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Hotel Chef. Karnataka, India.

Occupations. A set of pictures of people.

Many years ago I saw the work of  August Sander, a German Photographer 1876-1964 (you can read about him here and see some of his work). I was inspired. The book he published in 1929, ‘Face of our Time’ shows pictures, portraits of people. Ordinary people, less ordinary people, the man, and woman in the street. The book contains 60 portraits. It is quite literally a snapshot of the time.

I have chosen in my own humble way to do something similar, grouping the images on Facebook and Twitter with the tag #occupations. I am capturing people both here in Lincoln and the wider UK plus images from further afield, all featuring a person. Just a person.

I hope you like the set. I too have hopes of producing a book of these images at some time.

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Documentary: That humble cup of tea.

Here in England, we drink a great deal of tea. It’s drunk throughout the day by much of the population.

According to the UK Tea and Infusions Association, the British consume 165 Million cups of tea a day (60.2 billion cups a year). By comparison, 70 million cups of coffee are consumed daily in the UK.

The title of World champion tea drinkers (by head-of-population that is) goes to the Republic of Ireland. Great Britain is the 2nd largest consumer of tea.

The largest producer of tea is China with an annual production of about 2.2 Million tonnes, with India next, producing just about half that amount.

As tea is drunk so much here in the UK you would think we would know all about it. Judging from my own lack of knowledge that isn’t so. For example, tea – Camellia Sinensis from which tea is obtained- is a small tree*, not a bush as we would have thought. And, it’s so rigorously trimmed by plucking the leaves it could almost be considered a Bonsai ( though, unlike bonsai no root trimming takes place).

tea2Whilst in India we made a visit to a tea plantation high up in the Nilgiris Hills at Coonoor. Up here at around 6000ft above sea level, the air is cooler than on the plains below. As you climb up to the hill stations the landscape is full of plantations. The land looks for all the world like it’s been cultivated by mad English gardeners who have lovingly tended and trimmed their privet hedges ( that shrub so beloved of the English). Between the rows of the growing tea, tall trees are planted to provide shade from the strong sun. The overall appearance of a tea plantation is one of heavy cultivation. There’s nothing natural about this landscape, apart, that is, from the steep slopes of the vertiginous terrain.

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Those steep slopes are difficult to walk up even without carrying the 25kg bags of leaves the pickers carry on their heads. The air is less dense at these altitudes making breathing a struggle, particularly for those of us who live in the dense air at sea level. Watching the tea workers you cannot help but admire their strength and stamina.

However, we haven’t picked the tea yet. How is that done? That depends on to whom you listen. The owners of the more “tourist” type plantations would have you believe it’s all picked by hand. However, when I spoke to a plantation owner who was at a friends house we were visiting he told me that was very much “for the tourists”. Apart from the ‘white tea’ – the new, fresh leaves which are hand-picked which reflects in the price – most tea on large plantations is picked with something akin to a hedge trimmer with a collecting basket. That perhaps explains why we were not allowed to see the actual picking process on the estate we visited.

Nevertheless, everything else seemed to have a heavy reliance on human effort.

 

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©Sue Naylor 2017

I don’t know why, but I was surprised at the size of the tea leaves 50mm – 100mm long. You can get some idea of the size in the picture above, where the leaves are being made ready for drying. I expected them to be smaller.

 

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©Sue Naylor 2017

 

tea6Tea is processed in factories on the plantations. Initially, the picked leaves are left to wither in the warm air of the factory. This process lasts anything up to 16 hours, after which the withered leaf is broken by machine. Tea which is to go for quick brewing use, tea bags etc., is processed in machines which Cut Tear and Curl (CTC machines). Other leaves are simply rolled. Either way, the leaves are laid out on trays for up to 4 hours to oxidise during which time they turn a golden brown colour.

After oxidisation, the leaf is passed through dryers or heating chambers where the moisture is removed and the leaf turns the familiar dark brown or black colour we all know. After this process, the hot, dry tea is sifted through mesh screens and sold through brokers to the large tea processing companies Tea tasters and blenders are employed to ensure we always get consistency in the finished product.

