Boguslaw Maslak presents “Pilgrims & Sadhus”

platformPHOTO: Hi Bobby, please tell us what inspired you to create this series?

Boguslaw Maslak: Initially, they were the numbers. It was the biggest gathering in the history of mankind with over 100 million devotees taking bathe in Ganga and Yamuna rivers in India. This over 2500-year old Hindu pilgrimage takes place every 3 years in one of 4 cities in India: Nashik, Ujjain, Haridwar  and Allahabad. One circle takes 12 years to complete. Every 12 circles, however, namely every 144 years, Maha Kumbh Mela takes place, which is even greater edition of the festival. This was the case this year. For next Maha Kumbh Mela one has to wait until 2157.

As I was absorbing the statistics, I realised that not the numbers but spirituality was the main drive for me to embark on this project. I mean spirituality beyond individual experience.

platformPHOTO: What is the significance behind the title “Pilgrims & Sadhus”?

Boguslaw Maslak: Title “Pilgrims & Sadhus” represent the ordinary and extraordinary participants of the event. The pilgrimage (this year in Allahabad) took place in dried-out parts of Ganges which narrows its banks during dry season. Everybody was a guest there. Everybody joined a stream of people heading towards the holy river and became one with it.

platformPHOTO: Can you give some information about a typical photo shoot with one of your subjects? Were there any difficulties or restrictions when you were photographing the people? Did anyone not want to be photographed?

Boguslaw Maslak: There was no typical photo shoot. Being surrounded by millions of people one has to mix structural/incremental approach with improvisation. Usually, there are either quick, random shots based on luck and coincidence or the photos which are consequences of a long process of developing relations with the locals and pilgrims.

Because of some degree of nudity at the bathing scene, photography was restricted within 100 meters of the bank of the river. Only media pass allowed free access. In many cases, however, it wasn’t enough as many bathers refused to be photographed what was completely understandable. Apart of intimacy factor also religious believes restricted photographer’s choice f.e. ceremony of shaving heads of new Naga Sadhu members was closed even for Indian media.

Generally speaking, it was a very tolerant and welcoming place.

© Boguslaw Maslak

© Boguslaw Maslak

platformPHOTO: Did any particular moment stand out when shooting this event? Why is that?

Boguslaw Maslak: It was the morning on 10th February which was the peak of the festival when most auspicious bathe took place. Staying by the Ganges just before sunrise, surrounded by 40 million pilgrims bathing in the river was an unique experience.  I was united with the whole mankind. I didn’t know it - I felt it.

platformPHOTO: Why were some photos in B&W?

Boguslaw Maslak: There are few B&W photos. I find photo editing a creative part of the whole process, so I tend to leave B&W-vs-color decision until then. I de-saturate a photo when I think it’d simply look better that way. It usually is to emphasize a form or shape but not limited to that.

© Boguslaw Maslak

© Boguslaw Maslak

platformPHOTO: Can you give us some information about the production and post-production to create this series? And what sort of timeframe did you have to create this series?

Boguslaw Maslak: Production: Canon 5D mark ii, 24-70mm f/2.8 L II USM, 70-200mm f2.8 L IS II USM - Post production: Adobe Photoshop CS6

“Pilgrims & Sadhus” is a collection of images taken within 45 days of my stay at the festival. Such a long time allowed me not only to experience the festival profoundly but also break boundaries between me and my subjects. It takes time f.e. to become an accepted party member of a shaman-type Naga Baba who took the vow of silence.

platformPHOTO: Who was your greatest influence that inspired you to start photography? Why is that?

Boguslaw Maslak: I would call Sebastiao Salgado, Robert Capa, James Nachtwey, Steve McCurry and so on. I have no idea why them actually and why photography in general. It’s like trying to describe why one fell in love with somebody. It just appealed to me. I like observing and documenting the human element under pressure.

Also, films of Stanley Kubrick and Ron Fricke (in particular “Baraka”) were big influence on my photography and film.

platformPHOTO: Thank you so much for your time today Bobby, we have one last question for you. If we sent you to a desert island and allowed you to take only one picture with you by another photographer, what would this image be?

Boguslaw Maslak: This is impossible to answer. Definitely not a stock photo with sandy beach and palm trees, as I would have plenty of them anyway.

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