There’s a special feeling you get when returning to a place you last visited many years ago. The emotions are a blend of nostalgia for who you were when you first visited and an appreciation for the journey of life you have taken to come back. Brooklyn-based photographer Michael Marquand had the chance to re-experience the city of Varanasi, India when writing and shooting for a feature in Lodestars Anthology travel magazine.
I had discovered their magazine and loved it, so I reached out to them and we collaborated on a piece for their issue on India.
Michael was already traveling to Bhutan when he contacted the publication, and he initially offered to provide images from that trip. However, Lodestar Anthology focuses each issue around a single country, and their next issue would be focused on India. The editor, Liz Schaffer, had seen Michael’s images from a previous trip to Varanasi and suggested revisiting the city.
I had planned on spending a few days in India to witness and photograph the Holi festival and the timing of the article just happened to line up with my trip.
Once Michael and the client had decided on the creative direction for the article, he was given free rein to explore the city. Since he had visited before, he had an easier time navigating the confusing maze of narrow cobblestoned streets that wind up from the riverbank throughout the city.
Varanasi is a stunning city. It’s built along the Ganges river and the area is considered a holy place for Hindus.
There are different Hindu temples lined up next to each other by the river. Each one has stairs — called ghats — that lead down to the water and are used during rituals.
Varanasi is considered the spiritual capital of India, and thousands of Hindu pilgrims travel to the waters of the Ganges to bathe and perform funeral rites. While Michael respectfully chose not to capture these processions, he witnessed several private moments of prayer that spoke to the sacred healing of this place.
The waters near the temples were peaceful and serene. Michael found this atmosphere juxtaposed nicely with the lively tone of the festival and the inhabitants of the city. In contrast to the calmness of the water, the city’s streets were filled with stray animals, chattering monkeys, and people traveling from all over the world to experience Holi.
It’s an incredible place to explore as a photographer!
The festival of Holi celebrates spring and rebirth and is marked through the throwing of colorful dyes and paints onto friends, family, and other festival-goers. Michael was eager to experience this moment authentically, despite the risks it posed to expensive photography equipment.
I was worried about my gear during the Holi festival, but I ended up putting some plastic bags around my camera with a hole for the lens to go through and it turned out great.
When trying to find subjects for this assignment, Michael wanted candid images that showed people genuinely participating in the festival. He found that the people of the city were either hesitant about being photographed or too eager to pose, making it hard to strike a balance that felt natural. The moments he captured when people ignored his lens allowed him to take more authentic, documentary-style imagery.
I think the best shots I got were from the people who were indifferent to the camera.
Michael’s return to Varanasi left him a more confident and intentional traveler. He’s grown his ability to navigate foreign spaces, both logistically and respectfully with the cultures he engages with. This cyclical journey allowed Michael to reconnect with himself as a photographer as he revisited this special and sacred city.
I appreciated visiting a place that I had been to years before and having the chance to see it with fresh eyes.