PHOTOGRAPHER DILEEP PRAKASH DESCRIBES HOW THIS PHOTO ESSAY OF HONEYMOONING COUPLES CAME TO BE, AND WHY HE FEELS IT’S A PERFORMANCE.
My wife and I got married 20 years ago. Back then it never occurred to us to go on a honeymoon, probably because we’d already travelled together so much before our wedding.
But the idea of a honeymoon was always a bit intriguing to me, maybe because I never went on one.
When I started photographing boarding schools in 2007 the project took me to various hill stations, some of which also happen to be popular honeymoon destinations for newlyweds.
Honeymoons, and their associated locations, caught on with the middle class in the 1970s and 1980s because of Hindi cinema.
Films would have these very dreamy scenes where couples would, for instance, go to Kashmir, sing in the snow and have a romantic dinner by a fireplace. I think the love songs performed in the idyllic, natural surroundings of a hill station, with couples dressed in festive, colourful clothing – a mix of both Western and Indian outfits – established these places as the go-to spots for newlyweds and set the tone for how honeymoons should be enjoyed.
I never used to notice these couples when I went to hill stations, but during one visit in early 2007 to Mussoorie, while on the busy stretch of Mall Road, I started to notice them for the first time: their distinctive fashion statements; the women’s big handbags, which were like an extension of what they were wearing; the body language; gestures; and the beginnings of intimacy.
Later that year, I headed to Manali, the country’s honeymoon capital with the specific purposeof photographing honeymooners. Every year since, the project has taken me to destinations such as Nainital, Ooty and Mussoorie and I have photographed about 80 couples.
Many of the photographs in this series were taken in Manali. Honeymooners roam around everywhere – shopping, visiting temples and taking tours up to Rohtang Pass. They also walk through the forested areas in the town and around Hadimba Temple, which sits atop a hill above Manali and is frequented by tourists.
The hill stations have a culture of local photographers who make a living taking tourists’pictures; they hang around with their albums and chase you. It’s one of the things honeymooners do, get their portrait taken by a local photographer, and to these couple’s minds, I was perhaps not so different.
Those photographers are interesting because they have a repertoire of poses they direct people to do. I did not do anything like that.
The couples would ask me how I wanted them to stand, like they would ask those photographers, and I’d tell them to do whatever they wanted to. They’d then be a little disorientated and it would take them a few moments to come up with a pose. Some would just stand there so I’d engage them a little bit, and say: “Strike a pose, you’re a honeymoon couple.” After this they’d figure out how they wanted to look for the camera.
I’d never ask if they’d had an arranged or a love marriage, but through the level of comfort and body language, you could sense which of them had known each other beforehand and the ones who hadn’t; you could make out that awkwardness when they needed to come closer together, pose or touch each other. Some were a little less conservative. One couple was goingcrazy, kissing, ready to do all kinds of things for the camera, so I said: “Listen my shutter speed is very low, you can’t move so suddenly.”
I think for these couples there’s a certain concept of the honeymoon that builds up in their minds right from the time of the wedding. Indian weddings can be very long, painful affairs; the honeymoon is like a release from all that madness and something they’ve probably been looking forward to. The clothing choices are part of that build-up.
And once a couple arrives at their destination, seeing how other honeymooners move around might influence their own behaviour. All this, along with the likelihood that a local photographer has already introduced an approach to posing, I believe reflects in the way these couples stood for me: If you’re going to be photographed as a honeymoon couple you have to look as though you’ve just been married, or as though you’re in love – these were the things I think they were thinking about while being photographed and performing for the camera.
I would have these very brief moments with these couples; after taking their portraits they would tell me where they’re from and maybe a bit about their holiday, and then they’d be on their way.
The opportunity to spend a week or ten days like this I think adds to their lives. Sometimes I also think about what it would have meant to my wife and me if we had gone on a honeymoon; it’s something I may still like for us to explore – what it feels like to be on a honeymoon, dressed up like this and walking through a beautiful forest.
Photographs: Dileep Prakash