Stroll through the endless bustle and noise of India’s largest flower market in Kolkata and you could easily find yourself mesmerized with the spirit of this place seemingly from a bygone time. During a short visit here a few years back, photographer Ken Hermann was particularly struck by the flower vendors. Sellers walked through the market sometimes adorned head to toe in their colorful blooms, their very livelihoods strewn across their shoulders and carried in their hands. Hermann was drawn to return once more.
So in 2014, he went back to the Malik Ghat Flower Market to take their portraits for the series, Flower Man. The resulting photos give us a breathtaking glimpse into this fascinating profession.
“Flowers are a very important part of Indian culture,” Hermann said in a short film on the Flower Man project. “Used in everything from temple rituals to festivals and celebrations.”
He shot each photo along the banks of the Hooghly River as the constant commotion in the market itself made photographing there too difficult. Taken in the harsh midday sun, the photos are arresting in their unobstructed display of the sellers with their unwavering gaze and copious variety of flora.
“Even though it was difficult to persuade the sellers to use the time to have their picture taken (as it of course meant a loss of money earned on the market) when they were in front of the camera and during the shoot, they were very dedicated,” Hermann said.
While the vividly colored flower men stand as the proud subject of the photograph, Hermann did allow for some spontaneity to enter in. An unaware dog or even passing onlookers have all woven themselves into the scene.
Although women also sell flowers at the market, Hermann had difficulty getting them to agree to have their photo taken for cultural reasons. But he plans to return to the market and will try again. “Hopefully I can get a handful of the female sellers to be a part of the project when they see the portraits I have already done of their male colleagues,” he said.
Hermann is a Copenhagen-based photographer who’s crossed the globe to bring us the stories and lives behind some of the most remote communities. It’s a line of work acutely sensitized to the impact of globalization. And Hermann acknowledges both the advantages and disadvantages the trend is having on his work as a photographer.
It’s more challenging than ever for Hermann to find those unique pictures that have “the same draw and exclusivity to it as something that everybody has seen before”. But it’s also become easier for his personal work to generate mass commercial appeal. After shooting photos of tribal peoples in the Omo Valley in Ethiopia, for instance, Hermann said some of those same people were used as models in a luxury brand advertising campaign.
Accessibility has never been easier and change is growing ever more rapid. But in the midst of it all, Hermann’s photographs beseech us to pause and take a more personalized look at people we may never have been introduced to otherwise.
The Flower Man series recently won grand prize at the 2015 PDN World in Focus travel photography competition. You can find the more pictures from the Flower Man series and Hermann’s other works on his website and Instagram.