Photo-essay: Holi, Holi, Holi

Celebrations in the streets of Dharavi, Mumbai

By Andy Hall

The principle practice in street photography, and why I love it, is the immersive experience. That’s the only way you’re going to snatch those serendipitous, split-second moments you long for, as you wade through the river of human activity around you; all the time not asking, not showing, just shooting.

But I got more than I bargained for when I took the opportunity to jump on a plane and go and photograph Holi festival in the tight streets and alleyways of Dharavi, the biggest informal urban settlement in Asia. Not least because immersion, quite literally,  is the name of the game, as you get mobbed by everybody around you in what has to be the one of the most colourful, messy, anarchic, good-natured festivals going.

I’m quick to whip out my camera from underneath my armpit then, and just as quickly I curl my torso protectively over it as I walk on.

Also, I am obviously not from India, let alone Dharavi, and that means I’m not going to be that anonymous person I am when I’m using my trusty little Leica in most European and American cities. And until I’m covered in a cocktail of water and coloured powder, I am not going to blend in with the locals. Which means another hazard I’m not used to in this particular street photography venture – trying not to get my expensive little camera ruined as, invariably, I get mobbed by random groups of passers-by. I’m quick to whip out my camera from underneath my armpit then, and just as quickly, I curl my torso protectively over it as I walk on.

By now, I have abandoned the plastic bag the camera body was inside as it only complicates things. I have to be quick. There are alleyways where I am on the look out to sprint through , knowing I will be drenched from above; then,

of course, in such a densely packed place full of blind corners and doors that might open onto you at any moment, I have to keep my eyes peeled for an “ambush”, as well meaning smiling residents, noting an outsider, cover your face and hair with coloured powder which you obligingly accept. Then come the little platoons of teenagers and men with water pistols, ready to turn that powder into colourful mud that smears all over as the hugs and mayhem continue.

All the while, you’re furiously checking to see if your camera (with one fixed lens – far too dangerous for your equipment for you to switch lenses) still works. The only time you get to shoot for a few minutes without being love bombed, is when you get to a little clearing or “square” of sorts in between the alleyways, where loud music is playing and the dancing is in full swing. 

Our guide leads us out into the main roads that join up with Mumbai proper; and it’s over as soon as it’s begun – my brother and I laugh at how ridiculous we look, and its back to the hotel for several showers to try and get the stuff off.

It doesn’t prove that successful. My Brother Chris is a pilot for Virgin Atlantic who flew us to Mumbai and sorted out our foray into Dharavi. He now cuts a dash walking in full uniform onto the plane and into the cockpit with green sideburns and his neck, jutting out from his collar has a purple hue. We head back to London.

Selfie: Chris Hall, Captain / Andy Hall, Photographer

Andy Hall is based in London and has been a freelance photographer since 1989. His work has taken him on a wide range of commissioned news for numerous publications around the world. Andy is contracted to the Observer and the Guardian, but he has also published many times in The Times magazine, The Sunday Times, The Sunday Telegraph, The Independent, the Independent on Sunday and the New York Times Magazine. He has also been commissioned by Red Bulletin Magazine, Newsweek, GQ Magazine and Der Speigel Magazine.

Andy’s commercial clients include Transport for London, and he has also worked as a stills photographer for Film Four, and Channel Four. Throughout his career, Andy has gone on assignments for aid agencies and NGO’s including Oxfam, Save the Children and Action Aid. Andy also works on a regular basis with UNHCR. His portraits of film directors and celebrities have been shown in numerous Getty-sponsored exhibitions around the world.

Andy has collaborated in book projects ranging from “Montreal – Eye on the metropolis”(2000), to the British press photography anthology – “Eyewitness; five thousand days”(2004), “Muhammad Ali – the glory years” (2002), as well as the book project “UK at home”(2008). His commissioned work on the ongoing hunger crisis in sub-saharan Africa was screened at visa pour L’image, Perpignan in 2012.

Andy is also an established street photographer, having had his work published in specialist magazines such as PDN (Photo District News) and Eyeshot magazine. He is also one of the winners of the PDN sponsored “Best of Street Photography 2016”, and has given talks on his work in the Street London Festival in 2017 and on Radio London in 2018. He runs street photography workshops and judges street photography competitions on the “Photocrowd” photography website. Andy was recently awarded series finalist in the Brussels Street Photography Festival 2019.

Andy Hall can be contacted via his website at:

Comments are closed.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: