Story behind an unpublished photo

Sometimes you go to great effort to make a photograph and it just doesn’t get published… I was asked to write out the experience of taking this photograph when NG called asking to use it in an exhibit of unpublished photographs.

Churchgate Station used to be the easiest place in India to take photographs of teaming hordes coming off the trains. There was a lunch counter balcony directly over the area where everyone got off the trains and came through the station. But then there was a bombing at Churchgate and the lunch counter balcony turned into a military observation area. After that, Anglo guys that looked like the bomber (and me), had absolutely no chance of getting into this secure area..

So my story fixer (Vinay Diddee) and I hired a runner who carried official National Geographic paperwork to all the offices of the bureaucrats that control the station and we had him plead our case for me to have access…. it took the runner two weeks and the answer was always NO… but one bureaucrat said: “If he was an Indian, then I would let him up there.”

So, Vinay was allowed to go up to the military area with my camera and tripod and I showed him a sketch of the photo I wanted. Then I waited in the van and we had the same runner that schmoozed the bureaucrats go between him and me with the camera cards Vinay was using in my camera.. When I received the cards down in the van, I put them into another camera to view them and then called Vinay on his cell phone… the first time saying…. bring the lens down a little… the second time saying it needed a slower shutter speed….. the third time I asked him to put on a darker ND filter… fourth time.. zoom in… etc… etc…

It took eight trips back and forth with cards to get the framing and everything else right… then I just told him to keep shooting whenever there were big crowds that filled the foreground of the photograph. Then for two hours I sat in the van and watched the movie GI Joe in HINDI on the DVD player hanging from the roof of the van. it didn’t matter that it wasn’t in English… it was just guys running around blowing stuff up… so I was working an Indian fixer by remote control while watching a shoot-em-up movie in a van in Mumbai in a language that sounded pretty weird coming out of American actors.

So.. I went back to the hotel and ordered a bowl of soup and a waiter in a tux with a dining room table size cart trundles into my room with one little 6 oz bowl of soup on it… I should say here that Vinay has connections with a very nice hotel chain that is actually cheaper than staying in some businessman hotel. But being in this nice hotel is complicated by the fact I am working in the biggest slums in the world… So I decided not to do the butler in the room thing again and that night I went down to the dining room and had dinner alone and the waiter brought a bowl with two big goldfish and set them across from me at the empty seat to keep me company…. I had my iPad reading the paper… I was fine.. but now I had these two huge goldfish staring at me… sucking their cheeks in and out… the waiter felt sorry for me eating alone… but how pathetic…

The next day was my birthday and I didn’t intend to repeat either of those experiences…

So.. I thought I would just let the day go… disappear…. but this morning as we were getting ready to leave at 5:30AM Vinay said “Happy Bday” and it turns out Vinay’s wife has some weird-crazy-accurate-deal with dates… and she had run my passport thru for visas a few years ago…

And then… after a sucky shooting day… I went back to hotel… the phone rang… and a woman said… Mr. Olson we understand it is your bday and I would like to celebrate it with you… The hotel also had my passport copy… so a guy in a tux AGAIN and a customer relations guy and this woman all came up with what was ACTUALLY a great cake… a HUGE thing of flowers… a brass hindu god kinda gift and took their photos with my arms around them… and sung happy bday…. and then bowed a little bit… did a bunch of Indian head wobbles… said sir a lot and asked if I wanted them to close the door on the way out…



  1. love this pic and the post, randy!

  2. Vinay Diddee says:

    Hey Randy, this is so amazing to read…. brings back everything in a flash. Its wonderful working with you.

  3. Randy,

    That is so Mumbai it hurts. Every last bit. Sometimes I really miss those goldfish.