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Field Notes
Jonas Bendiksen
Jonas Bendiksen

What was your best experience during this assignment?

It was great to spend time with Dharavi families in their homes. It gave me a chance to really get to know them and the minutiae of their daily lives. That's so much better than the often all-too-quick encounters photographers experience when working.

What was your worst experience during this assignment?

Although I knew it could be tough, I didn't expect to have such a difficult time dealing with the Indian bureaucracy. They were particularly uncooperative when it came to getting into schools to photograph. As it turned out, the officials kept blocking my access because they were embarrassed by conditions in the public schools. When I finally got in, I saw urine on the floors, overflowing toilets, and as many as 70 kids crammed into classrooms with no chairs. To find that in the economic capital of India was quite shocking.

What was the quirkiest experience during this assignment?

I was photographing the Ganpati festival, which honors the beloved elephant god, Ganesh. The revelers were throwing red tikka powder everywhere, and I got right in the middle of them to get some better camera angles. The next thing I knew, they all started throwing the powder at me instead of at each other, covering me from head to toe in bright red—and, for good measure, completely covering my camera as well. It was great fun, but I spent every minute of the next day cleaning out the camera bit by bit. Red mush leaked out of every crevice. To this day, tikka powder is still coming out of it. Wherever I go, it's a great reminder of Dharavi festivals.