Medinet Habu, Luxor: In the kingdom of monuments

These are from collection of images I had shot on a trip to Egypt more than four years ago. The Medinet Habu temple in Luxor, West Bank, is a monumental structure built by Rameses III.

Having read Norman Mailer’s ‘Ancient Evenings’ in my youth, witnessing in person the war, magic, gods, death and reincarnations; the lust, ambitions, jealousies and betrayals in the land of the dead was indeed a dream come true.

The vivid inscriptions and relief work on the massive walls and columns of this grand monument left me stupefied, maybe even a bit dizzy and disoriented in the arid air of the desert. Like the 700 page book, the stories proved too bulky to both comprehend and digest especially in a quick, unplanned, self guided tour. What I figured is this: you must spend a lifetime in Egypt to really learn, find and absorb all the facts and perspectives, an hour or two is just not enough for a temple this size.  An ancient civilisation so grand, mesmerizing and powerful, even a week that we spent in Cairo and here was inadequate.

I decided instead to capture what my eyes were seeing while listening to what was being said by my better informed friends and family accompanying me, not to mention the locals, the touts and the guides who would tag along uninvited.

Before entering the temple we stopped by at a local cafe for a bottle of water. The Egyptian owner, a middle-aged man claimed he was born in one of the courtyards inside the temple. “A brick was used to cut the umbilical cord” he added with a certain brutal look in his eye. His mother would visit the temple to rest inside its cool and airy courtyards he informed us. “Better than any modern-day air conditioner” he winked while handing over a tepid bottle of water to me. Though he left the village as a youngster to find a better life in Berlin, he said the place has a magnetic pull, hence he returned to set up this little cafe at its doorsteps. “It’s special, very special”,  he shouted behind us as we made our way to the entrance.

The entrance to the Temple is like a fortress. The colour of sandstone everywhere dazzled my senses.

The massive gateways lead from one courtyard to the other. As I found out later, the Medinet Habu is one of the best preserved mortuary temples at Thebes. The complex of buildings here dates from the time when Hatshepsut and Thutmose III dedicated a temple to Amun, around the Roman times. A Coptic church was also established in the second courtyard of the temple at some point of its long history.

DSC_0156

The first monumental gateway leads into an open courtyard, lined with colossal statues of Ramesses III on one side, and uncarved columns on the other. The second gateway leads into a peristyle hall, again featuring columns replete with inscriptions from the life of Ramesses. One must have at least 4 hours to discover all the ramps, gateways, courtyards and chapels.

Medinet habu

The sheer scale of this temple’s architecture blew me away. The temple walls measure about 16 meters in height and contain more than 7,000 sq ft of decorated wall reliefs! Whew, imagine the extent of workmanship on display here! And to interpret the stories… no wonder archeologists from all over the world have lived and died here.

DSC_0165

Rameses was one of the most notable warrior kings of Egypt. The temple decoration mainly consists of a series of reliefs and texts telling of the many exploits of the king. From his campaign against the Libyans to, most importantly, his war against the Sea Peoples (as I gathered later mainly the Minoans from the Greek island of Crete).

DSC_0172

The Military theme is evident in both the inscriptions and large sculptures erected in various ante rooms. Ironically the sculpture itself was beheaded. Left me wondering ‘whodonit’!

DSC_0170

Madinet Habu also contained luxury goods within. Frankly I was curious to know how much had been plundered by those excavating or even casually exploring this place over the thousands of years of its existence.

Medinet Habu Egypt

The temple is said to have a palace built inside it. Could these intricate hieroglyphics be telling us the story of a kingdom rich in gold, silver and precious stones as much as about deceit, betrayal and greed?

Medinet Habu Egypt

Since we were here on a spontaneous visit without a guide, it was hard to figure out what these inscriptions depicted. On some of the walls it was easy to see some warfare while the others seemed to depict the daily life of the kingdom. I could see themes ranging from festivities and religious ceremonies to the Pharoah’s accession to the throne. I believe artisans would start working on inscriptions from the time a Pharoah is born!

Medina Habu Egypt

My friend struck me as a powerful woman with this royal backdrop, almost as if she were a queen walking in the courtyard of the royal palace

DSC_0173 copy

This was the burial room where Rameses III was probably mummified. So I gathered from this Egyptian who could hardly speak any English. He claimed to be a guard. There was nothing official about my interpretation of what he said.

Posted in Documentary photography, Photo essay, Travel | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Like hell, this is our world.

Is plastic the final evidence of economic growth? Is economic growth sustainable for the planet and the health of our own lives?

