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.