This photo essay, on the medieval town of Bundi in the Thar desert, was compiled over a couple of years and three separate visits. The first time was a fact finding mission that yielded some images of the main sites, and planted the seed for a later visit focused more closely on the thriving miniature art scene there.
1. The mighty fort-palace of Taragarh utterly dominates Bundi, and in the context of a general story it needs to figure in the first image. However, I didn’t want to use the standard angle, shooting up at the walls from the town below, as there was no obvious way to link this shot to what follows. Using the palace windows and a willing assistant (who, by the way, I wish I’d posed more interestingly) as foreground detail, I instead put the focus on the other outstanding feature of Bundi: its beautiful old town of blue houses.
2. The following shot puts some detail into this second theme – slightly abstract, with a bit of local life in the shape of the kids on the roof.
3. Down at ground level, the painted streets contain a host of opportunities to capture the quiet details of everyday life. You can’t plan for these moments, but if you put yourself in the right places at the right times of day, and wander the streets slowly with a friendly smile, they have a wonderful way of presenting themselves.
4. The colour of the last two shots leads into the subject of painting, for which Bundi is renowned. The inner walls of the palace are festooned with beautiful but crumbling images, such as this one of Krishna and the Gopis.
5. Having established the arty theme, I wanted to show that this type of painting is still a vibrant tradition in Bundi. I asked a few local people who was the best artist working in town. Each of them gave me the same name: Soni Gopal. By happy coincidence he was the very same painter who’d earlier hauled me off the street and into his roadside studio for a long chat over several glasses of chai. Here I’ve chosen an environmental portrait which shows him quietly at work; the women walking past in the background balance the composition and add to the sense of unhurried movement.
6. I’ve cheated a bit here – this photo is of a different painter – but for continuity’s sake I wanted a close-up action shot to come next in the sequence.
7. Gopal’s own fingernail – a testament to his prodigious brush skills.
8. After such an extreme close-up, I needed an image with which to transition back to the overall theme of Bundi. This detail shot of a langur against a soft-focus background, which the blue buildings instantly identify as Bundi, does the job fairly well.
9. Back to the palace, which now appears in all its lofty glory – but with a slight twist from the typical angle thanks to the palm tree.
10. And to finish, the inevitable sunset shot. Thankfully the dusty red sky, the silhouettes of the palace, and the two spires piercing the sun give this one some much-needed context.
David Stott is a writer and photographer based in Australia.