My big break Roger Hutchings
“Ididn’t really understand what was going on. There were so many things happening, so many people, such anarchy, such an extent of chaos. It was a very hard thing to photograph.” Roger Hutchings is recalling his first impressions of the Indian town of Ayodhya in September 1990, when he arrived to witness rioting Hindu pilgrims, led by the politician LK Advani, attempting to tear down an Islamic mosque. Advani and his followers claimed the disputed holy site was the birthplace of Hindu god Rama, and that the mosque built on the ruins of an earlier temple.
Roger was already an established globe-trotting news photographer, but this was his first trip to India and he was given due warning about what to expect by a local passenger on the train journey from Delhi: “I said I was going to Ayodhya and he just looked at me and said: ‘Ayodhya? Hmm, many people will be killed there. You may be one of them!’” Arriving in the main city of Lucknow, Roger bumped into the BBC correspondent Christopher Morris and they shared a taxi for the final leg of the journey. Upon arrival, the two men were confronted with a fullscale riot of “naked, white-painted sadhus (holy men) being battered over their heads with bamboo canes as they tried to break through the police lines, people setting fire to buildings and setting fire to vehicles, mobs running, the police chasing them.”
The picture featured here, taken on that day, shows a policeman standing in front of a burning Land Rover set alight by the rioting mob. “I had never seen the like of it before,” Roger says. “There was a huge police presence just trying to protect the mosque and maintain law and order. The mob started setting fire to vehicles and they set fire to a police vehicle, and that’s the shot.”
This picture, taken with a 70-210mm lens, won the 1991 Nikon Photo Essay of the Year award.
Reflecting on the significance of this picture, Roger remarks: “Why was it important to me? I think for a number of reasons. When I won the award it gave me credibility with my agency. It did my personal confidence good. It gave picture editors confidence in backing me for foreign assignments, which is what I did predominantly for nearly the next ten years after that. Yeah, it was definitely a turning point in my career.” After the Photo Essay of the Year, Roger went on to win the Nikon News Photographer of the Year, as well as awards in World Press Photo and other international competitions.
Roger Hutchings has three bodies of work that have attracted critical acclaim: Thatcher’sBritain, a long-term social documentary about Britain; Bosnia, a reflection on the civil war in Yugoslavia; and Ataturk’sChildren, which examines the Turkish Kurds’ struggle for self-determination. For more info, visit rogerhutchings.com