Since the nineteenth century India has captivated photographers from the West. It offers imagery of unsurpassed exoticism and splendor. Today that extreme is coupled with imagery of unparalleled social misery. India is a subcontinent of extremes: geographical, climatic, religious, social, and material.
If you stand high above the Ganga at the top of the Banaras ghats just before the sun begins to rise, it is the smell of the Indian earth itself that first fills your nostrils—moist, raw, elemental. As the sun edges above the horizon, the old city seems elemental too, as if, like the beaten earth beneath your feet, Banaras has somehow always been here, overlooking the broad, silvery river.
With Robert Frank's View from hotel window-Butte, Montana, the camera eye became a metaphor for the human eye in a brand new way. This image from The Americans (1958) has been discussed in terms of the landscape it delineates-tawdry curtains, desolate streets, prohibitive mountains-but to me it has always been about looking, about point of view, and about photography.
Time has given him a heavy face. The master is sitting in front of his audience, with his features carved in front by a flowing but limited light. Coming at an angle above and from the left, the light appears as if it were divination, intuition falling like a beam upon the earthly life to which we are apprenticed.
GODFREY FRED AQUILINO studied with Ansel Adams and John Sexton at the Ansel Adams Workshop in Carmel, California. His view camera prints from a 1984 India trip were exhibited in New York last year, and he recently returned from a three-month photographic trip into southern and central India.