Street photography in a sea of faceless Indians

On a visit to Orissa in search of the elusive Dongria Kondh tribe, I chanced upon a weekly market in a remote village called Kakriguma. I was curious about what a flea market in a village populated with mainly tribals would have on display. I knew it would be a difficult experience, what with the summer heat beating down in a place I had no previous experience or limited knowledge of. I was at once captivated by the ladies in their brightly colored sarees and bovine nose rings. The men were nowhere near the charm the ladies exude in these parts.


Perhaps it was her unintended sense of fashion or maybe the sheer ‘Africanness’ in the mood of the frame that drew me to this lady. It’s hard to judge a tribal from a non tribal especially in a terrain known for its political unrest.


The weekly market has a large chunk of tribals engaged in agriculture and fishing. There was a sense of contentment on this old lady’s face. Her personality apart, I loved the cheerful contrast offered by her magenta saree.

I was captivated by the tattoos on this lady's feet. Women are decorated and have a great sense of color in these parts.

I was captivated by the tattoos on this lady’s feet. Women decorate themselves with a great sense of colour and style.


I’m not sure if this pretty woman represents the Dongria Kondh tribe. The nose rings and hand-woven saree seemed to suggest so. Much to my disappointment, there wasn’t a single vendor selling woven fabric or clothing.


This second generation of tribals prefers to wear blouses with their sarees most of which come in from Surat in Gujarat. Sadly, they seem to have given up the traditional blouseless drape so unique to this part of India. It classifies them as a backward class you see.


I was hoping to see some authentic tribal jewellery here. The beads seemed commonplace with hardly any copper, brass, or white metal jewellery I so strongly associated with this region. Locals prefer plastic unfortunately.


Turkish evil eye necklaces on display in this market! It seems to have replaced the original tribal symbols that I had come in search of. The bead necklaces are synonymous with the local culture here.


This picture proves my theory that ladies with blouses are economically better off than the ones without! Frankly I saw a higher sense of aesthetic in the poor woman in the foreground. So much more fashionable and sensible in the hot summer sun.


Dry fish is indigenous to Orissa. It’s salted and dried over 4 days ending up with a strong, cheesy odour. To the less hardy, the odour can be obnoxious in a market like this. The curry made from it with mustard is a delicacy is what I learnt.


Kakriguma has a famous pottery village nearby where tribals make every kind of earthenware for home use.  Sadly, there were no takers for this lack lustre vendor. Most buyers these days prefer Aluminium pots to terracotta.


This was the seconds stall where a poor man was selling old worn sarees to even poorer folk. The lady was happy with her find.

The fast, cheap, easy and fake has found its takers even in what was until recently a remote part of India. No matter where we live the cultural symbols of progress seem to be consumerism.

The fast, the cheap, the easy and the fake have found their takers even in what was until recently a remote part of India. No matter where we live the cultural symbols of progress seem to be consumerism. Tobacco and soaps are best sellers here.

I was under the impression that barter was the way the weekly market functioned in this village. It was all about the money, honey.

I was under the impression that barter was the way the weekly market functioned in this village. Nope, it was all about the money, honey! The new economy does not appreciate the idea of exchanging goods.

On the spot tailoring is one of the features of this market. Stitching blouses, shirts and bags at breakneck speed made for this picture.

In case you thought this happened only in Thailand, on the spot tailoring is one of the features of this market too. Stitching blouses, shirts and bags at breakneck speed in the hot sun, that’s different.


The weekly market affords timeout with friends from neighbouring villages. The land has a history of Maoist attacks and dissent among tribals.


About shabnamphoto

I'm a graphic artist with a passion for photography. I like to tell a story with my pictures. Sometimes a picture may speak on its own and at other times it may need an explanation. I'm intrigued by the ordinariness of life and enjoy documenting my life in the light and shadow of what surrounds me. Be it people, landscape, flowers, architecture or birds, the camera helps me see what I wouldn't with my naked eye.
This entry was posted in Photo essay, Portrait, Street Photography, Travel and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

41 Responses to Street photography in a sea of faceless Indians

  1. suej says:

    Beautiful captures, Shabnam…very vibrant and colourful. And thanks for following my blog, much appreciated 🙂


  2. Great photos, I just remembered my sons’ photography workshop and he had taken pics of people randomly. I do support his passion though.



  3. What a different world you live in from mine in the United States. I hope someday I’ll get to visit some parts of India.


