This Is How to Sell Flowers in Kolkata

Left: Sanju Joshi, Gainda flowers. Right: Dharmendra Singh, Devdar leaves.

Ken Hermann

While visiting Kolkata a few years ago, Danish photographer Ken Hermann was drawn to the thousands of people selling flowers in the Malik Ghat Flower Market—particularly the clothing the men were wearing. The images stayed in his mind, and in 2014 he returned to the market to create portraits of the sellers for the series “Flower Man.”

Hermann worked with a local guide and translator since many of the sellers are from Bangladesh and only speak Bangla. Shooting in the market proved too difficult due to the congestion, so Hermann took the sellers along the Hooghly River, where he set up one studio light during the midday sun. Typically, Hermann prefers softer light during the mornings and late afternoons, but he went after the harsh midday sun for “Flower Man.”

“For this project I wanted to overexpose the background so all of them were shot when the sun is straight above,” he said. “Kolkata is hazy because of the smog and I wanted this really bright style … it gave it a nice touch instead of a sunset type background.”

Left: Chandan Kumar, Gainda flowers. Right: Rajesh Yadav, Neelkanth flower.

Ken Hermann

Left: Shambhunath Dutt, Rrongan flowers. Right: S.K Bhagat, Java flower.

Ken Hermann

Left Odhir Gayen, Devdar leaves. Right: Sanjit Malik, Gettylade flowers.

Ken Hermann

For the most part, Hermann spent about 20 minutes shooting each man—“you can shoot 700 images during that amount of time”—to ensure he had at least one where each man looked “strong and proud.” Hermann was also limited to about three hours of shooting daily to capture the bright sun, which was practical because “after two hours you’re completely covered in sweat because Kolkata is really warm.”

He didn’t shy away from including different elements into the background such as a passing ship, flying birds, or even other passersby.

Initially the series was intended to include both men and women but Hermann said he quickly realized that wouldn’t be possible since culturally speaking, women weren’t interested in having their photographs taken. He has lost count about how many men he has photographed for the series but said that isn’t the goal of the series.

“I want to do all of the flowers that are sold in the market; I haven’t yet covered all of the flowers.”

Hermann recently won the Grand Prize in Photo District News’s (PDN) World in Focus competition for “Flower Men.” Follow him on Instagram

Left: Shankar Shah, Roses. Right: Ramdayal Yadav, Roses.

Ken Hermann

Left: Kulwinder, Gainda flowers. Right: Ranjan Rai, Lotus.

Ken Hermann