Photo Essay

Women and Tribes of India

Water Bride

After a life-long love affair with all things Indian, I finally visited Southeast Asia in 2001. A spice scented dream became an intense reality for me, filled with layers of unforgettable color, action, gritty poverty, mingled with warm hospitality and often set against the backdrop of fantasy ruins or mogul castles. And after 10+ years of return trips, India is my second home.

During that first trip of discovery, I photographed many women busy with daily village and city life; everything was candid. Returning to the USA, I continued the series focusing on the Indian Diaspora in Houston. Over the ensuing years, many festivals and even dancing at them, as well as, a bevy of beauties from Miss India Pageants have been photographed. Sometimes models were posed against diverse Houston landmarks.

On my second trip to India (2002), I became interested in expanding the age range of the women and since then have sought out elderly, as well as the newborn members of villages. In 2008, a woman near Pushkar, Rajasthan was photographed whose family assured me that she was 105 years old and had twice almost been buried!

2003 marked a turning point as the year I began traveling to remote places to document tribal people. I went to the Araku Valley in Andhra Pradesh and in 2004 to nine extremely remote Kondha Tribal villages in Orissa. Under the auspices of both states' governors I was able to photograph tribal folk against the primitive background of their living conditions much as they have been for thousands of years. For years many tribal folk have been leaving their remote wilderness homes for cities. (Few people seem to be taking an interest in tribals as they are the poorest sector.) An unusual tribe, the Toda lives at the 5000' level in the Nilgiri Mountains where I was able to photograph a lone village in 2005. Their population is now 1100. In 50 -100 years when tribes have assimilated, it might be good to have these images of their transitory life. Other tribes who have adopted the cities include the colorful Banjara, which means gypsy. Found throughout India, they are the most gaudy wearing hand-embroidered vests and colorful skirts. I've repeatedly sought out Banjara, most recently near Hyderabad in 2009 and 2010. The Bhils of Rajasthan (whom I documented in 2008 beside their teak branch huts) are just as colorful but more open. I also witnessed the legendary yogic dancing of the Kalbeliya women of Rajasthan. 2010 found me in Kerala shooting new tribes of the southern Nilgiri Mountains.

It may seem a bit confusing yet I felt such an undertaking required several styles of shooting. Here are ways viewers might want to divide my images.

1. Candid or semi-posed Tribal women, working or with their children

2. Posed portraits Middle or Upper Class Ladies, some Movie Stars

3. Miss India contestants & Fashion Fantasy models

4. Indian Diaspora festivals with dancing in the USA


2006 Faces of India, Texas State Museum of Asian Cultures, Corpus Christi

2008 Retrospective: Photographs 1978-2008, CICCC, Beijing, CHINA

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11 responses

  • Saroj Swain

    Saroj Swain gave props (26 Mar 2012):

    Excellent Entry !!! Vote!!!

  • Rajeev Jadhav

    Rajeev Jadhav gave props (27 Mar 2012):

    Nice article and Photos congrats Michele !!!!!!!

  • Regenia Brabham

    Regenia Brabham gave props (28 Mar 2012):

    A fabulous photo essay! Awesome images. Thank you so much for sharing!

  • Harsh Wardhan

    Harsh Wardhan said (30 Mar 2012):

    Definitely Yeah!!!!
    Lovely write-up & amazing pictures. You have captured the real spirit of rural India

  • Prashant Gupta

    Prashant Gupta gave props (30 Mar 2012):


  • Massimo Bardelli

    Massimo Bardelli   gave props (30 Mar 2012):

    Another great work! Brava!

  • Roberto Pagani

    Roberto Pagani   said (30 Mar 2012):

    Very interesting story. "Two saris" picture is wonderful.

  • Karen Lee Lewis

    Karen Lee Lewis said (31 Mar 2012):

    inspiring journeys...I really like how this idea unfolded over time and that you kept going back to keep looking

  • Ann Reece

    Ann Reece   gave props (3 Apr 2012):

    Very interesting, this journey that you have taken to document the various tribes, young and old. It's an interesting read and the photos are of beautiful people. Voted : )

  • Andrea Petersen

    Andrea Petersen gave props (5 Apr 2012):

    Wonderful photo essay and you have my vote!

  • Roxana Brivent-Barnes

    Roxana Brivent-Barnes   said (10 May 2012):

    Outstanding, voted!

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