Two years ago, Paris-based documentary and portrait photographer Max Riché discovered something that triggered an immediate wave of excitement. January of 2013 would be host to the next and largest installment ever of Maha Kumbh Mela. Given his love for “expedition style” travel, and his constantly evolving project Climate Heroes, this was a no-brainer.
Drawing over 100 million pilgrims in an area of 58 square kilometers, Kumbh Mela is the largest pilgrimage on earth and happens only every 12 years in rotating cities. This past January-March, it took place in the northern Indian city of Allahabad, where pilgrims went to bathe at the confluence of the Yamuna, Ganges, and Saraswati Rivers to purify their karma.
Max has been doing this kind of portrait work for quite some time, from Indonesia where he photographed former illegal loggers, to a small island portraying a tribe that has very little contact with the outside world. Max then decided to continue these portrait projects between commercial jobs, describing the trips as an “opportunity to go out of your comfort zone, see the world, think about what you want to say, and enjoy yourself free from any outside influence.”
When preparing for the trip, Max knew that he wanted to use strobes and carry his Profoto battery-operated pack with a large softbox. Of course, he needed an assistant, and rather than fund someone’s flight to India, he decided to find someone already there. After reaching out via Facebook and other social media outlets, Max decided on a young photography student based in Allahabad. The beauty of technology!
Because he was focusing on quiet portraits located away from the chaos of 100 million pilgrims, Max’s style differed from all of the other photographers there. The pilgrims were extremely happy to see the up-close and personal photos, and appreciated Max taking the time to talk and learn about their origins (via Max’s assistant who was also translating).
Max has pitched the story to various magazines and received positive feedback so far, with Time showing particular interest. He is also planning a writing project about the cultural significance of this pilgrimage, focusing on the constant evolution and renewal of the Indian society as it gains momentum in the 21st century and breaks away from its caste heritage.
“I think personal work is the most important thing a photographer and an artist can do. This is where your unique voice can be expressed. where you choose everything, from the angle of the story you want to tell, to how you want to tell it visually, and where and when you want to shoot it. You have total creative freedom. In today’s world, where there are many good photographers, the only thing that matters is not trying to make a better picture, but trying to make a picture that is genuinely different and personal, to tell a story that ONLY you can tell.” – Max Riche