Is plastic the final evidence of economic growth? Is economic growth sustainable for the planet and the health of our own lives?

For me, it seems bottled water and garbage bags are the real evil in this world. One has to cheer LA for banning them. If the rest of the world follows we could minimise the plastic flotsams floating in our oceans.

For me, it seems bottled water and garbage bags are the real evil in this world. One has to cheer San Francisco for banning them. If the rest of the world follows we could minimise the plastic flotsam in our oceans, threatening to get back at us.

I'm very concerned about the planet I may leave behind for my children. Is there a solution in sight? I try to minimise the use of plastic in my home.

I’m very concerned about the kind of planet I may leave behind for my children. Is there a solution in sight? I try to minimise the use of plastic in my home.

These are a set of experimental photo illustrations/collages I had done for an art competition a couple of years ago. I mixed many photos, (all three are my family at home and/or on vacation) at different moments of time in different places. Garbage dumps, flotsam and other waste are the symbols of our consumerist nature as human beings. Can we help it?

These quasi realistic images are now collecting dust in my hard drive. I had a dream of projecting them on various walls; in a controlled environment of a gallery; on public walls in the streets; in shopping malls as digital screens; even as digital screens jutting out of a landscape or simply junked in garbage dump as an art installation.

What do you think? Are they shocking enough to spread a message if they turned up in any of the above mentioned forms in your neighbourhood? Would we ever be able to give our children the beautiful planet we inherited, or as someone said have we successfully snatched it from them?

Posted in Documentary photography, Fine art Photography | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Reflections of an impressionistic kind

That's the impressionistic artist in me and the way the camera records it.

That’s the impressionistic artist in me cropping in closer into the details of the photo I shot below. Pretty Monet like, the way the camera records it, I thought.

I wish I was in Paris in the 1880's with this marvelous camera. Here is the more obvious impression of the deep forest in Masinagudi, Tamilnadu. Yes, its a winter sky and foliage

I wish I was in Paris in the 1880′s with this marvelous camera. Here is the more obvious impression of the deep forest reflected in a rivulet in Masinagudi, Tamilnadu.

Posted in Fine art Photography, Landscape Photography, Travel, Weekly Photo Challenge | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Weekly Photo challenge: Reflection

I tried making the reflection a little less obvious. No cropping, no retouching, this one is as it is, a forest reflected in a watering hole for the animals that inhabit the area.

An attempt to make a reflection a little less obvious. No cropping, no retouching, this one is as it is. If you haven’t guessed already it’s a forest reflected in a watering hole for the animals in the area. Shot in Masinagudi, near Ooty, Tamilnadu.

The Nilgiri Hills in Tamilnadu have a thick forest cover with tea gardens sharing spaces close to each other. The area is famous for its unique flora and fauna. Late one January morning this year, a Tiger went on the prowl in the area attacking human settlements nearby. It is said to have killed three human beings causing a scare among the daily wagers who mainly earn their living from working in the tea gardens. The first victim was a woman tending the tea garden. This caused a stir among the villagers who were too scared to venture out to work. The elusive tiger continued its rampage over two weeks before it was shot dead after a massive hunt by special task forces.

This picture is from a trip to a forest reserve in the vicinity a month before this happened. Ironically we were there to sight a tiger but were not that lucky. In retrospect, maybe that was a good thing.

For those of you interested in this bit of news, here are some links:

http://www.ndtv.com/video/player/news/tiger-which-had-killed-three-people-near-ooty-shot-dead/306540

http://www.ndtv.com/video/player/news/tiger-scare-near-ooty-shuts-45-schools-massive-hunt-after-woman-killed/304583?vod-related

Posted in Fine art Photography, Landscape Photography, Travel, Weekly Photo Challenge | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

Quintessentially Indian: Politics, Bollywood & Cricket with a good, strong cuppa

This quaint tea stall in a vegetable market in Aurangabad never ceases to amaze me.

This quaint tea stall in a vegetable market in Aurangabad never ceases to amaze me. News and tea are inseparable almost everywhere in India. An invaluable insight gathered from this photograph after I shot it. I was pleased as punch to receive a nomination for it at the 2013 Black & White Spider awards concluded last year.

