Slow brass band burn

As a photographer I live by a few basic principles. One such is, don’t throw images away.  Like musical tastes, visual tastes change with the times and stages of life.  What at first glance seems a throw away image can in time become a favourite.  Especially, if like me, you start out obsessed with the National Geographic standard of photographic perfection. Perfectly exposed and composed. Focus nice and sharp. Depth of field appropriate and so on.

As I’ve grown up  (slowly, I admit) I’ve needed a roughness or an edge in an image to keep me interested.  Something out of focus or slightly not-thought-through.  My deep catalog of rejected images (outtakes, they call them in the music business) has been a place of endless adventure in recent years.

The image above is one such. It actually isn’t THAT bad, except for the obscure blurred object in the bottom left corner.  But for some reason I found the image wanting. It wasn’t dramatic enough for me. It failed to meet that basic mantra of every “Guide to How to Take Great Photographs” article/book: your picture should grab the eye immediately and draw the viewer in.

This one never did that for me. And so it stayed buried in a box in a garage for many years.

But now, I am quite fond of it. Precisely because it does NOT instantly grab you like some insistent palm reader in Connaught Place. And yet it still draws me in. Indeed, the more I study it the more I want to get into this picture.

It was made in the late 80’s or early 90s in Lahore.  I lived in Pakistan then and spent many days and hours roaming the streets with my Olympus searching out things to capture.  This is in the old city of Lahore and is a private residence cum public business.  Brass bands are an important part of local mohalla (neighbourhood) culture. They provide entertainment and flash to weddings, official openings, festival celebrations and political rallies. But in between these occasions the trumpeters, drummers and clarinetists wait, much like fire fighters, for the call.

I like the openness of this picture. I want to walk up the dark staircase from the street to this shop and meet the ‘band leader’ or ‘Master’ as he is called. He’s obviously prepared to go as soon as the next deal is concluded: his starched uniform and trumpet are within easy reach. The building itself, with its intricate wood sculpted facade seems to have a history to share. 

The hierarchy of the bazaars of the Old City [of Lahore] appears to radiate outward from the centre, with perfumes, incense and books still clustered close to the centre, at the great Wazir Khan Mosque. These markets are surrounded by jewellery, precious good and textiles. Next are shoes, fibres, ropes and utensils, evolving into streets of carpenters, locksmiths, blacksmiths, butches, produce merchants and basket makers. The Bazaar-e-Hakimah or Bazaar of Healers, still offers the diagnostic and curative skills of men learned in the arts of healing. The streets are also lined with shops offering medicinal plants, herbs, oils and unguents.  Close to the outside the walls come the more industrial trades of the tanners,potters and foundries.  Even today, the more industrial trades such as lumber, tyres, auto parts and truck building are found outside the wall.


The above passage is from Samina Quraeshi’s book Lahore: The City Within.  In my experience of wandering through the old city of Lahore and bazars of Rawalpindi the brass bands and their allied industries– cassette tapes, electronic goods, public sound system hirers– had their own small little bazar as well.  

The picture below was made in that bazar in Pindi. As I remember it was off the chowk in the heart of Raja Bazar. This is another ‘not good enough’ picture that has Sanskritized itself to be worthy! The faded sign boards are wonderful examples of bazar art. The musicians passing the time, waiting for their next gig. The burnished brass instruments.   

They don’t grab you, these pictures. But they reveal stories and history and tales.  All of which are more important to me at this point in life.

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2 thoughts on “Slow brass band burn

  1. Actually there is a continuum of this ‘culture’ into Indian Punjab. Places like Ambala have streets which are gloomy, narrow and yet colourful. Local bands had their business ‘portals in bazars with similar facades. I remember staying for a week in ‘Chidi mar galli’ in Ambala and on two occassions saw a wedding procession led by a band and a money-thrower. The band played catchy hindi film tunes to which the well dressed men and women gyrated. In front of Jama Masjid in Delhi there were an assortment of band baja offices all situated in one street.

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