I just had to contact Siddharth Kaneria after I happened upon his coverage of Maut Ka Kuaa, Well of Death, thanks to Instagram.
Hey Siddharth, what do you enjoy taking photos of?
I’m passionate about exploring different cultures, stories and people through photography. Experiencing; other cultures, meeting people from other communities (even within my own country, India) and other countries fascinates me the most. My photography helps me document my personal experiences and moments with people and places. My explorations are aimed at sharing the beauty and diversity of the world.
What is photo-journalism to you?
Photo-journalism is visual story telling to me. It’s a medium with which one can make the whole world experience. The world we live in is infinite so making it impossible for a human-being to experience everything that is worth experiencing. Through with this medium I believe one can make lives big enough, the world small enough and experiences accessible enough. Through photo journalism; the experiences I live, the things I witness and my paradigm can be translated through my viewfinder. It helps people think beyond their physical, psychological and sociological boundaries. I believe photo-journalism helps us evolve as people.
Where has your passion for photography taken you to?
I have been to Turkey, Italy, Germany, Australia, UAE and of course, the many nooks and crannies of India. My passion for photography makes me travel, it makes me curious and prompts me to make a home in the lives of various people and their cultures. This very passion is the sole soul behind the person I am today.
What made you start taking photos? What drew you to hone in on the hobby?
I studied design. Photography all started through an elective which I was part of. Thanks to my elective, I experienced the beauty of an analogue camera and the complete process of taking pictures based on what you see and visualize. I grew fond of the art of exposing negatives and dark-room printing. I felt like I had stumbled upon magic and knew there was no way back!
To this day, I’m still in the field of historical photography processes and have been involved with analogue-photography whilst exploring different historical photography printing processes.
Tell me about “Maut Ka Kuaa” Well of Death and your experience there.
I first experienced the “WELL OF DEATH” or “Maut Ka Kuaa” as a child. Since then I always wanted to document it through my lens. In order to do so, I spent about a week living with them; listening to their stories, experiencing their daily lives and stunts from inside out. I experienced some of their everyday struggles; attracting people to the dome, its dismantling and the logistical efforts. It was an experience of a lifetime.
Stunts and Safety
I got to watch stuntmen risk everything they are as they rode on the “Wall of Death”. Holding hands, standing, sleeping, sitting sideways, passing papers, balloons, money. These are just a few of the list stunts they perform. Safety-wise, drivers never wear helmets, and the cars and motorcycles are often in need of repairs.
The Well of Death
The Well is made from wooden planks which are constructed to a gigantic size of 30-50ft. Bear in mind, some pieces of these planks are M.I.A. Performers up the danger of the event by grabbing money from the outstretched hands of spectators.
Vibrations of the bikes and cars can be felt from anywhere.
It was both stunning and interesting to see the stuntmen construct the well without assistance. It takes a week to construct and 5 days to dismantle the whole temporary structure. The “Well of Death” which I’ve documented is one of the biggest of its kind in India. It has been said that there are only 6 Wells of this kind in practice today.
The Well of Death’s Slumping Popularity
A stuntmen shared his worries with me during dinner about the future of the “Well of Death”. He told me, “people are no longer come to visit fairs”. According to him, television is the biggest cause for this as most people would prefer to see daredevil/stunt shows in TV shows or films.
The stuntmen feel that the Government is doing nothing to preserve their space. He continued to voice his worries about how they risk their lives on daily basis to provide live entertainment to the public despite the dismal-looking future of their dying business.
As a result of my stay, not only did I witness their skills but I also got to meet the men that live in those fearless bodies.
What it is you want to say with your photographs, and how do you actually get your photographs to do that?
I just want to share everything that I find interesting and worth noticing. My experiences, the people I meet or the stories I get to hear. I try to capture these experiences in their purest forms. To get this right, I try to be a part of the situation/people/space for quite some time. As a result, whomever or whatever I capture should be comfortable before I start documenting.
What motivates you to continue taking pictures economically, politically, intellectually or emotionally?
My motivation falls into a bit of all of them, however, I’m driven more intellectually and emotionally. I enjoy teaching at different institutes and holding workshops to bring in economical and political fun behind photography.
How else do you spend your time?
I run visual communication design firm “If Design Studio Pvt. Ltd.” apart from photography.