Pithas in Barahipur
Earlier this year, I visited Bangladesh. They somehow manage to squeeze half the population of the entire US into a country the size of New York state. The capital, Dhaka, is a dizzying portrait of human motion, and getting out of it was a lawless highway. If you lift both brows, clench your teeth, clamp your tongue to the roof of your mouth, and stuff your ears with car horns, you can begin to imagine enduring a hundred successive games of road chicken.
The highway gods somehow delivered us in one piece to the village of Barahipur, which is the birthplace of my girlfriend’s father and grandfather. She and I stayed with her relatives in her grandfather’s old place. I woke up early and while everyone was still asleep, I wandered around, past the old rice factory and the paddy fields. I nodded to the early risers doing their washing, and practiced greeting the kids on their way to school. Kemon acho. Kemon acho. When I returned, her aunt was alone in the kitchen making pithas for breakfast. The physical way that they’re made felt like watching an old dance I couldn’t hear the music to, and the soft morning light gave the scene a ritualistic quality.
My Bangla is all of three phrases, none of which is “do you mind if I shoot video of whatever you’re doing?” A gesture with my camera seems to do the trick. She couldn’t imagine why I would bother or what could possibly be of interest in her work, but she didn’t seem to care either. She continued, not self-conscious in the least, which made for such a quiet, intimate portrait of her, as well as the village, framed in contrast to the blur of the city.
A Desi Minute
Nothing moves like India and Bangladesh. At 1.2 billion, India’s surging population is slated to surpass China’s in just a handful of years, and Bangladesh manages to squeeze half the population of the entire US into a country the size of New York state. People. Are. Everywhere. I cannot imagine cramming more people into a place. There are offices the size of a bathroom stall. One ‘barber shop’ in Delhi was simply a lawn chair under an overpass.
As I passed through the frenzy in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, and Dhaka, I slowed down to collect some time-lapse imagery. The general practice for time-lapse is to aim the lens at a slow moving body or something that changes shape over a length of time that we ordinarily can’t appreciate. Popular choices are billowing clouds, blooming flowers, landmarks articulated with the sun’s lengthening shadows. Anything moving too slowly for human patience tends to yield interesting results.
I find some of the most kinetic locations are transit hubs. I’ve always loved the architecture around them. Grand or crumbling, I love the tides of people coming and going as if the space itself is breathing. Most often, the clips I gather are a two second compression of a place over 15 or 20 minutes — longer if I’m stuck somewhere. I like to leave the shutter open for a few seconds at a time so that the people or vehicles blur out of recognition. It changes the space behind them — what was the background comes into focus as the subject. It’s a complement to the portraiture I love shooting. Whereas a photo captures the subject in the shortest glimpse of time, time-lapse can reveal a space across a longer passage. Stringing several of these together becomes a meditation on movement and permanence. The slow heartbeat of a much larger animal.
* * *
Josh Steinbauer is an award-winning filmmaker living in New York City. He has three films currently on the festival circuit: Cap’n Flapjack, Paper Stars and Matter Out Of Place. He’s shot and directed many music videos which can be seen at PerfectAndOrbicular.com/music.html. See more on his Vimeo channel.