Continue reading

Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , , | 14 Comments

Weekly Photo Challenge: Inside

A photographic  experiment of ‘inside’ juxtaposed with the ‘outside’ in a contemporary home with large glass doors. Ended up looking like multiple exposures :-)

inside3 Continue reading

Posted in Fine art Photography, Weekly Photo Challenge | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

Weekly Photo Challenge: Perspective

Though the challenge is about smart cropping techniques that change the way we interpret a photograph, these pictures are exactly the opposite. Call me ‘old school’  but one of my earliest lessons in photography taught me to frame ‘in camera’ and the lesson has stayed with me ever since. Those were days when analog photography made shooting a hundred random photos expensive and wasteful. Life was a lot slower then, of course. I wonder how greats like Henri Cartier Bresson would respond to this challenge in a manic digital age like ours.

I think framing perfectly in camera is far more challenging. You must be a keen observer with predictive qualities of a tennis player to know when to hit the shutter. Hence, I don’t have a before/after series. The before is in the after, as I offer a perspective on architecture from a distant past.

This is a set of photos I had taken on a trip to discover Mogul architecture. The grand scale of the Fatehpur Sikri & Agra forts offer wonderful insights into ‘perspective’ as visualised and executed by artists way back in the 1500′s. Though the structures are built on principles of symmetry, they’re hard to capture so perfectly symmetrical! After all everything was hand-cut/hand-made. The geometry is fascinating. You see it in the calligraphy, in the mosaics on the facade, on the columns, the balconies, in fact in the architectural plan itself. I hope these perspectives tell an engaging story.
 
agra-and-ahmedabad-179
 
Akbar the greatest Moghul emperor tried to unite India by marrying a Christian, a Hindu and a Muslim wife. His fort in Agra has four corners uniting different faiths by depicting and fusing architectural motifs from all over the world. He tried to fuse different perspectives in his fort in Agra that housed his harem.

Akbar, the greatest Moghul emperor of all, tried to unite India by marrying a Christian, a Hindu and a Muslim wife among many others. His fort in Agra has four corners uniting different faiths by depicting and fusing architectural motifs from all over the world; executed by a variety of artisans of different faiths and geographies of India.

This is where the queens rested, worked and played. Facing a massive courtyard in front. The rows of doors and windows are their rooms.

This is where the queens rested, worked and played: facing a massive courtyard in front. The rows of doors and windows are their rooms with beautiful little trellised balconies. This architectural concept was and is popular all over North India, particularly Rajasthan. One of Akbar’s wives was a Rajput Hindu. This is her wing.

The Trompe-l'œil creates a sense of celestial drama. There was a strong European infulence seen in the Hagia Sophia in Turkey

The Trompe-l’œil creates a sense of celestial drama. There seemed to be a strong European (Cristian) influence, something like the churches and mosques I’ve seen in Turkey.

agra-and-ahmedabad-187

One of the royal courtyards of one of the queens.

One of the royal courtyards the queens and her attendants probably gazed into from the opposite side. I was intrigued by the penthouse above!

For years together post independence, these magnificent forts were abandoned and unattended leading to desruction and cheap graffiti rendered by trespassers.

For years together, post independence, these magnificent forts remained abandoned and unattended, leading to destruction and cheap graffiti rendered by surreptitious visitors who sought free refuge in its grand interiors.

The motifs seen on the mosaics and paintings on the walls and arches of the forts have inspired many a textile designers. Be it, block print motifs or the indigenous kalamkari designs they borrow generously from Mogul architecture seen all over India.

The motifs seen on the mosaics and paintings on the walls, arches etc have inspired many a textile designers over several generations. Be it block print motifs or the indigenous Kalamkari designs, most ethnic Indian prints borrow generously from Mogul architecture seen here and in possibly Hyderabad & Rajasthan.

agra-monkey-miniature

A stroll around the courtyards of the king transport you into the backdrop of a miniature  painting.

A stroll around the courtyards of the kings, transport you into the backdrop of a miniature painting.

Posted in Documentary photography, Fine art Photography, Photo essay, Travel | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Oh those ladybirds!

I have no idea why I never grew into Penguins. Am so hung up on my Ladybirds (for every age and every stage)! I went all the way to a wildlife resort in Masinagudi, Tamilnadu to capture these instead of a wild boar or a tiger as I was told, but never found.

If you’ve grown up on Ladybird classics as I have, you can imagine why I went so far to find the real one.

The ladybird starts her day on a playful note a bit like me, except its far more dexteruous than me!

The ladybird starts her day on a playful note a bit like me, except its far more dexterous than me!

This ladybird won't ever need a roller coater. it will challenge itself and work its way to it's destination.

This ladybird won’t ever need a roller coaster. it will challenge itself and work its way to its destination.

Aah! Breakfast!

Aah! Breakfast!

