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KOLKATA - a feast for the senses and the lenses
KOLKATA — a feast for the senses and the lenses
The world’s most beautiful mess…

This is a tale of a SLOW PHOTOGRAPHER wandering the streets of the city where time seems to have stood still. And also, a tale of the character of old Soviet JUPITER lenses. And then some…

Why Kolkata?

Many of the journeys I take start with a ‘gut feeling’. Not from research, or a bucket list.
Usually, those gut feelings come rather spontaneous — out of the blue.
And often I depart shortly after, given time and finances permit.

In the case of Kolkata, I had this ‘hunch’ to go there for many years. It was not a yearning or a strong desire… Actually, more of an ‘itch…

Having visited India once 30 years ago I always felt a desire to go again.

So, one day while casually checking flight cost I was surprised to learn that flights to Kolkata were much more affordable than I anticipated.

Also, my missis has been saying for many years that she would lo love to visit India. So without much discussion and deliberations, she got us visas and tickets. And off we were…

But before I ramble on let me show you a few impressions of the city of joy — as Kolkata is also referred to.​​​​​​​
This was the first impression when stepped out of our hotel on the first day… Jupiter-3 lens
I knew I had found what I was looking for when taking this photo. Jupiter-3 lens
Kolkata — this is when I fell in love with you… Jupiter-3 lens
Is this still planet Earth ? SIGMA 20mm lens with Tilt-Shift adapter
And it got better and better with every turn I took — Jupiter-3 lens
a painting drawn by life… — Jupiter-3 lens
Kolkata the world’s most beautiful mess

I expected Kolkata to be ‘messy’, intense, overwhelming and a feast for the senses — and also an interesting and inspiring place to indulge in my favourite pastime: SLOW PHOTOGRAPHY.

I was very eager to try out my Soviet vintage lenses: A Jupiter-3 (50 mm / f 1.5) and a Jupiter 9 (85 mm / f1.5). How would they perform out here in the streets? More on this later.

Kolkata certainly did not disappoint. In fact, my expectations were far surpassed by a bonanza of impressions
But before I ramble on let me show you some more images of the city of joy as Kolkata is often called.
Yes, you see correctly !! In Kolkata, they grow grass on car roofs. My suggestion: Don’t ask — just enjoy…
Someone’s kitchen? Or a masterpiece of object-art? Again: Don’t ask! This is KOLKATA — Jupiter-3 lens
Stray dogs… Jupiter-3 lens
and above all the people of Kolkata…
Destitution porn?

I always had issues with photographers exploiting precarious conditions of folks living in destitute or under adverse conditions. Even if those photographers claim that they are highlighting a social injustice or some other ‘noble cause’.

I vowed that I would never take up other people’s destitute as something I would photograph.

Also ‘sensationalism’ is not my thing either. Yet I am also drawn to the human condition in all its broad gamut.

So seeing all these folks in Kolkata living under rather adverse living conditions created a conflict within me.

And I often asked myself whether I engage in ‘destitution porn’ here when pointing my camera on the misfortunate.

But I have come to the conclusion that this is such an integral part of Kolkata that any documentation of this city would not be complete without this facet of life.

In the following allow me, with a bit of resistance, show you those photographs.

Afternoon nap — Jupiter-3 lens
what will tomorrow bring — Jupiter-3 lens
On the way to work
Jupiter lens testing grounds
In terms of photographic equipment, I also had a particular mission in mind. Putting two of my Jupiter vintage lenses through the paces. I brought a Jupiter-3 (50 mm / f 1.5) and a Jupiter 9 (85 mm / f1.5) with me. But I ended up using the 50 for most photographs.

These 2 Jupiters are knock-offs from German-engineered Zeiss lenses. I suspect that the Zeiss equivalents will be (much) better performers. But the Zeiss are much harder to get and also significantly higher priced.
Jupiter — 9
My short verdict about these two Jupiter lenses is that their technical performance is rather poor. And in some situations, very poor.

Mainly because of stray light hitting the sensor when confronted with even the slightest hint of a front light situation. This stems mainly from the fact that both lenses come without a lens hood. In fact, those lenses do not even have a lens hood mount.
The bokeh is also nothing to write home about. But I am not a bokeh nerd anyway… and the majority of my photos are anyway taken at infinity focus where there is no bokeh involved.

I did not notice any excessive vignetting but sharpness fall-off towards the corners is something that may concern other photographers.

At f1.5, the largest aperture setting, both lenses are sufficiently fast and I never wished to have something faster.
As for how the Jupiter-3 and the Jupiter-9 render colour I did notice neither anything positive, nor negative. Colour rendition to my eye is rather neutral and pleasant. The colours are proly a tad on the ‘warm side’. I like that.

Both lenses lack contrast — no big deal though. Crank it up in post…
With the 50mm Jupiter, I was able to get some nice lens flare effect when the light angle was right.