    • shabnamphoto says:

      I have no idea how this looks to an American, there are so many Indias this one is hidden somewhere inside in lesser known place…. wishing you whatever it takes to go wherever your heart desires 🙂 thanks for the visit


  4. Madhu says:

    A fabulous gallery Shabnam. The traditional attire is certainly more beautiful…I wish it didn’t hold a ‘backward’ stigma.


  5. Beautiful captures! I feel like walking in the market with you. Their clothing and facial jewelry are very unique. Remarkable documentary!


  6. Beautiful photographs, Shabnam. Most of them being candid, give you a feeling of being ‘there’, in the midst of all that hustle and bustle!


    • shabnamphoto says:

      Thanks Uday, I was a bit intimidated by the crowds milling around in the narrow aisles and felt I was unable to capture that particular sense of ‘crowdedness’ in long shots. Am glad you feel these portraits seem to convey the hustle and bustle!


  7. Andrew Seal says:

    Thanks for this beautiful and memorable window into your world. My best wishes to you 🙂


  8. Rondje says:

    You partrayed these women (and few men) so well, really feels like you´re sneaking into their daily lifes. Very well done! Greetings, Ron


  9. kuhu says:

    Those pictures are just awesome Shabnam!!! I lost track of time…looked at each one of them thrice..and was completely disappointed when I reached the end! Amazing work…more please 😛


    • shabnamphoto says:

      Thank you Kuhu, I really had no idea these would be so popular! I have so many sometimes I worry if the repetition will become boring…. so good to hear your wonderful comment, makes me want to post the next series soon!


  10. Anonymous says:

    Hi Shabbat , along with these haats try the melas also , this is the season ,many local fairs in Rajasthan n Gujarat, Tarnetar near surrender nagar . Looking forward to more of ur photo stories . All the women in saris only brought back a big chunk of my early childhood in Calcutta . Thku ! Looking forward to more.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. It’s always nice to see street photography from India. More please!


  12. Anonymous says:

    Such colours ,lov ,laughter ,n beauty can be captured by a lens in an artists hands


  13. India! that’s were I would love to go.. Beautiful pictures, lovely colors, hope to go soon.


    • shabnamphoto says:

      There are so many Indias let me know before you plan your trip haha! and I hope to visit Morocco before I die though I know its the most photographed place after Italy!


      • I definitely will do that. Today I was busy all day preparing indian food, homemade samosa, homemade naan, something with kidney beans, butter paneer masala, aloo jeera, peanut chaat,.. we make indian food every day, since we are vegetarians, so you can image i am so keen on going to india. I also think the most beautiful picture are to be made in india, not morocco 🙂


      • shabnamphoto says:

        wow, come right away, where did you learn to cook all this delicious food!!!! oh no Morocco is my dream!


  14. Im so glad to have discovered your blog…ur clicks are just amazingly beautiful!


    • shabnamphoto says:

      Thank you feeding the sonis!!! I love your name…. its wonderful to receive such encouraging comments from fellow bloggers, am so glad you saw the beauty in these people… 🙂


  15. ninagrandiose says:

    I believe that the hand loom sari that you admire is from Sambalpur, Orissa but saris like that one can be found at any Orissa handloom emporium. Also, the tailors that you show are most likely doing mending of worn out shirts and trousers. I have lived and worked in Orissa for many years designing and producing my own line of clothing there. I love Orissa, known as Odisha today. Sadly, the tribals are truly India’s most marginalized people. Thanks for this wonderful view into their lives.


    • shabnamphoto says:

      Thank you ninagrandiose for your visit and informative comment, in a village like this its hard to find an emporium which is more a city urban thing, I thought I would meet the weavers selling their weaves in an authentic setting…. am glad you liked it


  16. Amy says:

    Great post! Thank you so much for taking us there.


  17. Beautiful ladies, beautiful faces. Very good photography.


  18. helenbriggsphotography says:

    Fascinating photos, I’ve just been transported to a very different part of the world – beautiful and so colourful.


    • shabnamphoto says:

      Thanks Helen briggs, am happy that the photographs managed to convey a sense of this place, alas i had no long shots as the faces drew me into the market rather than the tents under which all this was happenning….


  19. ashokbhatia says:

    Great coverage. Almost all parts of India I believe have weekly markets, going under the name ‘haat’. Hope you would continue to cover similar happenings in other areas as well.


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