When in Jodhpur I was told by another photographer, Jon McCormack, that I should get outside the city and see the Bishnoi people. It’s a rural village outside of Jodhpur by 45 minutes. I took his advice and used a guide he had recommend.
The first stop that morning was a house that was a pottery shop. Jon said this had been really boring for him when he went (photography wise that is) as he didn’t get any shots that were good when he stopped. I had told the guide beforehand I was only interested in people and photographs and I didn’t want to make any stops along the way that involved someone trying to sell me something.
The guide assured me this would be a great stop for photographs and no one was going to try and sell me anything… so I gave him the benefit of the doubt and said ok. He was so right; as it turned out to be the best thing I did that whole day.
The man that ran the family shop, named Iqbal, was a 4th generation pottery maker. He was an easily approachable guy and I explained that I wanted to take photos of him and ask a few questions, so that I could show people back home what he does here. He seemed to like that and went out of his way to show me everything. He was also pretty funny (as the guide had to translate) as we joked around the whole time when shooting.
The pots he make actually leak water, but only slightly. This is what keeps the water cool inside. The pots have micro-holes in them that allow air to pass through and keep the water cool. Iqbal showed me the water jug he uses and got a cup of it and poured it over my hand. It felt like it had came straight from a refrigerator, and couldn’t believe it was so cold considering we were in the desert and there was no electric used to cool it.
I was hooked and had to know more as this was just pure genius I thought!
I promised him I would print some photographs for him to keep and give them to the guide to hand off to him later. At the end he didn’t even want the customary 100Rs ($2.20 USD) that the guide gave everyone when we stopped. He was just happy someone cared enough about what he did and wanted to share with others.
- The pots sell for 20Rs-100Rs ($0.45-$2.20 USD) a piece, depending on their size
- The water jugs will last six months, then has to be thrown away and repurchased, as they will break down
- On average he makes about 30 water jugs a day
- Max water jugs he ever produced in a single day was 100
- He’s been making these pots since he was 10 years old, he is 50 years old now
Below are some documentary photos I took of him working. He made 3 different types of pots, then showed me how he makes the water jugs. You can find these water jugs throughout Rajasthan used by locals to keep fresh water stored for daily use. If you’re in Jodhpur, I would HIGHLY recommend going to the Bishnoi village, as the people were some of the nicest I had met in India and wonderful to take photos of.
A candid shot of Iqbal before he starts the process of making the pottery.
The secrete of the pots are saw dust and ash. The saw dust gets added into the clay mixture, which gets burned out later, creating microscopic holes inside the water jug. This allows water to seep through and creates it’s coolness. The ash is added to make the pot stronger, enabling it to hold more and not crack while being cooked in the furnace.
Adding the saw dust and ash to the clay. He does this several times, working it in, then rolls it into an even size log, chopping it up into sections to be used on the wheel.
The potters wheel used to make the pots used to be made of stone but now it’s made of concrete because it’s easier to obtain. That large wheel you see in the background gets spun on that little wooden peg. I was surprised at how fast and how long the potters table was able to go for until it slowed down.
Using a stick to spin the table, he takes about a minute getting it up to speed. I never seen him have to spin the table twice on the same pot, which might say a few things, one being how fast he works.
From start to finish. It took him 4+ minutes to make this little pot. The leftover clay on the table was used to make another one right afterwards.
This was a decorative piggy bank, made with the leftover clay from the first pot.
Making a large vase. This took a little more time to shape and add the detail. It stood about 2 foot tall when finished.
Adding detail to the vase and forming the lid
His main business is making the water jugs. He forms them on the potters table, then will let them dry until they can be picked up and handled. (Left Photo) waiting in the sun, pre-made. (Right Photo) the finished product after final forming.
Once the water jug is dried enough to handle, he places it inside this bowel lined with a burlap sack
He uses a flat hammer to expand the water jug. It doesn’t look right at first when he’s doing it, as it creates flat surfaces but he keeps working it over and over until it’s finally perfectly rounded.
From start to finish. Once the water jug is formed it is placed in a fire furnace to bake overnight. It is then ready for sale the next day. Total time to create one jug is 24 hours. Notice how much larger the water jug is from making it more rounder.
Just before I was about to leave he asked me if I would take a photo of his family. I said no problem and was happy that the photo came out great. His youngest son will take on the family trade if he can’t afford to send him to a better school, he said.