Is it worth going to Gangasagar Transit camp in Kolkata?

Kolkata as a city never fails in her charm to thrill you with all the myriad activities around it. It is an understatement if I say that this city is a photographer’s paradise. Once upon a time when I used to stay in Pune and my wife had given me a Canon EOS 450 D as a gift; every time I would visit Kolkata since then, I used to carry my camera.

I think this is a common syndrome with everyone with a new camera. You tend to click everything, over exposed, under exposed, blurr and almost all possible images till you settle down with it, know it better and start manipulating it (just like what happens in a marriage).

I happened to go to Ganga Sagar Transit Camp along with a very senior and respected photographer, Bikas Das in 2011 January. Just moved around. I have always been a shy street/people photographer and the Ganga Sagar transit camp is such that it will awe anyone going for the first time only by the surroundings.

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What is GangaSagar transit camp?

About 150km from Kolkata, in South 24 Parganas district, the island of Sagar is considered auspicious by the Hindus, who gather here at this time of the year to take a holy dip at the confluence of the Ganga and the Bay of Bengal and believe that all their sins will be washed off.

As Kolkata acts as a transit point, Sadhus of all ages and backgrounds make a pit stop here and then avail the government buses to go to Ganga Sagar mela and come back too. The days they wait here at Babughat area on their way and back to Sagar Island becomes Gangasagar Transit Camp.

I went there several times that year and the next year too. I managed to capture a few shots. I am speaking of a time when there were considerably less photographers who used to visit this place. At that time, I was quite incapable of taking photos in night as I didn’t know that one had to bump up the ISO. Yes, I was at that level. However, managed few shots then. The Sadhus remain in different states of inebriation. You will also see sadhus smoking marijuana or ganja as locally called, coupled with some weird acts of histrionics. Blind faith always leads us to certain dark lanes and allies which contradicts normal behaviour. Devotees still think that some offerings to these sadhus and some prasad in return, will make them accomplish their long unfulfilled desires and dreams. While clicking the pictures, several times we were asked to pay money to the sadhus which we didn’t, but rarely it led to any altercation.

I met Bikas da, Proshanto Mahato, Dipanjan Mitra and some other photographer friends at Gangasagar transit camp whose work I closely follow.

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I haven’t gone to Gangasagar transit camp in the last 4 years because I haven’t felt like. It has now become over populated with photographers and as my friend and ace photographer Soumya Shankar Ghoshal says, people now pay money before the photoshoot to make them pose for the photographs. I have also seen some pictures this year where people have been carrying clothes with them which they can use as a backdrop while shooting? Are you kidding me?

This is not the end. It has also been heard that photography groups are flocking in herds and that non members of the group aren’t allowed to take photographs. Where is that priceless silent conversation between you, your camera and the subject? I have always considered that as sacred and a great tool of introspection. 

Kumartuli, another photographer’s paradise, is now been avoided by most seasoned photographers only for the reason that number of photographers going in there during the making of the idols is more than the idol making artists present. Add to that, the over enthusiasm has not only affected the idol making process but at times, has also damaged some idols.

I know getting a camera and sharing the images is easy, very easy now and that is good as we have more photo enthusiasts now. But then for any game, craft, art or as a matter of fact, for anything in life, knowing the basics is very very important. When I say basics, I do not mean basics related to your gear or the particular style of art but the basic code of conduct which makes the craft dignified and respectable.

Just like in cricket we don’t bowl underarm (the last time someone bowled that, he was ridiculed worldwide) to save a loss, or we doctor a pitch to our advantage, lets follow the basics and maintain the decorum so that more beautiful images can be created.

Remember what one of the legends of photograph, Henry Cartier Bresson had once said –

There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative. Oop! The Moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever. 

Lets enjoy the misses too.

These pictures were taken between 2011 and 2012 so let me know how you like it. I know not best of my works.

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