Posted in Documentary photography, Fine art Photography, Macro photography | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Postcards from Kovalam

Kovalam delight: Be sure to be lured by a tangy bite of Pineapple by the beach

Be sure to bite into a tangy bite of Pineapple by the beach, she’ll be sad if you don’t.

#2: Be sure to venture into choppy waters with mostly men for company. Wear a costume that means a T-shirt with shorts, a two piece costume will get you into trouble if not a one piece

Venture into the choppy waters with mostly men for company. Wear a costume that means a T-shirt with shorts (a two piece will get you into trouble, if not a one piece). We’re very conservative here in Tamil Nadu.

#4: Stay at the German Bakery old hotel in simplicity and eat their delightful cakes at tea times looking at the blue sea and sky.

Stay at the German Bakery, it’s an old budget hotel; 70′s-retro-hippie style. Delight in their home-made breads, cakes and local fish preparations. Sit back on their roof-top restaurant at tea-time whilst treating yourself to the sounds of the roaring blue sea with your favourite book for company.

The home spun lungis in dazzling colors are best bought from a street vendor who will give you a free tutorial on tying it securely.

The home spun lungis in dazzling colours are best bought from street vendors who will enthusiastically give you a free tutorial on tying it securely. They cost a pittance as compared to the shops that display the same along the beachfront.

#4: Don't miss a massage or two or three to put your woes at bay at least for a day or two.Don’t miss a massage or two or three. As this lady told me “to put your woes at bay you must come back tomorrow and the day after to really benefit else your body will ache for at least a month”.
We chose to go to Dr. Unnikrishnan's Ayurvedic center, a beutiful serene cottage built on an elevation surrounded by plants and coconut groves.

We chose to go to Dr. Unnikrishnan’s Ayurvedic center for an authentic Kerala massage. It’s a beautiful contemporary Kerala style cottage in a serene place behind the beach; built on an elevation surrounded by fragrant plants and coconut groves.

OOT_0598_01

The lighthouse beach is a hotspot for surfers, beachcombers, swimmers and tourists of course!

The Lighthouse beach is a hotspot for surfers, beachcombers, swimmers and tourists from all over the world.

DSC_0167

OOT_0563

The lighthouse beach is a popular spot for shopping, eating fresh fish and walking, not to mention the rocky beach and a strong tide lashing away at it.

The Lighthouse beach is also a popular spot for shopping for antiques, eating fresh fish and walking about. The rocky beach has a few flat patches of black sand with strong tides lashing away at it. You will find plenty of youngsters practicing on their surfboards with lifeguards blowing their whistles as they cross the danger mark. The sea is famous for accidents and loss of life. Fisherfolk here are very enterprising with the manoeuvring of their boats in such angry waters.

Posted in Documentary photography, Photo essay, Portrait Photography, Street Photography, Travel | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Is death such a bad thing?

The dying rose at The Taj Getaway hotel in Coonoor

The dying rose at The Taj Gateway, in Coonoor.

I agree and disagree with John Martin Fischer when he says death can be a bad thing for the one who dies.

Could it possibly be our quest for immortality, that we end up doing what we do: build monuments, make cars, watches, sculptures & artwork; build brands, play cricket, make movies, music, websites and what not! Or is it that our lives are a part of this other ecosystem that plays endlessly in our gardens remaining quite indifferent to such concepts of man?

Perhaps, we’re different and wish to create stuff that outlive ourselves. The Bougainville outside certainly displays no such ambition! So is it ‘thought’ that makes us different from the rest of our ecosystem? Is death thus a bad thing for all us humans and humans alone? I don’t know about you, but when I look outside of myself, I discover the sheer absence of such fragile and finite concepts of time. Especially out there: in the gardens, the parks, the forests, the lawns; in the flora and fauna that surrounds me, life seems to be living in gay abandon.

These are a set of portraits of roses that seemed oblivious of their birth or impending death. The ageing ones were gracefully bowing in front of the sun in the cold air surrounding them, changing color ever so subtly, curling at the corners, spotting on their soft velvety skins and staying blissfully alive in their respective deaths. I wonder if it thinks death is such a bad thing.

This is an ageing red rose, wrapping itself into its fagile drying petals on the outside.

An ageing red rose, wraps itself into its own fragile, drying petals on the outside.

A budding rose optimistic about the sun and cool air.

A budding rose optimistic about the sun and cool air in the garden at the Taj Gateway, Coonoor.

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED ©shabnamphoto 2014
Posted in Fine art Photography, Macro photography | Tagged , , | 8 Comments