This selection of images is from Phase One of a photographic project titled the ‘Mountain Peoples of India’, which I embarked on independently about six years ago. It seeks to make viewers reflect upon the radiant geography of the human face, especially the luminous visages of India’s many mountain folk.
In addition, these images - as all portraits do - also nod to the brief yet often transformative relationship between portraitist and subject; where the simple act of the subject consenting to their likeness being captured, often after gentle persuasion, engages with multiple ideas of individual identity and perception.
Shot entirely using natural light these photographs adhere to the essential traditions of documentary portraiture. Besides the more conventional portraits, a subset of images also acknowledges the many opportunities to capture the Bressonian ‘decisive moment’ that any excursion amongst these doughty individuals going about their daily lives will present.
The project’s first phase has focused on trying to create such aesthetically vivid portraits from among the native communities of the Garhwal and Kumaun regions of Uttarakhand, Ladakh and the Kashmir Valley in Jammu & Kashmir, most of Himachal Pradesh, and the southern parts of the Western Ghats in Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
A second phase will focus on the many peoples of the Eastern Himalayas in Sikkim, North Bengal and North-East India, and the residents of the Western Ghats in Karnataka and Maharashtra. Grants for this phase are being sought. Exhibitions of some fine art prints will likely be held later this year in India and Europe.
A Shauka Bhotia woman prepares to head home with her load of carefully gathered foliage, near Lilam village, Kumaun
Kumauni woman resting in a field, Pithoragarh region, Kumaun
An elderly Bhotia resident of Munsiyari village signals a polite greeting in Kumaun
A plantation worker, likely from the Betta Kurumba mountain tribe, waits for a friend in Mudumalai, the Nilgiris
The beginnings of a shy smile from a Garhwali schoolgirl on her way home, Rudraprayag region, Garhwal
A young boy poses with his little pets, Kullu region, Himachal Pradesh
An old woman rests on the richly patterned threshold of her home, near Patal Bhuvaneshwar, Kumaun
Village elder, near Brahmaur, Chamba region, Himachal Pradesh
A young Garhwali girl strikes a shy pose with her traditional basket, near Gwaldam, Garhwal
Tashi, a pilgrim, takes in the bright sunshine on a typically clear day in the Nubra valley, Ladakh
Kinnauri woman taking a break from cutting wood, near Pangi village, Kinnaur region, Himachal Pradesh
A novice Buddhist monk gazes intently at his friends playing cricket in the monastery courtyard, Lamayuru, Ladakh
Ali and his shepherd pals strike a rather warm pose in his shop, near Dras, Jammu & Kashmir
A Kashmiri boatman deftly takes a drag from his hookah while rowing his shikhara on a golden evening on the Dal Lake, Jammu & Kashmir
A priest from the Irula mountain tribe, the Nilgiris
Senior monks engrossed in applying finishing touches to an intricately detailed Mandala sand sculpture, Samstanling Buddhist monastery, Ladakh
Praveen Dass is an independent writer/filmmaker and fine art photographer. A former media-professional he is currently based in Chennai, India, and has had his work appear in Indian and international media outlets over the last decade and a half. He read literature and earned degrees with honours from Loyola College, Chennai and St Stephen’s College, Delhi, from where he also led treks in the Indian Himalaya.