’ve got a talent for photography. Could you tell us a little about yourself and how you got started in the medium?
CM: Hello Ed, and thank you. Not much to tell. I’m 23. Spent the majority of my life in the education system, growing up in rural Sussex for much of this time. I moved to Manchester to attend University after taking a year off to travel on finishing college. I picked up a camera some time in this period, wanting to create. I have always had a desire to escape from the confines of education and explore, and I think that naturally evolved into endless wonderings with my camera. Since then, it’s been a hobby of mine and a means through which to express my enjoyment for travel!
EJ: Even those of us that have never visited India are aware of the beauty and bewilderment it has to offer, but what led you to the country and why take the camera? What were you hoping to capture?
CM: The vastness of the country with its endless diversity was a major factor. One can spend weeks there without seeing another traveller if you want to. That kind of exploration, without any structure or expectation really appeals to me. Taking my camera along builds a bridge between myself and those I interact with. It sparks an interaction, and pushes me into new situations that probably wouldn’t arise without it. I didn’t really hold any hopes or expectations for subject matter, I just wanted to dive into something completely fresh every day and maybe create something in the process.
EJ: As you mention, India is a country renowned for its distinct culture and social structures, particularly when compared to the UK, as well as the resultant ‘culture shock’ many get when visiting. Did you find that this difference and any related shock affected or inspired your photography at all?
CM: Honestly, not at all. I just enjoyed being in a new environment and challenging my understanding of the world day by day. It’s a great place for that!
EJ: Kashmir is perhaps an area less well-travelled by people not native to the country. What was it about the region that made you keep going back? Does it offer something photographically that other parts of India, or even the world, don’t?
CM: Nestled along the Himalayas, the landscape in Kashmir is indescribable. After spending some time there, meeting people and staying in family homes, I became aware of the awful situation that has been ongoing there. I heard endless stories of family members being raped, killed and shot. Almost every day there were reports of these abuses continuing. It was the emotional feeling I had towards those living there that made me want to keep going back.
EJ: The portraits in the project are, in my opinion, your most stunning shots, displaying an impressive intimacy, detail and gentle appreciation for your subjects. How did you find photographing such remote communities as an outsider? Was it difficult to build the rapport necessary to get such close and considered shots?
CM: Thanks Ed. I found it really lovely. Being an outsider in those remote areas is an exciting experience. Every day I would wake before sunrise to the sound of various mosques in the village at prayer time. Individuals were so friendly and hospitable, building a rapport came very easily. They seemed as interested in me as I in them. I always felt comfortable. Walking around and chatting to people meant nice interactions, opportunities for photographs, and lots of cups of chai. This resulted in me spending lots of time inside people’s homes, where many of the portraits were taken.
EJ: Where do you draw your inspiration from? Are there any other photographers you look to for insight, or do you rely on your own eye and what you see in front of you?
CM: There are many travel and documentary style photographers whose images I enjoy. However, I tend not to carry any expectation with me when taking photos. I guess the inspiration comes from moments of meditation where I am fully present, sharing my humanity with another. I like to reflect how that moment feels in some way.
EJ: Aside from Northern India, where would you like to capture next and why?
CM: I’ve been thinking of travelling through the African continent some time soon, so perhaps there. During my degree I studied the colonial era in Africa. Challenging some of the colonial discourses of the ‘Dark Continent’ that existed during that period is something I’d like to do. No formulated plan, but setting out without any preconceived ideas makes things so interesting. Not knowing what I will find or who I will meet makes me want to go there.
See more of Cameron’s work Here.