My first trip to India was in 1984, to the north. In 1999, I returned for three months to South India, which turned out to be quite different from what I had seen during my earlier visit. I fell in love with India while in Hampi, where I was drawn to the more traditional way of life. Hampi’s rural setting reminded me of aspects of my upbringing. I grew up in a village in Brittany, France and can still remember the easygoing pace of life there. It was similar in Hampi.
Since 1999, I have been back to India every year, sometimes twice a year, and it’s becoming very difficult to go elsewhere. The country has become part of me. Not a day passes without me reading something about it or listening to Indian music. It’s almost an obsession, albeit a gentle one.
As I studied painting and sculpture at art school, I drew more inspiration from painters than photographers. In my photographs, color fills the background whenever possible.
Each time I return to India, I experiment with something new. It can be meeting Indians on the ghats (sandstone steps leading to the river) in Varanasi, spending time with sadhus (Hindu holy men), sharing days with hijras (people belonging to a traditional transgender subculture) or attending a colorful festival like the Sonepur Mela in Bihar. I love photographing daily life, but never wanted to indulge in the sordid—a trap you can easily fall into in India. I deliberately choose to show the brighter side of the country. What I want to capture is a moment of intense emotion, the movement and the color, without being abstract.
It seems like everybody in India has some kind of knowledge on how to mix colors together—it can be a hut, a tiny shop or a wall. I started shooting in black and white, but nowadays I wouldn’t dream of going back to that. Life is color, and India is full of it. It has an energy you don’t find elsewhere in the world.
Traveling and shooting in India each year gives me strength to live in Europe the rest of the time. I believe I would have real problems if, for one reason or another, I couldn’t go back to India. I must say, I have thought about settling permanently in India a few times. I would love to.
Although Claude Renault obtained a degree in sculpture from Ecole des Beaux-Arts, France, his interest in photography flourished after graduating. A self-taught photographer, Renault began his career working as a corporate photographer before going freelance in 1994. In recent years, traveling to India has been his greatest inspiration. His passion for documenting the soul and color of India through his lens is evident in every photo. Renault was a semi-finalist in our 2010 India Photo Contest.