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Story: I am fortunate to have travelled to India three times, and each visit has been as diverse as the last. The first was to scatter my grandmother’s ashes, during the second I travelled for over six months on my own, and I spent my most recent trip with my fiancé. India is a country that is, at times, incredibly challenging and I’ve always believed that it’s because of that I’ve continued to return.

One city in India that is particularly special to me is Varanasi. I spent three months documenting the local communities living in the old city, focusing in particular on the families responsible for arranging the public cremations on the banks of the River Ganges. While Varanasi is an astonishing place to visit and photograph, it is not for the faint-hearted – it’s a city that you either love or hate. Here, the reality of mortality is laid bare, with bodies being carried through the streets on stretchers towards the cremation grounds. Light and incense smoke streams through the winding streets during the day, and at night you will find the Ganges lit by hundreds of candles floating downstream.

Walking the streets of a city alone with a camera is a meditation for me. My intention is to transform a candid image into one of intimacy and intrigue. Indian cities are paradoxical environments which create the potential for the everyday scene to become extraordinary. I always wait for eye contact with a passerby… sometimes it never happens, but the beauty of street life in cities is that the next photo is only ever moments away.

Emily Garthwaite is an award-winning British photojournalist and a member of Street Photography International. Her photograph of a chained elephant was a Finalist for Wildlife Photojournalist of The Year in the Photojournalism category

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