Brent Lewin is a documentary photographer whose images can be seen in publications such as National Geographic, New York Times and Newsweek. Based in Hong Kong now as a staff photographer with Bloomberg, Brent’s driving spirit is his curiosity. He wants to explore and meet new people, learn their stories and share them with the world. Here is one such story, shot and written by Brent himself.
These portraits were shot in India’s Rajasthan state during the Pushkar camel mela. Each year at the time of the Kartik Purnima full moon, up to 20,000 camels descend on the sand dunes surrounding Pushkar to take part in the world’s largest camel fair.
The men in these photos are Rabari, a nomadic community found in Rajasthan and Gujarat whose identity, going back to the time of creation, is linked to the camel. The story goes that the goddess Parvati created a 5-legged animal out of clay that resembled a cow. She asked her husband Shiva to give life to the animal but he remarked that it looked odd and wasn’t practical. So he took the fifth leg and pushed it upwards through the body so there was a bump on the top of the torso. The hump on a camel is believed to be the top of the leg. If you look at the underside of the camel they have a small-calloused bump that looks like a foot, which is believed to be the foot of the leg poking out. After life was given to the camel Parvati asked who would care for this animal. So Shiva rubbed his chest and used his dried skin to make a small puppet. He mixed some milk from the banyan tree with the puppet and it was given life and this is how the Rabari were created.
As nomads, the Rabari were knowledgeable in travel and trade routes and accordingly held an important place in society serving the kings and maharajahs on all things transport related. The camel was used in warfare by the Maharajahs and played an important role in desert communication, transportation and trade. However, the Rabari way of life is becoming increasingly difficult as they are losing access to grazing lands which they used for centuries on seasonal migrations. Over the past decade the one humped camel has experienced a decline in its population, estimated to be about 50%. As a marginalized group rubbing up against the modern world, I was attracted to visit and photograph this unique culture and how they are preserving their identity.
Although they have a reputation as being a bit of a closed group, with the help of a great translator, it was relatively easy to meet, interview and shoot them during the camel fair. There’s literally just a sea of tents, camels and people in the desert during the peak of the festival. We spent a week going around hanging out with the traders and got to know a couple groups really well. It was fascinating.
I lit the subjects using the AcuteB2 AirS battery and an AcuteB Head with a Softbox RFi 3×4’. It’s an incredibly light flash pack and very easy to travel with. It’s also a quick set up with beautiful quality light and strong enough to balance against daylight.
Written by Brent Lewin
More of Brent’s stories can be found at his website.
More information about the AcuteB2 can be found here.