(originally written 2008/01/20)
When I was last overseas in Cambodia, I had the idea to scale a fairly large rock face for fun/adventure with the aim of getting some photos with a different perspective. Seeing as how this trip has been mostly tame compared to the previous one, I decided it was high time to engage in risky behavior.
We’ve been needing the stereotypical panorama shot displaying the massive amounts of people that have shown up to the evening conferences and were going to solve this problem with building a tower in a section of the field. The trouble with this is that we are in India and things have a tendency to move at their own pace or not at all. So after discovering that there was in fact no tower to perch upon that evening and a sizeable amount of people (300,000-400,000) I found it necessary to climb up the closest thing to a tower within the crowd. *(sidenote – I don’t write about this to brag or even really think that it’s cool or brave to engage in risky behavior. I write about it because I’m stupid enough to want to do it and that’s all.) This was in fact a lighting tower sporting a huge rack of lights which shone onto the Mumbaikers below.
Now, if there is one thing to learn about Indian electric wiring is this: that it is completely safe, if you are looking to be electrocuted. I realized this as my indian friend, Paul, tentatively tapped the tower with his hand to make sure it wouldn’t fry any would be american-photographer-climbers. Seeing no sparks and paul not seizuring, I headed up the scaffold-tower with a considerable amount of money in camera gear around my neck and went hand to foot over the poles that were about 4.5 feet apart up to about 30 feet tall. I decided it would be wise to stop a couple feet away from the lights and the exposed wiring connected to them and do my shots from there. I sat longways on a pole and wrapped my arm around a corner pole before reaching for my wide angle lens around my neck. The sun had set over Bombay and there was a nice little spark of light left before I took the consecutive pictures (that I will later stitch together in photoshop). This wasn’t a completely foolhardy venture — that night was probably the largest crowd of the event and the best vantage point to capture them from. I will post the photo later after it is stitched. (It may have been foolhardy, though, to climb up a second, much more-rickety light tower where I dropped the lens hood onto paul below).
This little tale isn’t enough to warrant a tale of danger though, is it? Of course not! Something else had to be done in order to boost up the little adrenal glands in this irish boy’s body… A building directly behind the venue that was currently in construction would be the catalyst for just such a boost. It was decided by the powers that be that a shot from the top of this building would be a good idea. So, Kelly (Videographer), Mike (Grip), David (Other Photographer) and myself (Professional Model) along with 2 Indian fixers took a stroll to the base of the building and tried to secure entry into the developing skeleton of a building…which wasn’t happening. The foremen and security personnel were not hip to having 4 vanilla-faces running around their developing 12-story building or taking pictures from the top floor of a christian event. Our fixers, Vitrous & Ashley, went up a floor and started arguing with the foremen, who looked evil and stern like a Sikh that hides behind a curtain waiting to kill Indy. I was getting bored and fidgety waiting for the inevitable ‘no’. David (photographer), a missionary kid who grew up in India, said it would be possible to just go ahead and go up to the top and apologize afterwards. This action would maybe be “okay” for a foreigner to pull with out ending up in jail but the rest of the team kind of balked at the idea. I kind of just figured that it would be something interesting to blog about instead of diarrhea and bowel functions so I started walking steadily towards the back of the building looking for stairs; david followed along with the other guys shortly thereafter. It was very surreal scrambling up 12 unfinished stories of a construction project in India. The first thing I noticed was the insanely dusty and hazardous conditions— there was no back wall or railings and debris covered the floor causing slips and foot checks every 5 stairs or so. And walking up the stairs right next to us were the equivalent of a blue-collar workforce — hulking heaavvvy marble slabs on top of their heads 4 levels before passing off to another worker waiting. I broke away from the group and started going up the stairs as a fun endurance kind of workout before realizing that I was a lanky ass white boy in india with ten’s of thousands of dollars worth of camera gear surrounded by hungry and poor construction workers. Granted, they are not of the beefy american variety (I could probably take on 4 or 5 of them with my wild flailing and inner rage) but there were easily a hundred or so on each floor. I made it up to the top and fired off my Canon 1D in a successful panorama before my mates caught up and began to set up the tripod.
Shortly thereafter a security guard came running after, pulling the camera from my face and standing in front of the videographer’s camera. He started screaming at us in hindi with us responding in calm english and David in his pidgeon-hindi trying to calm him down. A crowd of bedraggled indians, ashy in color and with voices raspy from inhaling the dust, had began to gather — quickly outnumbering us. Just as the security man began shoving me from behind, Ashley appeared and quickly calmed the situation — sweat pouring from his brow having just ran up the twelve stories. We got our shots and headed back down, apologizing/ignoring the foremen who was screaming his head off.I n retrospect, this wasn’t really that dangerous. But, it was better than sitting around a stage with a bunch of americans sipping on water bottles and squatting mosquitos.
It was quite surreal as well to view Bombay from that perch and also to see the horrible working conditions these men endure throughout the night in order to secure a few dollars for their families. All I could think about was what it would be like to tell some american beer-gutted construction worker that he can no longer wear a hard hat and he has to carry slabs of marble on his head for eight hours up and down flights of stairs. It’s a sad thing to see how cheap human labour (and in turn, human well-being and livelihood) is treated from the stark contrast of myself, a young photographer being paid to stay in an exquisite hotel and take pictures of people in order to pay bills and buy expensive items, to the average indian worker that literally is dying to make money by putting themselves in harmful situations in order to survive daily.
It goes without saying to realize how incredibly blessed we all are.