Lonely Planet Writer

A traveller took these stunning portraits of the ‘flower men’ of Kolkata

During a recent visit to Kolkata, Danish photographer Ken Hermann was struck by the city’s ‘flower men’. Congregating around the busy Malik Ghat Flower Market, the men sell a wide array of colourful flowers. “Malik Ghat lies in the shadow of the Howrah Bridge,” says Ken, “on the banks of the Hooghly River, a tributary to the sacred Ganges. It’s one of the largest wholesale flower market on the planet.”

“Sometimes it looks like they’re wearing big flower dresses,” says Ken Image by Ken Hermann

“It’s a beautiful – and at the same time – very stressful place”, he continues. “I got really fascinated with it; the flower sellers in particular got my attention. I really like the way the men carry them, sometimes it almost looks like they’re wearing big flower dresses. I like the way these strong, masculine men handled the flowers with so much care. I wanted to do the portraits on a plain and simple background so they really stood out. I love the way the different men posed – the masculine man and the beautiful flower.”

The sellers posed against the backdrop of the Hooghly River. Image by Ken Hermann

Not all the sellers wanted to have their picture taken, as Ken explains. “There’s a lot of superstition and religious belief in the flowers in India. We couldn’t photograph some of them, because they’re holy flowers and it’s believed they’d lose their ‘power’. Most of the sellers didn’t mind having their photo taken though, as long as it didn’t take too long. They were all very busy, and focused on not losing too much business.”

A flower seller carries a colourful pile of ashoka leaves. Image by Ken Hermann

Aside from the logistics of setting up the shots, says Ken, there was also the hot Kolkata sun to contend with. “The biggest challenge was the heat. I was there just before the monsoon, and it was 45 degrees every day. After two hours of shooting, my clothes were completely soaked in sweat!” The shoot was well worth it though, as you can tell from Ken’s stunning images. “Hopefully people find the portraits interesting”, he says. “Even though so many of the flower sellers are poor, they’re still very proud of what they do. When the project is complete, I’ll send the pictures to them. Our local guide was a flower seller, and he’ll make sure they get them.”

You can follow more of Ken’s work on his Instagram.