India through photographer Andrea Gentl's lenses

India through photographer Andrea Gentl’s lenses

Unravel the lesser-known tales of India through a visual tour de force

By Subhanjana Das  March 24th, 2020

When New York-based photographer Andrea Gentl speaks of her visit to India, its with the expertise of someone who is well versed with its people and landscape. Of her 15 trips in the last two decades, the latest one in January involved freewheeling through the lunar landscape of Ladakh, immersing herself in the citrusy–fragrance of a turmeric harvest festival in Andhra Pradesh and living with feisty fisherwomen in Kerala.

The vibrant flower market in Kolkata

Back in New York and London, the Parsons School alumnus co-runs the photography studio, Gentl and Hyers, with husband Martin Hyers, documenting food, still life, fashion, beauty, and travel trends. When it comes to hitting the road for assignments, the duo have a simple and straightforward approach—connect with the people, the culture, and its landscape first. “We love the energy of India; before the sun comes up people are moving about and cooking and heading to work or to the markets. We tend to keep returning to a place so that we merge into its landscape and familiarise ourselves with local communities,” shares Gentl. And needless to say that even this time, Gentl’s 10-day itinerary was mapped following a ‘sky above, road below’ approach.

Strolling through the Blue City of India, Jodhpur

She wasn’t afraid to navigate the chaos of the ghats of Varanasi or join local women in Mumbai’s Lalbaug to pound fresh batches of pungent spices, says the self-confessed ‘ghee idli and curry leaf podi’ addict. In Ladakh’s harsh winter, she found refuge in cosy, tandoor-warmed local kitchens, where she interacted with the “strong, beautiful and inspiring matriarchs” of the households. Down south, Gentl recalls her encounter with the fisherwomen in Kerala: “They were mostly widows between the ages of 65-85 years, but were full of life. It was just beautiful to watch them fish and swim together almost four times a day!”

An early morning fish market In Mumbai

Her enthusiasm often spills through the vibrant images captured by her. “I think there is a lot about India that Westerners still do not understand. They fear the unknown,” she says. Gentl has made the communication gap her strength— wielding her camera as a tool that bridges the distance between her and her subjects. She says, “The relationship works much better with consent and sometimes, if you don’t speak the same language, permission is in the eyes and body language of the subject.” While that speaks for the evocative portraits, it also goes a long way in building relationships with the locals. “I scour food markets where I meet new people and also get to bring home bags of fragrant cardamoms and fresh jaggery,” she adds.

Photographs: Andrea Gentl