Capturing the ‘Thayyam’ festival

Posted by & filed under RC Photography.

Thayyam is an annual religious street festival celebrated in the town of Ongole in southern India. Although I love any type of photography, I particularly enjoy photographing street festivals.

Thayyam is celebrated around Dussehra, the ten day national festival marking the destruction of demonic forces by mother goddesses.

Capturing such festivals has their challenge. Light, spontaneity of the moment that forces quick decision-making and the charged up, noisy atmosphere that makes decisions difficult. Often, I found just falling on the ground to quickly capture the magic of the moment.

For instance, consider the above picture:

I need to consider the light source for this image whilst identifying the best position of this Thayyam dancer. Note that they don’t stand and pose for pictures. Thayyam means ghost and these dancers are believed to be ‘possessed’ by the supernatural. So, every now and then, I had to ensure that I jump and lie down on the ground to capture the required images.

In the above picture, you can notice that there is absolutely no light source at all except the burning camphor placed on the tongue of the dancer. That’s what provides the light for the whole picture. There’s a bit of light in the background but not enough to illuminate the front.

The above picture was taken in near darkness. As it is normal occurrence in small towns in India, there was a power outage when they were dressing up for the part. I turned on my iPhone and took this picture with only the phone’s display as the light source.

Fire-breathing is one of the most exciting rituals in the festival. Again, there was no light source, and when somebody is breathing fire, you wouldn’t need to look for a light source elsewhere!

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