Handling those lovely Jupiter lenses is a breeze — setting focus and apertures is smooth and in general, the lenses never stood in the way of my photography…
Jupiter — 3
Overall the JUPITERs are rather mediocre performers when it comes to their technical qualities, but they are also dirt cheap. Which is prove to the concept: you get what you pay for.
Jupiter lenses have character and it fits perfectly with Kolkata
What I can say is that the Jupiter 3, Jupiter 9 and also the Jupiter 11 have similar character — hence they are well suited as a ‘lens kit’ — not to be mistaken with a dreaded kit lens…

Both of those lenses are very vintage — hard to describe, yet nice to look at.
Lots of flaws and technical imperfections. Which on the other side form that very character of these two lenses.

I for my part see the technical flaws that these lenses exhibit as ‘character’. And I feel that this very character was a great match for what I photographed in Kolkata.
I for my part see the technical flaws that these lenses exhibit as ‘character’. And I feel that this very character was a great match for what I photographed in Kolkata.

But if you are in store for vintage lenses with great technical performance run for the door… Jupiter is not your cup of coffee then.

Another thing that I like about these two Jupiter lenses is that they are very small and compact.

For reasons of completeness, I need to mention that I also always had a Panasonic Lumix pocket camera with me. And maybe as much as 20% of all the keepers from this trip were done with this little bugger.
And I also brought my SAMYANG 300 mm mirror lens.

Because one part of every photo adventure I embark on is to do street portraiture with ultra tele lenses. In this case, a 300mm lens becomes a 500mm as the camera is set to APS-C mode.

Here are some photographs that were taken with the SAMYANG puppy.
Kumartuli — the place where the gods are made

For me, the district of Kumartuli was the pinnacle of what Kolkata has to offer as a photo destination.

Dear Reader needs to know that Kumartuli is one of the oldest parts of Kolkata. And the place where all the religious figurines that Hindu devotees use as part of the worship rituals are made.

But for me, it was more than that. Much more. All that makes Kolkata such a captivating place culminates here in a potpourri and a bonanza of impressions.

But rather than me singing a hymn here let the photos do the telling…
Not only religious figurines — Jupiter-3 lens
spooky in a way… — Jupiter-3 lens
Done — finished … Waiting for the garbage collector… LUMIX 10 pocket camera
All this beauty is just discarded and turned back into dust - which becomes clay - which becomes figurines again and so forth…
KOLKATA as a photo destination ?
Definitely yes. A big yes indeed. But of course, it depends on what you are looking for.

Most of the folks I encountered out in the streets are rather friendly towards being photographed. In fact, I have often been approached by random people asking me to take photos of them.

On the other side, I think in terms of ‘photography not allowed’ India is proly' world champion. There are so many places and locations where you are not allowed to take photos. Or worse where they charge you money for doing so.
But nobody seems to care…
On the Howrah bridge — SAMYANG 300 mm mirror lens
And it is this rather relaxed attitude towards rules and regulations that I also like about Kolkata. This was also most apparent in the legendary Indian Coffee house — a very prominent landmark of Kolkata. There are non-smoking signs all over the place, but nobody cares…

Here some images from the legendary Indian coffee house in Kolkata.
The oldest coffee house in India
and when it comes to the bill… where in the world is your bill still calculated by hand by a human calculator
Of course, it is also this ‘nobody cares’ attitude that has lots of negative implications and is proly also one of the causes why not all is well in Kolkata.

I guess it is like with so many other aspects of life: every coin has two sides.
Kolkata is a city in decay and a case of missed opportunities
I can’t say why — maybe it’s politics but Kolkata could be one of the most beautiful cities in Asia. It has so much heritage and history. After all, for most the of time, British occupiers had their capital in Kolkata.

Kolkata has also lots and lots of super beautiful old villas which I am not even sure if they have anything to do with the ‘Brits’… but most I have seen are in a state of utter disrepair.

Here some images that illustrate how Kolkata is crumbling apart — and what it could be.
Imagine such buildings would be maintained and preserved…
What once was
reminds me a bit of Havanna Cuba… — JUPITER 9 Lens
Kolkata is also surprisingly green with lots of tree-lined streets and avenues.

Yet it is a city in decay. Buildings are on the verge of collapsing. Maintenance seems to be a foreign concept.

From the perspective of a photographer, this is a bonus. But looking at it that way is also romanticizing…
KOLKATA is surprisingly green — Jupiter-3 lens
Nature is in many places reclaiming its stakes… Jupiter-3 lens
And why I say it is a case if missed opportunity? Because would they restore and maintain Kolkata’s rich cultural and historical heritage and invest in this it could be a magnet for tourists.

But hey, it is certainly not up to me to lecture Kolkata what to do…

In the following please find some final images of this endlessly fascinating city that is Kolkata:

Flowers on sale in front of Kaligat temple
The largest flower market in Asia…
Flowers, flowers and yet more flowers
Anyone remembers the typewriter…
Kitchen in the front — restaurant inside
I tremendously enjoyed my time in Kolkata. And I would go there again in an instant.

If you are looking to visit a place off the beaten track you may want to consider visiting Kolkata before the whole thing collapses and is gone for good… But I admit I may be exaggerating here.

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KOLKATA - a feast for the senses and the lenses

KOLKATA - a feast for the senses and the lenses