Tobias Hutzler on photographing India’s magical, uplifting International Kite Festival

Each January 15th, residents of Gujarat, in northwest India, celebrate the day of Uttarayan, a public holiday marking the change from winter to summer, by taking part in a massive kite festival. How massive? More than 8 million people typically participate every year. Imagine an entire city united by the simple pleasure of flying a kite or, after sunset, of sending up a candlelit balloon representing their hopes and dreams.

“There is perhaps no event more anticipated in Gujarat…than the International Kite Festival every January,” writes Julie Bosman in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, which published Tobias Hutzler’s magical photographs capturing the day of Uttarayan.

Witnessing the festival made an indelible impression on Tobias, who worked closely with director of photography Kathy Ryan and photo editor Clinton Cargill. “It’s an incredible sight when millions of people from all layers, castes, origins, and areas look up into the sky,” he says. “It symbolizes hope, a new beginning, the future. On every rooftop, families gather from early sunrise to late night to fly kites and candlelit balloons. On that one day, everybody is engaged in looking up, looking forward, forgetting about all the barriers of daily life.”

For Tobias, the festival also was a high-pressure exercise in careful planning: In the three days prior to the event, he had to scout locations—he photographed from atop different high rises—arrange clearance, and establish his setups so that on the actual day, he could race from location to location via motorcycle and rickshaw, ascend to his chosen spot, and look out onto the city to find his images in the moment. “I scouted locations in vastly different neighborhoods to capture the wide variety of stories unfolding on each rooftop,” he explains.

Tobias also photographed the preparations for the festival, such as the making of the richly colored string that helps the kites stand out against the sky. The festival is quite competitive, and some people coat their kite strings with powder containing broken glass—the better to battle other kites in midair. “When a participant successfully downs another kite, a small trumpet sounds a victory blast,” writes the Times’ Bosman.

The magazine published Tobias’ photos across five pages in a “Look” feature called “The Kite Sky,” as well as posted a 12-image gallery online. Below are some highlights, with detailed captions. See a much wider edit at Tobias’ website, tobiashutzler.com.
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Tobias Hutzler_International Kite Festival 1

“This boy’s hands are taped to protect them from the sharp kite string.” Photo and caption by Tobias Hutzler.

Tobias Hutzler_International Kite Festival 2

“The rooftop of a medium-rise building in the new part of town. Families ‘partner’ to fly a kite. Husbands and wives, fathers and sons—they build teams, some competing against each other.” Photo and caption by Tobias Hutzler.

Tobias Hutzler_International Kite Festival 3

“I shot this image shortly after sunrise, over the roofs of the historic part of the old town. As soon as the kids wake up, they rush to the roof, excited to fly their kites. The rest of the family follows a bit later. This picture shows the first kites in the air that morning.” Photo and caption by Tobias Hutzler.

Tobias Hutzler_International Kite Festival 11

“In an upscale part of Ahmedabad, a family is surrounded by kites that they took down ‘in battle.’” Photo and caption by Tobias Hutzler.

Tobias Hutzler_International Kite Festival 4

“A woman preparing kite string on the street for sale. In order to be more competitive, kite strings are prepared with a special emulsion that contains small pieces of broken glass. The string becomes very sharp, and when strings are crossed in air, can cut down the opponent’s kite.” Photo and caption by Tobias Hutzler.

Tobias Hutzler_International Kite Festival 6

“Workers preparing kite strings on the streets of the old part of town in Ahmedabad. The strings are stretched between poles and dyed in neon colors, so they are better visible in the air. Everywhere in the city, people prepare the strings, and in the days before the festival, the entire city is colored in pink. Once finished, the string is sold on markets and stands.” Photo and caption by Tobias Hutzler.

Tobias Hutzler_International Kite Festival 5

“Workers dye kite strings on the street. This scene can be found on almost every corner.” Photo and caption by Tobias Hutzler.

Tobias Hutzler_International Kite Festival 7

“In the foreground, workers are preparing kite string. Just beyond them, the string is displayed for sale. And just beyond that, on the street, you can see people stopping by to buy string.” Photo and caption by Tobias Hutzler.

Tobias Hutzler_International Kite Festival 8

Photo by Tobias Hutzler.

Tobias Hutzler_International Kite Festival 9

“At night, ‘Tukals’ fly over the city of Ahmedabad. Tukals are candlelit hot air balloons. I captured the trails of these illuminated balloons through a long exposure. This moment has a very magical feel, very relaxing and soothing after an exciting
and exhausting day of flying kites.” Photo and caption by Tobias Hutzler.

Tobias Hutzler_International Kite Festival 10

Photo by Tobias Hutzler.

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