Vibrant. Chaotic. Fragile. Colorful. Magical. These are some of the words photographer Scott Jackson uses to describe his time in India. Although he initially needed some encouragement to journey there, worried that travel in the region may be too challenging, Scott ultimately left knowing that his experience would forever be unmatched.
Scott shares: “It’s experiences like these that make you realize that you must be open to life and surrender to its wonder, whatever situation you find yourself in. Surrender to the madness, embrace the chaos and always, choose ‘dare’ and not ‘truth’! It may sound like a cliche, but its true. The world awaits you.”
What brought you to India?
This is a question that I had asked myself often before I decided to go on this journey. If I can be completely honest, I never really had a desire to go–which in hindsight sounds completely ridiculous, considering India was by far the best cultural experience I’ve yet to encounter. I’ve always admired Steve McCurry’s documentation of India, and many of my friends who have traveled there have immensely enjoyed their experiences, but I still remained hesitant and, truthfully, had to be persuaded to go. What was I really afraid of? Yes, India is chaotic but its also joyful and colorful and magical. It presents a conscience reality that is fragile and exposed to the core, and I suppose in thinking about that, I decided to go, making my first stop in Rajasthan.
Do you have any ties to the region?
I don’t, but I do feel connected to it in some ways. I am of African-American descent and had some reservations about how I would be received in Rajasthan, but I was surprised by the humility of the people and filled with admiration. They made me feel like I was one of them. I can recall walking through its constantly surprising and vibrant streets and being approached about what part of India I was from.They thought I was South Indian. It was mind-blowing. I even had an encounter in one of the mosques where an older Indian gentleman serving lunch to the locals asked why I was sitting with my caucasian travel mates. Why wasn’t I sitting with the others, he asked. Maybe it was my skin tone. It’s no secret the people of India fall within a broad color range–from dark brown to fair skin. So I can see the confusion but it added a level of element that I wasn’t expecting. I’m used to sticking out, not blending in.
What expectations or assumptions had you made about traveling in India, and how were those met or subverted?
I was well aware that traveling through India would not be easy. I learned this through some research and also in having conversations with friends who had traveled there before me. Imagine sitting under colorful lights, a Sheeva statue glued to the dashboard of a tuk-tuk, as fast-paced Hindi music blares from the back speaker, while the driver confidently pushes the pedal to the floor, zooming past the congested roads, narrowly avoiding accidents. Try sitting on the cold concrete floor of train stations, too tired to care that your personal space has been invaded, or being piled onto buses that never seemed to care how many seats are available. This was my reality. In the western hemisphere, we are raised with organization. When we buy tickets, food, or almost anything, for that matter, we form a line. We have a mutual understanding to remain calm and stand in line. Even if there are no posted rules, we automatically apply these sort of cultural rules in an orderly fashion. In India, this kind of order is simply not part of the culture, and though it is incredibly frustrating at first, when embraced, it can be liberating and quite exciting. Organized chassis what I believe people have called it.
Describe the climate and energy of the region.
Traveling in India is like stepping into a time capsule. At times , you feel engulfed in a secret world that is entangled in its own humanity and beats to its own pace. Tuk-tuks putt along, chirping like sea birds; suffocating dust hugs the cities, at times making it hard to breath; bottles and trash lay scattered along the narrow streets; men and women are busy with daily chores; children chase each other around; the smells of spices and manure drift in the morning air. India in its chaotic and sometimes fragile state remains vibrant at its core.
Did Indian culture influence the way you traveled? If so, how?
When I arrived in Delhi, I initially was unable to focus; my senses were completely overwhelmed. As I continued through Rajasthan, I began to look for ways to focus on small moments, and I started to isolate and hone in on the beautiful little things occurring everywhere around me amidst the chaos. I realized that to really understand this place, I had to get over the physical discomfort and accept the chaos; to be open in ways I had never been before. I don’t think I have traveled in such a way. Never had I been challenged so intensely than here in Rajasthan. I like to think the experience made me a real traveler.
What did you learn about India that you want to share with others?
India is incredible: it is unique, and the contrasts — stark. Daily life is lived in the moment: it is freedom at its essence, chaotic and unplanned. Every breath taken is a gift; every sunrise is beautiful. The people are the heart of the land. Enduring such misfortune, in my eyes, is unfathomable, but the people of India make more than the best of it. Day in and day out, with honor and dignity, they carry out their work. Some set up their outdoor shaving business while others prepare masala tea in their makeshift shops. They work tirelessly throughout the day with huge grins on their faces and a spirit of strength. There is a simpleness and beauty among the fragility of life here.
Three favorite moments or places?
Most people will think I’m crazy for not including the Taj Mahal in this list. Although very enchanting, and everything I wanted and needed it to be, I was more enriched by the personal moments I shared throughout Rajasthan.
1. Participating in the Holi Festival in Agra, India was by far the best experience of my life to date. The streets were buzzing with the beating of drums, a continuous flow of people sang and lauged, and all I wanted was to be doused in array of powdered colors (and that’s just what happened!).
2. I was invited to a family village outside the city of Jodhpur, India, and was humbled by their willingness to show us their life and let us document it through photography. It was a chance to peek into a world in which you once thought was so different, but actually is not much different from your own.
3. I enjoyed camping in the Thar Desert outside of Bikaner. After about a three-hour camel ride into the desert, we got to sit around the fire under the clear black sky in awe of the stars.
What was the takeaway from this experience?
Although India has been well documented by much better and more prominent photographers than I, I have no issues being one of the many. My experiences there are now forever etched into my soul. It’s experiences like these that make you realize that you must be open to life and surrender to its wonder, whatever situation you find yourself in. Surrender to the madness, embrace the chaos and always, choose ‘dare’ and not ‘truth’! It may sound like a cliche, but its true. The world awaits you.
This piece was originally published on March 27, 2015.