Berlin-based New Yorker Mustafah Abdulaziz visited the banks of this Ganges earlier this year to document daily life along its winding, 2,500km long banks for a photo series called The Purifying Ganges.
The Ganges River has been a point of pilgrimage for Hindus who come from all over the world to wash in the waters but the holy river is also a life line for over 400 million people who live along it.
Between its start in the foothills of the Himalayas to its end in the Bay of Bengal 2,500km away, the Ganges supports agriculture, transportation and everyday life, from those who use it to clean motorbikes, those going fishing to the constructions of new river crossings and the remains of mass religious events which have left large areas of the river banks covered in rubbish and temporary structures yet to be taken down.
Despite the river's often industrial or baron surroundings Abdulaziz’s photographs of are filled with calming reverence and streams of golden light. A natural atmosphere for those who have come to the banks of the river to pray or cremate their dead in funeral pyres, it remains worshipful even while children play and men wash in the waters.
Abdulaziz started his career as a contract photographer for the Wall Street Journal and has since travelled the world documenting everything from his travels across America to the water system in Sierra Leone. Abdulaziz says he owes his love of photography to Richard Avedon.
“The moment when photography found me was by chance,” the photographer explains in an interview with The Raw Book. “I was at a book store and came across a work by Richard Avedon called In The American West. I recall quite clearly the shift in my mind. There is a time before Avedon and a time after. It was as if some part of me was awakened. I was fascinated by the language he used, by the people he chose and by the space he created between me and the work.”
Abdulaziz says that he cannot see beauty without there being sadness in his photography – two traits which the Ganges River brings together. “I don’t relate to idealised beauty,” he adds. “My concern is believability, or my understanding that the photographic process is unique and perhaps an unnatural form of communicating something true about a scene. I want there to be a certain amount of analytical distance between the viewer and what I’m showing. They should be aware they are looking at a photograph, a scene unaltered or directed yet still an aestheticised reality." For a thorough grounding in how to understand contemporary photography, try our Stephen Shore book, The Nature of Photographs. Buy this, and a wide range of other photography books from the people who made them, here.