CNN Photos

Horse racing in Kolkata

Since 1847, horse races have captured the attention of audiences at the Royal Calcutta Turf Club in Kolkata, India. Photographer Thomas Vanden Driessche captured the current scene as the club fights to regain prominence.

Vanden Driessche has been shooting in India since 2009, looking at the contemporary culture of the world’s second most-populous country.

“I saw so many stories about the ‘human horses’ pulling all day long their rickshaw by hand in the street,” Vanden Driessche wrote in an e-mail. “I started asking myself where were the real horses in India.”

He read about the association in the local newspaper and decided that after featuring the poverty of the city, he would show a different side of society.

It’s not that lower- and middle-income viewers aren’t at the races. On the contrary, many attend regularly, perhaps as an escape from the city.

Compared with Kolkata, the racetrack is “just day and night. An anthitese (sic) of the rest of the city. It's green, quiet, spacious when the city is crowded, noisy and polluted.”

Gaining access to the racers and goers was easy, Vanden Driessche said. He used slightly overexposed film in his personal project go-to Hasselblad 500 CM camera to create a timeless feel. The difficult thing was dressing the part.

The VIP attendees wear suits and ties, while others wear the traditional dotis. To show respect, Vanden Driessche also dressed well.

He wore a suit, leather shoes and a tie to shoot, which he kept in a backpack for weeks while working on another project on coal mining. For a photojournalist used to working in jeans and a t-shirt, it was “really a nightmare,” he said.

Luckily, he only spent two days at the races and didn’t have to endure the dress code for long. It was hard work for him to run around, trying to capture every moment.

The experience was intensive but rewarding, he said.

- Elizabeth I. Johnson, CNN