Indrajeet Rajkhowa (@IndrajeetRajkhowa) likes to take his time. The Indian photographer calls his process “very slow”—and credits that as the secret behind his powerful portraits. “Before I start taking pictures, I try to become friends with people,” he says. He has found that just showing up somewhere and starting to take pictures makes subjects pose unnaturally or give him a stereotypical smile. “When you spend some time with them first, you slowly become invisible.”
Earlier this year, Indrajeet spent two months doing exactly that: He lived and worked at a farmstead in Ladakh, a sparsely populated Indian region in the Himalayas. While he was there, he took portraits of the women in charge—a unique situation caused both by local politics and global trends. “Ladakh borders Pakistan, so it’s a military zone with a lot of bases. Men in the region generally enrol in the army. And most children leave the villages to live in bigger cities.” That means women stay behind to run family farms, making it “a society run by mothers,” as the photographer calls it.
Although very productive, the women on these farms often lack an extra hand to help them out. That’s why local innovator Sonam Wangchuk set up a program for volunteers to come and live at the farms during the warm season. “Between April and October, volunteers come and stay at the villages to give the women a hand,” Indrajeet explains. “It’s a slow life, which consists mainly of waking up early and going to sleep early. There’s not much to do. No parties, the internet is very poor.” He spent his time working and participating in a project that teaches the villages some basic English that they can use to communicate with their guests.
Indrajeet also used the time for carefully composed portraits. He says that he took them for several reasons: Since the traditional societal makeup in Ladakh is in such flux, he wanted to preserve the women’s story and celebrate their independence. “But I also did this project to push the idea of the farmstead stay to the wider world—so that anyone looking for a purposeful trip can find out about the life there and visit.”
The project was also a noted departure for the photographer, who makes his money with fashion and advertisement photography. “Living and working in Ladakh was a massive kick to the gut,” he says. “Coming back to the city, I perceived things very differently than before. I now take even more time, and think a lot more about the conversations I have and who I have them with.”
He plans on going back to the region early next year for yet another photo project. ”Ladakh holds the World Record for the highest region in the world to play ice hockey. It’s not a popular sport in India, but someone brought it there, with people playing on a frozen lake. I will be going back there to cover that story and hope to have it published in March 2018. Like I said, I am taking my time.”