“Gita and Ganga constitute the essence of Hinduism; one its theory and the other its practice.”
– Swami Vivekananda
In a short note on his website, Tim Hall explains how he was long fascinated by the “sheer mass of humanity that exists in India” and the surprising fact of how things were managed and done in such chaos. Religion, to Hall seemed to provide a partial answer to this, and he writes that the “intensity and time that is spent worshipping, praying and performing ceremonial rituals all contribute to the way in which Hinduism is deeply woven into Indian culture. It is the root and fabric of everybody’s lives. The place where this is most evident is in the waters and on the banks of the holy river Ganges and within the ancient city Varanasi.”
Whether Hinduism forms the crux of ‘Indian identity’ is debatable, but it seems fair enough to conclude that spiritualism is a key part of the social setup in India. The word spiritualism denotes wider and broader arenas, not limited to specific religions or sects and linking a myriad number of traditions found in the subcontinent, many of which find expression by the banks of the Ganga.
“A river is nearly the ultimate symbol for the very essence of change itself. It flows unceasingly from one point of being to another, yet continuously occupies the same bed or pathway, and accommodates life’s endings with the same musical grace with which it accommodates life’s beginnings, along with all the muted and explosive moments that surface between the two extremes.”
The Ganga (or Ganges) is both India’s longest and holiest river. Considered to be the embodiment of all sacred waters in Hindu myths, the Ganga has long been invoked whenever water is used for ritual purposes and believed to remit the sins of believers who take a dip in it, especially at one of the famous tirthas or pilgrimage sites: Gangotri, Haridwar, Allahabad or Varanasi.
The religious significance of the Ganges is tied to myths about its descent from heaven to earth; which underlies the belief that it is also the vehicle of ascent from earth to heaven. Thus, dying by the Ganga and immersing the ashes of one’s ancestors in the river is reputed to grant the dead moksha, or liberation from the earthly cycles of life. Considered to flow through the three worlds of existence – heaven, earth and the netherworld, the Ganga is also believed to be a crossing point for all beings – the living and the dead.
The symbolic importance of the Ganga spills over religion though. The national river of India, it has had numerous paeans sung to it, with Jawaharlal Nehru famously writing of it as “the river of India, beloved of her people, round which are intertwined her racial memories, her hopes and fears, her songs of triumph, her victories and her defeats. She has been a symbol of India’s age-long culture and civilization, ever-changing, ever-flowing, and yet ever the same Ganga.”
Photographs from Hall’s Pilgrimage have been featured earlier in the Tasveer Journal (you can find it here) and in the accompanying write up, Hall talks of how his attention has been drawn by natural environments, and that the diminishing presence of human figures in his frame, he feels, draws a more emotional response to his works. In the selection featured here however, human figures are significantly present – both shrouded and starkly at the centre of things – producing different visceral responses through the manner of their framing and visualisation.
Hall employs a variety of techniques in both his photographic practice, in terms of composition, and the processes he uses, that alter the nature of the prints themselves; the photographs featured here for instance range widely in tone and colour from monochromatic to polychromatic.
His use of grain, over exposure, and muted colours along with his use of light, shadow and fog in creating these images evoke a certain romantic aesthetic and vintage look on the one hand. They speak of the mysteries of faith, the shrouded veil of the unknown that propels religious belief.
And yet on the other hand, these same elements are used to render images, that in their sharp and graphic focus, point to the everyday realities of prayer and devotion, of its existence in a world that is shaped by its contrast with earthly life.
Personally engaging with everything from the purchase of film to the production of his final prints, Hall’s photographs are entirely illustrative of the deliberate manner in which an artistic subjectivity is realised through photography, extending beyond vision, into the envisioning of a place, a people and their cultures.
Tim Hall is a British Fine Art Photographer, who specialises in travel, landscape and portraiture. His drive to see the world through the lens of a camera was inspired by the romance of 19th century travellers and more recently, national geographic photographers. His work is a lyrical response to the people and places that he has visited and shows his deep interest in the urban and natural world as well as the people who inhabit them.
The influence of painting in his work stems from his studies of Art History at Manchester University. The intention to strike an emotional or spiritual chord is evident in much of his landscape work, which is inspired by Rothko and Turner.
With over twenty years experience as a project-based photographer, his works are often conceived as a series, exhibited as a collective body or bought as single pieces. Tim lives in London and is represented by contemporary art galleries across Europe, South East Asia and the USA.