21 October 2014

Failed portrait; Old Town, Leh


I'd walked past this man many times, greeting him with a 'Julley,' to which he always responded with a great smile and nod of the head, and often a 'Julley' also. I'd even inspected some of his motley collection of wares but had finally declined to buy anything after finding one of his bracelets emblazoned with 'aloha', which I assume is not a Ladakhi word. He seemed unperturbed; in fact, he seemed delighted I'd even bothered to stop and take a look.

We continued to greet each other with smiles and Julleys, and on my last day in Leh I asked if I might photograph him. He beamed and nodded and the moment I turned the camera towards him he stopped smiling. I couldn't get him to smile in any of the series of photographs, but as soon as I'd finished and thanked him, that wonderful smile returned. This is why I consider this a failure as a portrait -- it might look O.K. but it doesn't express the personality I encountered.

I'm now back in the Pohangina valley after a very long and tiring journey. Recovering my strength will take some time, but otherwise I'm fine.



All content © 2014 Pete McGregor

12 comments:

Megan Stace-Davies said...

Glad to know you are safely back. Welcome home.

Barbara Butler McCoy said...

I, too, am glad (very) you are home safe and sound, if worn. This portrait is intriguing. Maybe he did not want to share a smile meant for you with anyone else? Maybe he thought portraits were meant to be formal? Anyway ... Take Care.

pohanginapete said...

Megan, thank you. Recovering my strength will take a while, but this is a great place to work on that.

Barbara, thank you, also. I think many people, particularly in India, do think portraits must be formal (I've often noticed this tendency for the smile to vanish), but I hadn't considered the possibility he felt the smile was very personal. An intriguing thought -- thank you!

gz said...

His smile was a gift to you, not to your camera

Zhoen said...

What gz says.

But your camera eye is healing, hopefully along with the rest of you.

pohanginapete said...

GZ, you're probably right. A nice way to think of it.

Zhoen, thanks -- I'm recovering well. Putting muscle back on will take some time, though.

AJB said...

We should catch up for a pint when you're feeling up to it.

Avus said...

I think it is a wonderfully characterful image, Pete.
As Barbara mentions above, most older Asians, when asked for a photograph, immediately consider this as a formal request and put on what they consider to be an appropriate face. I guess he thought that he was doing you a favour!

pohanginapete said...

Thank you, Avus. I hadn't thought of the possibility he thought he was doing me a favour, but you might be right.
Makes me wonder about many of the famous portraits, especially from this region -- they may look wonderful, but how well do they reflect the person's true personality?

pohanginapete said...

Andrew -- sounds good. Will drop you an email and sort out a time.

Ku said...

I too, remember this man from Leh! Strangely enough, I had pretty much the same experience except I did manage to get a photograph of him smiling! Couldn't believe it when I saw his face again!

pohanginapete said...

Ku, you did well! I hope to see him again one day, and maybe then I'll manage a photograph of him smiling.