Photographer Held Captive by Indian Snake Charmers
Last summer, Scottish photographer Ross McLean embarked on a project, despite a little voice in his head that screamed “Bad idea!”
McLean had traveled to India, where he hoped to take photographs for his up and coming exhibition, but his plans went way astray when he found himself a captive in a community of snake charmers in a remote village tucked away in the Indian countryside, with no way of getting back.
“I ended up meeting a guy in quite a touristy part of Delhi, and decided to go back to his house for a cup of chai, and to meet his family and photograph them…He’d drawn me in by producing a basket with a king cobra inside … It turned out that his house wasn’t just 10 minutes around the corner. It was actually three-and-a-half hours out of the city, in a completely different part of India”, Ross told BBC Scotland.
Even though snake-charming is outlawed in India, Ross found himself with a bunch of outcasts who relied on that ancient art to survive. It is also illegal in India to own snakes, but the law seems to be a mere technicality judging from the number of snake charmers who prevail in many tourist areas.
Although McLean was not physically restrained, the villagers took his money and they were armed with guns and high on opium, a volatile combination.
Ross became alarmed when he noticed while in the “company of his captors,” a photocopy of a barely legible passport belonging to a Swiss national named Stefan something, along with some of his clothing and a phone charger. Who was this man? And more important, where was he?
McLean planned his escape carefully. He offered to take his captors on a trip, and they agreed, but took him north to an area populated by their relatives. After McLean expressed on paper, in Hindi, his wishes to leave, one of the villagers finally took him back to Delhi in his taxi.
Afterward, Mclean discovered that Stefan was safe and sound in Switzerland. Back home in Dundee, McLean shared his story, hoping that by doing so, others would not make the same mistake.
“I think that following your instincts is a really key thing. I knew, even on the way out there, that it was a bad idea and I went against that,” he said.
Something good did come out of his ordeal, as many of his photographs will be on display beginning February 10 at Abertay University’s Hannah Maclure Gallery.
Et tu, king cobra?