Along Kolkata’s Hooghly River, there dwells a constant sweet fragrance owed to Malik Ghat – a large wholesale flower market that attracts more than 2,000 sellers each day. While most foreign photographers travelling to Kolkata are attracted by its picturesque sunsets, or obsessed with capturing ‘poverty porn’ of sorts, Danish photographer Ken Hermann’s approach was a little different.
Having first visited Malik Ghat as a tourist, he fell in love, and knew he had to go back as a photographer. The vibrant colours of Malik Ghat’s various flowers usually make for a beautifully composed picture, if a seemingly obvious one, but Hermann was more interested in the people behind them. Men and women dedicating their lives to selling fresh flowers captivated Hermann, and inspired him to create a series of unique portraits that bring into focus the faces behind the petals, not to mention how varied each one of their petals really are.
Spending 10 days in this market, Hermann was faced with a wild array of challenges. Starting with the apparent language barrier, communicating with the sellers posed his first task. Although this one is easier to overcome, the cultural barrier is a more complex issue to tackle. Indian traditions and cultural nuances are foreign to outsiders, and take an in-depth learning to understand and respect. For instance, Hermann initially set out to photograph both men and women sellers, but soon learnt that the women were less enthused by his project, and did not wish to partake in it. Another Indian custom that he had to wrap his head around is that many sellers were uncomfortable with certain flowers being photographed, as their purpose was to adorn Indian temples and they feared that photographing them would tarnish their purity.
Once Hermann’s keen learning of Indian culture helped him tackle these barriers, he managed to create a story so pure and real, it transcends social prejudice. As you scroll through Hermann’s Flower Man series, you can’t help but notice the absence of a smile on the faces of the sellers, a reaction that comes naturally when a lens is pointed at someone. This photo-narrative explores a deeper emotion than the 3-second fake smiles produced for posed pictures – it captures authenticity and organic human reactions.
“If you want to take pictures in India, people tend to just stand up and look proud and strong. It’s very different from the Western world because if you take pictures here, people tend to smile,” shared Hermann.
Through his non-judgmental lens, Hermann tries to capture the unfabricated beauty and elegance hidden within these sellers, and their gentle nature. He urges viewers to appropriate an unbiased perspective while viewing this photo-narrative, and step away from rigid, preconceived notions regarding socioeconomic status and socially-constructed gender roles. This photo-series represents the breaking down of social barriers and challenging of stiff gender definitions, to appreciate the beauty and dignity of these flower sellers and their profession.
Scroll on to see more images from the stunning series:
Words: Rhea Almeida