The Taj Mahal Brings Out The Ugly Side of Photography

The Taj Mahal can show a side of photographers that isn’t very appealing.

Like most photographers, I was thrilled to be visiting the Taj Mahal. The night before, I cleaned up my Fujifilm XT2, ensured I powered up my batteries, and cleared my SD Card. I woke up at 4:30 am, with the warm Indian heat burning my body. I bought a coffee from the small store outside my hotel, paying $0.05 for the privilege. Now fully awake, I embarked on my journey to one of the wonders of the world.

Visiting the Taj Mahal

If you’re yet to visit Agra, the city where the Taj Mahal lives, then allow me to describe it. The streets are full of a range of animals. Tuk-tuks (small taxis) navigate around cows, goats, and wild dogs. The tuk-tuk drivers will hound and follow you around, hoping that you will eventually fold and pay for a ride. And if the cows, goats, and dogs are not around, you’ll be sure to bump into some monkeys along the way.

Oh, and there’s the smell. Yeah, about that. The smell is so piercing it will make your eyes water and force you to question life and human existence. But it’s India, and all of the above is part of the charm.

Waking up early, I thought the number of people attending at that time would be small: I was wrong. Sunrise at the Taj Mahal is popular, especially for photographers. They all want “the shot.”

As the grounds opened, herds of people began to flow through The Great Gate. And there it was. 100 or so metres at the other end of the garden, made from beautiful ivory-white marble, stood the Taj Mahal. In this perfect, somewhat spiritual moment, I knew I had arrived. And then it all when downhill.

The Great Gate. Taj Mahal, India.

A Media Scrum at the Taj Mahal

What followed my blissful moment was nothing short of anarchy. If you’ve ever seen a photo of the Taj Mahal on Instagram (there are millions, so you have), the photographer likely took it while standing at the Great Gate. When I was there, I saw photographers and tourists push and pull each other, trying to edge their way to the “golden spot.” Disgruntled people, huffing and puffing, “why are they taking so long?” as they waited to get to the front of the line.

It was very reminiscent of a media scrum, where journalists battle to get close to the person of interest. I saw people arguing, putting their cameras in front of other peoples cameras, and just behaving like cavemen and women. For what? All because they wanted to create the exact same photograph as each other. I wanted no part of that.

Finding Alternative Perspectives

I’m never want to create images that are the same as everyone else. To me, it’s the photographic equivalent of painting by numbers. No creative thought goes into making the photograph. So as I came away from the mayhem, I began to explore the grounds and the people around me. I made some impromptu portraits. And I analyzed how people interacted with the Taj Mahal, trying to find ways to create a compelling photograph.

And for a blanket shot of the wonder itself, I walked 50 metres ahead of the Great Gate, where hardly any people stood, and got this photograph below. Sure, it takes out a lot of the famous garden. But at least I didn’t need to go to war to create it.

A Sheep or a Lone Wolf?

A portrait made at The Taj Mahal.

If India is one of the countries you want to visit once the pandemic is over, who do you want to be? Do you want to be the sheep who follows everyone else to get the same outcome? Or do you want to be the lone wolf that strays away from the pack and does its own thing?

Sure, I didn’t get the “golden shot”, but for me there’s nothing golden about none creative photography. Instead, I chose to capture things from a different perspective. And I’m happy with the photographs I made. I’m even happier that my dignity was still intact. Who wants to argue with other people at 5:30am just to make a photograph that’s been shared a million times online already? A sheep, that’s who.

So when you explore the world and all its wonders, be the lone wolf. You’ll take pride in what you create and have a more positive experience – I certainly did.

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