The Magic Frame: Sadness


Look at the photo below. It is a sad picture, because it shows  an old man in the village of Nandgaon, squatting on the road and eating some street food that we had got for him.

There is poverty here, a quiet poverty, that you can see. It is possible to enter into one of those endless debates about justice, economic development and then sit back and have a beer.

There is no doubt that poverty is sad. There is also no doubt that we don’t feel it. We are touched by it, but we don’t experience it.Sad_DSC0027

Now, look at the photograph below. This, in my view, is a really sad picture. After he had eaten what we gave him, I asked him if he wanted some more. He asked for ten rupees, which is about 17 American cents.

As soon as I gave him this money, he posed for me, like a monkey on display. I took the photo, but I came away saddened. Why would he do this? I don’t have an answer, but when we go out onto the streets to photograph people, we need to remember one thing.

All living beings have dignity. It is this dignity that we must seek to capture.

We are part of this life. Putting a lens between us and the subject does not, in anyway, distance ourselves from this.

Look deep into his eyes, and you will know what I mean.

What do you feel when you look into his eyes?



  1. Street Photography often tries to capture people on the street. In India you will often end up clicking lots of poor and unfortunate people because our streets have lots of them. For a foreigner to be all excited by such opportunity is still understandable, for them it’s all new and exotic but many of our photographers have adopted similar mindset. They feel happy at capturing such images. They walk back triumphantly without engaging in any conversation with these people. Unfortunately, they have only captured the face but what about soul? Their thoughts don’t get stirred up like yours.

      1. Rightly put! In many places like pushkar, poor and baba ‘s have started asking for money if you click their picture. They have realized their worth!

  2. He looks happy to me Rajiv, its not up to us to carry the world on our shoulders, just to do our best, its a tough world out there thats for sure.

  3. In the first picture I see desperation. He needed food and that you provided for him. In the second photo I see triumph and gratitude. What little he had, he gave to you in a photo in return for the food. There is still a sense of dignity in his eyes.

  4. My thoughts are similar to swo8. The first one, his eyes are sad and haunted and in the second one he is ” playing to the gallery”… back on stage. your comment about debating poverty and then having a beer is really, very accurate. We care.. but maybe not enough. Great photograph.

  5. His eyes look as though they’ve seen it all, poverty, class differences (cast system), kindness, hate, indifference, etc.

  6. yes, and yet I see a survivor, a warrior in his demeanor and his eyes. I heard someone say once about India and poverty, “it’s not that they have so little but just that we have so much.” and we always want more it seems. What have this man’s joys and sorrows been? Such a story.

  7. A moving post, Rajiv, along w/ your photos. The issue of poverty has long been close to my heart. Shedding light on the problem may not solve it. But we can hope to increase awareness.

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