Being a woman, and British, has not deterred this intrepid city photographer

She seems like one of those people with plenty of exciting stories to tell, and if you ever meet her, you won't be disappointed. Clare Arni, who is of British origin, has spent most of her life in Bangalore and says, very simply, “I love it.” She talks with enthusiasm about how multicultural the area is, with strains of music from the Malayali church nearby and the calls from one of the masjids wafting through the neighbourhood. “You can still find a semblance of old Bangalore here in Fraser Town and Cooke Town, and although there are so many different communities that live here, they're not in ‘ghettos',” she says, with an evident eye for detail.

Having been a photographer for several years, Clare possesses an impressive body of work, with several exhibitions and books to her credit. She believes that on the job, her background has worked to her advantage. “One publisher said that my project was impossible, being a woman and white. But as a woman, I've had access to areas that men wouldn't have: women allow me inside their homes. I'm not a threat. And as a foreigner, I'm neutral.”

Being addressed as ‘Sir' by some men on her travels seems only to be minor entertainment for Clare, as she tells me that being a foreigner (a small fact that she sometimes forgets) means that her antics are slightly more acceptable. She once climbed a flimsy ladder in order to take a better shot from the top of a water tank, while a few men below stood debating among themselves whether she would make it. “But I did it in the end. Anyway, to them I was hardly a woman, since I am a foreigner!” she laughs.

For Clare, photography, it's not just a hobby. “I have to pay my bills,” she says, also admitting (with a grimace) that she did some fashion photography when she was younger.

But the very landscape of the profession has undergone significant changes, particularly over the last two or three years, and especially in Bangalore, she says.

“When I first started, photography was a limited field. I was used to seeing myself as an architectural photographer.” But with travel photography, the documentation of cultural heritage, and other, less categorisable work in her bag, things have grown more flexible. “Now I see myself as more of an artist. Some cities are still conservative about buying photography, but it's increasingly being seen as an art form... there's a marketplace for photography these days,” she says.

With work for five books, an ongoing project to document occupations that are slowly being edged out of cities by globalisation, titled ‘Disappearing Professions in Urban India', and a growing collection of photographs of her friend and muse, Meera, a Belgian woman who lived for years as a sadhvi in a cave in Hampi, Clare has plenty to add to her already impressive repertoire.


Soap BoxJanuary 13, 2011