A woman, surrounded by men at a cremation in India, raises her head to the sky and cries

Where is the soul?

“My favourite subject to capture in my photography is humanity, in all its shapes and forms. I love to capture everything from despair and the depths of pain to the greatness of everyday life.

Cremation is one of the most important rituals of Hinduism. As part of the religion, people believe that the body consists of five elements and thanks to the fire created during cremations, these elements are able to come back to the universe.

This photograph was taken at a cremation in India and shows the daughter of the man who was being cremated. During the ritual women are often dismissed because they tend to cry easily and in Hindu culture and beliefs, tears don't allow the spirit to purify. Women, at this point during the ritual, will therefore go to the bathroom in order to purify their faces and their soul. Grief is something that concerns all human beings, but due to our culture, we can celebrate death in different ways. I wanted to show different ways to celebrate the dead. This cremation, in particular, is quite unique, as it shows a woman who would usually be dismissed from the cremation.

But the pain didn't stop for this woman after the cremation and even if she wasn’t supposed to, she continued to cry, unable to hold back her emotions. I was so touched by this – her determination to stay – and was incredibly drawn to capture her in a photograph. She didn't care about the rules of the cremation, that only men are supposed to enter, and decided to stay there to spend a few more moments to grieve with the body of her father."

A woman, surrounded by men at a cremation in India, raises her head to the sky and cries
“She wasn't supposed to cry any more, but she couldn't hold back her emotions.” © Antonio Gibotta

"As a photographer, when you do reportage you try to become invisible. Especially when you are in a situation where there is despair and pain, you have to be discreet to allow people to show their emotions without filters. I was really careful not to disturb the ceremony, although they were so caught up in their own emotions that they didn't really notice that I was there.

When I take a picture of someone crying like this, I feel the same emotion as my subject. If you don't, your photograph won't have a soul. I try to focus on the emotion, and I feel the same as they do. My most painful moments have taken place during the realisation of stories like this one. In my reportage 'Stuck in the cold of Belgrade', I was also really touched and cried all the time whilst taking the photographs. Seeing people, desperate people being frozen, I was really impacted by this. I could feel what they were going through in that moment."

Antonio Gibotta, holding his camera. The accompanying quote says "We are both simple and complex"

"I love to focus on all aspects of humanity. For example, my series on the Holi Festival is about the joy of life, whilst the series on cremation in India focuses on death, desperation and the pain of life. Other series of mine are about sickness, famine, war, hope and joy. I don't just focus on pain, but also joy and all the shapes of human life. In Brussels, I was awarded the MasterQEP (Master Qualified European Photographer) when I presented this work on cremation and the festival of Holi, and how it shows the dualism of human life in all its joy and despair.

It's a human cycle, the circle of life. I want to explore the human being in all its shapes and form - to show that we are both simple and complex at the same time and that each culture has something to show and teach to the world.”

Discover more powerful reportage from Canon Ambassador Antonio Gibotta on his website.

Written by Antonio Gibotta & Cecilie Harris

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