Speciality teas, like Green tea, Oolong, white tea and compressed tea (bricks of tea made for Chinese and Japanese markets) are processed differently but essentially they all come from the same source.

All of this processing produces a smell in the factory. It reminded me of my childhood. With the use of tea bags, we don’t seem to smell tea today. The smell took me back to the much-used teapots of my youth. Heavily stained, never cleaned, they smelled like tea and that’s the smell which filled the factory.

To get your daily cup of tea to your table takes the work of many people, Some of it hard manual work usually carried out by women who do not get paid much by western standards for their labour. Next time you have a cup of tea think of them and thank them for their efforts.

*There is no connection with the trees which make tea and tea tree oil. Tea tree oil -that’s the New Zealand Tea Tree – Leptospermum scoparium.

Documentary: Washing clothes in India

One thing immediately noticed when in India is, no matter how relatively poor the people are their clothes are clean and bright. Rarely do you see people wearing dirty or even unpressed clothes? How is this achieved in a country where the use of washing machines, though growing, is very rare? The answer, of course, is the same way it has been achieved for hundreds, if not thousands of years. The dobhi washerman is the man instrumental in the process of keeping India clean.

 Hundreds of thousands of these workers exist all over India hand washing clothes all day. It’s a grueling task in the hot sun, often up to their knees in water, these workers soap, scrub, soak, rinse, wring and dry, – and even press with coal-fired irons – the full range of clothes for every type of household or business. Even the higher priced hotels seem to use this services, as marks inside my collars seemed to show when they returned from the ‘hotel laundry’.

On top of the long and hard hours of work, there is the logistical nightmare of handling so many clothes from different origins at the same time – and ensuring they get back to the clients.

We visited one such washing area in Mumbai. The area is known as the Dhobi Ghats. Hundreds of stone cubicles, built by the British, are full of men beating the clothes clean. Human washing machines, cleaning up to 100,000 items of clothing every day.

A washing machine in the Dhobi Ghat

A washing machine in the Dhobi Ghat

There are said to be 5000 men occupied in this trade in Mumbai alone. And yet, even here, there is the odd industrial washing machine. With the ever increasing affluence of the Indian middle class, the use of washing machines is growing.

The decline of the Dhobi, and similar trades traditionally carried out by hand raises concerns for the working man in India. With the rush to modernism and the consequent loss of jobs, just where is India’s massive population going to work. There is a delicate balance to be made on this tightrope between modernising a society and the consequent job losses.

Travel: The Indian Sadhu.

A Sadhu is a Hindu holy man. Typically, as here, pictured in Mysore, dressed in saffron coloured robes they wander the country living on alms.

Having renounced the normal pleasures of life, or denying themselves material satisfaction, they follow a mendicant ascetic life  – tapasvee in Hindi – dedicated to spiritual goals.

There is a more radical sect of Sadhu, the Naga Sadhu, who wear no clothes, simply choosing to cover themselves with ash and beads. They rarely appear in public choosing special events like the Kumbh Mela to do so.

 

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Abhishek Madhukar. Picture ©Sue Naylor 2017

Abhishek Madhukar, a photojournalist, and filmmaker based in Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh, covered the last Kumbh Mela and produced a video on the Naga Sadhus for the New York Times. You can see it here…

 

 

 

Travel: Hampi, Karnataka, India

What a place! If your ‘gob is not well and truly smacked‘ by this place then you have no soul.

The natural landscape is strewn with huge granite boulders, some piled precariously atop one another, some say, they have been there for thousands of millions of years, formed by the ancient tectonic plate movements of the earth’s crust. It’s certainly a landscape which dwarfs the visitor, not only in scale but in time.

It’s also been a natural quarry for the indigenous people for many centuries. Working with the hard crystalline granite – not an easy task I’m sure – artisans and artists first quarried the stone by splitting boulders – you can see evidence of this all around. Boulders with pockets chiseled in line litter the area. It’s said these pockets were filled with balsa wood which was soaked with water. The expansion of the wood split the stone. The boulders were then worked to produce exquisite objects, some huge in themselves, and elements for building construction.

There is much to see in Hampi but, for me, it’s the startling juxtaposition between the huge, natural landscape and that which ancient people constructed from it which captures me.hampi3hampi

Travel: Gandhi in the back of a truck.

McLeod Ganj, high above Dharamshala in the state of Himachal Pradesh, India is the home of the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetan school of Buddhism.

His Holiness escaped across the Himalayas to this region of northern India following the failed  Tibetan uprising against the Chinese in 1959.

The Dalai Lama lives in a monastery in this small mountainside town on the edge of the ever present snow-capped foothills of the Himalayas which set an impressive backdrop.

Part of the ritual adopted by Tibetan Buddhists is to ‘circum- perambulate’ the temple on a daily basis. A path has been built on the vertiginous slopes around the temple to facilitate this activity. It’s no mean feat. The inclines are steep and at nearly 7000 feet above sea-level, the air is thin for people not used to this altitude.

His Holiness is in residence and is teaching so the town is bustling. McLeod Ganj normally attracts visitors from around the world, monks, mendicants and just the curious. But, when there is the opportunity to see His Holiness and hear him speak… you can imagine the activity level in the town increases.

Setting off from a favourite coffee shop (Moonpeak Coffee – with the best Cafe Latte she has ever tasted, claims my wife Sue Naylor) the town is busy. Surprisingly though the path is quiet. Perhaps everybody is in the temple listening to His Holiness.

Dotted along the path, seats are positioned on which to rest and over 200 prayer wheels of various sizes exist to spin your prayers to heaven. Prayers are carved in stone and left around the path. Small stone cairns have been built along the edges of the path, a physical testament to the passing of many thousands of feet and to the beliefs held by the pilgrims. The sun is warm A street dog lays sleeping on the path. His head coloured red for the Hindu festival of Holi.

You find yourself sharing the path with sacred cattle, street dogs, monks, beggars, and troupes of monkeys cross the path as well as other pilgrims making their slow way around the temple.

Oh yes… about Gandhi.

 

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The Dali Lama and Gandi in the back of a truck at the start of the walk.

 

Documentary: Brick making in India.

Here in Europe, most bricks used for building are machine made with only special bricks being “hand thrown” – hand made.

If you are of a certain age you may remember LBC – London Brick Company – Flettons, or common bricks as they were called. Billions were made and laid after the war in housing projects all over the country.

The LBC common bricks were made in and around Bedford. As you drove down the M1  you could see dozens of chimneys in the brick yards churning out smoke making bricks from London clay. This clay had a carboniferous content so the cost of firing was less than conventional clay.

In India the process is somewhat different, using the “clamp” technique (which produces an intermittent type of kiln as opposed to continuous) to fire the hand thrown bricks. Labour intensive, hard work defines the process. The clay-rich soil is tempered by hand with water to make the mouldable clay which is then scooped up by hand and thrown into the metal moulds – hence hand thrown.

 

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Tempering the dry clay-rich soil to make the casting clay. Picture: PDBarton

 

 

 

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Hand throwing the tempered clay into the metal mould. Picture: Sue Naylor

 

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Hand throwing the tempered clay. The bricks she has made can be seen behind her. Picture: Sue Naylor

 

The mould is then emptied and the brick is dusted with sand before being left to dry in the sun for up to 15 days. The unfired brick is turned every so often during that time to allow uniform drying so as not to make the bricks distort whilst firing. Once more hard, back-breaking, manual work.

 

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The metal mould can be seen quite clearly here. Picture: Sue Naylor.

 

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Building the oven with the bricks to be fired. Picture: PDBarton

 

 

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Building in the wood used to fire the oven. Picture: Sue Naylor

 

Although there are some modern conventional brick ovens in India this “clamp” system is still widely used. The dried bricks actually make up the kiln itself. Wood is stacked in the bricks and the whole is covered with old bricks and a layer of earth before the fires are lit.

Once fired and cold, the bricks are removed and sorted.

Each person making bricks is expected to hand throw at least 1000 bricks a day. The pay for doing that is likely to be around 300 rupees a day – about £3.50 at today’s exchange rate – though the team work as a whole being paid around 2 rupees per brick for the whole process, end to end.

The dry weight of 1000 bricks is about 3.4 tons. When wet, they would be considerably heavier.

Pictures copyright Sue Naylor and PDBarton March 2017.