This project was really moving on so many different levels.
As soon as I heard about the project from Xavier I loved the concept and I immediately wanted to be part of the project.
It was such a positive way to discuss a subject that is often difficult to deal with. What a fantastic idea, to take the fact that during chemotherapy you loose your hair and turn that around to make it a source of laughter and joy. I did some tests in my garage with a two-way mirror knowing that if that didn’t work then we could always cut a hole in a normal mirror but it worked perfectly. You got reflections on our side of the mirror but we built a closed box around me to solve that problem.
The layouts were just of the smile, but on the first photo I was shooting our subject with her eyes closed to check focus and we decided to do that for everyone. I was quite nervous during all the photos as really you only got one chance per portrait. We were using strong flash because of the density of the mirror, which required a lot of light. The video you see was shot in very slow motion but it really happened so fast. With the video you can see the time it takes to register, I had to shoot immediately. It was very intense.
What is lovely about the concept is that it works on so many different levels. It brings awareness to Foundation Mimi in Belgium, which helps people as they negotiate cancer treatment, but it also creates such wonderful memories for everyone involved. In the few days since the video was released many people have asked that we do more as it is an end to itself.
Katy who is on the cover of the book died just over a month after we took her portrait, she was very sick but brought such beauty to the project. I hope that with this photo we created a memory for her husband and four year old daughter. She certainly has changed my life and created a beautiful memory for me.
And we continued on, having started last night in the foothills of the Himalayas. By dawn we moved through the countryside and smaller towns, soon we were close to the urban sprawl that is Delhi.
India is incredible, just the concept of 1.2 billion people boggles the mind. As a photographer it is exhausting. There are people to shoot everywhere; it takes time to digest the noise, the heat, and more people than you can imagine. Everywhere.
There are about ten different classes of Indian trains - the long haul buses are pretty much the same - and there are wikipedia articles to help you work out what is what. For the trains, if you have air conditioning then 1st or 2nd class is just a question of comfort. We were traveling non-ac on our first trip. As I said, the seats were filthy when we got on the train, the toilets were unspeakable, and it was a 14-hour trip. I loved it.
One of my wife Ainlay’s biggest fears before this trip was that I wouldn’t be able to deal with roughing it after years of traveling for business. She had a point. I like my comforts as much as the next, but nothing happens in business class just as nothing happens in the AC trains. Everyone reads their papers and plays with their smart phones. Here we were a world away from that, everyone was interested in us, we were exotic and they were exotic to us. They loved to be photographed, to see themselves on the small screen on the back of my camera. I took a lot of photos on that journey. Here are some of them.
We arrived in India late in the evening from Lumbini, Nepal where we had visited the site where Siddhārtha Gautama Buddha, founder of Buddhism was born. The border was a jam of trucks, cars, motorbikes and just about every other vehicle you can imagine, everyone honking their horns and squeezing together in a vain effort to stop the traffic altogether.
At the railway station people were lying everywhere. We lugged our bags up stairs and down again to platform 5 only to be told that the platform had changed. It hadn’t, but we didn’t find out until we lugged bags back up stairs and down to the information window. Queues as we know them do not exist in India. Everyone just squeezes in, generally leading to chaos. It takes getting used to. You wait and people push in front of you, if there is one person in front of you, you politely wait behind and just as your turn comes, a group will push in front and take your place as if you didn’t exist. We established that the platform was correct but now it seemed that the train to Dehli would be 2 hours late and leave at 1.30 am. This is exactly the type of situation that makes me really nervous, as I am convinced that at 1.30am we will be told the train left from another platform two hours ago…Trains come and go and everyone was getting very tired.
At about 2 am our train finally arrived and we boarded to find people asleep in our bunks. We are in 2nd class non AC and it is filthy. I wiped down all the bunks quickly before the kids saw them and we put our shoes above the fans like everyone else does. Exhausted, we quickly fall asleep. When I wake up I will get some great photos.