The Hippie Cab

 
Soon after I made this image, my sunglasses slid down my nose because of perspiration. Photograph/Natasha Desai

Soon after I made this image, my sunglasses slid down my nose because of perspiration. Photograph/Natasha Desai

Natasha Desai makes a part of her daily commute a little more bearable by seeking out the colour in her humdrum routine.

My Assignment

  • Description: To photograph the colourful backgrounds I find in taxis on my daily commute.
  • Duration: Ongoing since March 2014.
  • Notes: Adjusting the angle of the camera and my face was crucial to get the frame perfect.

One of the many advantages of a front-facing cellphone camera is that one can check one’s appearance with ease. One day, I was checking to see how badly my curly hair had been messed by the wind. That is when I noticed that the taxi I was in had a very pretty ceiling above me … and I made a picture of it.

My Perspective
Commuting is inevitable when you live in a city like Mumbai. After a train/bus journey from my home in the suburbs, I have to hail a taxi for the short distance I need to cover to reach office.

After my first encounter with a striking ceiling, I started paying attention to every taxi I got into. Taxi drivers install these colourful plastic ceilings in order to protect the upholstery. And some, even have matching seat covers. Unwittingly, these ceilings became the perfect backdrop for my series of self portraits. In fact, there were occasions when I let go of taxis that did not have an interesting decor!

I would try a range of expressions with the background to finalise the one I liked the best. Photograph/Natasha Desai

I would try a range of expressions with the background to finalise the one I liked the best. Photographs/Natasha Desai

The series began as a fun way to share my mood for the day on Instagram, against a graphic background. The almost daily uploads were met with a range of reactions— from confusion and appreciation to accusations of narcissism.

Over time, I realised that I was not only bringing myself joy with these images but also documenting a quirky characteristic of the city I live in.

Soon enough, I was including my friends in these pictures whenever I travelled in a taxi with them. While commuting is generally a traumatic experience for most Mumbaikars, I found myself looking forward to one part of my journey each day.

There were times I let go of a taxi because its ceiling was not interesting.

This was the first image I made with a friend. He was very excited to be a part of the series. Photograph/Natasha Desai

This was the first image I made with a friend. He was very excited to be a part of the series. Photograph/Natasha Desai

The Process
After the initial rush of photographing the first few taxis, finding a taxi with unique upholsterey became difficult. But with patience and persistence, I found several different ones. I used the front camera of my cellphone and held it low to accommodate more of the background. This also allowed me to see my expression and the placement of my face in the frame.

I flipped this image upside down as I thought that was the best way to bring out the patterns above me. Photograph/Natasha Desai

I flipped this image upside down as I thought that was the best way to bring out the patterns above me. Photograph/Natasha Desai

Making images in a moving taxi is not always easy, as I would have to wait for the taxi to slow down. Every ceiling required roughly 8–10 frames in order to get one or two clear images. In low light, I would have to resort to using the rear camera with flash.

This project has given me something to look forward to each day. Finding a taxi with a new pattern has a thrill of its own for me. My friends and family have begun making pictures the same way and sending them to me, only adding to the fun of it all.

I found this image especially fun to shoot, as my hair seemed to flow right into the background. Photograph/Natasha Desai

I found this image especially fun to shoot, as my hair seemed to flow right into the background. Photograph/Natasha Desai

My Equipment

I used the front facing camera of an iPhone 5 to make the images. If I needed to use the flash I would use the rear camera. You could even use a compact camera and a mirror to view the LCD, or the tilt and swivel variant. The rear camera of your cellphone with a mirror will serve the purpose as well.

Want to Document a Fun Aspect of Your Commute?

  • Use Appropriate Equipment: Carrying bulky equipment on a daily commute may not not always be possible. More importantly, the topic of your series will decide whether a DSLR, compact camera or cellphone is required.
  • Keep Your Eyes Peeled: Sometimes the most quirky and fun things about our city get lost in the monotony. Look at your commute as though it is a new journey.
  • Mix it Up: Find different ways to make your series interesting. You could include or exclude certain elements, or photograph the stranger sitting next to you every day or the first person you see passing by your gate each day.

To view more images from Natasha’s series, you can visit www.instagram.com/curlsb4swine

Tags: Apple iPhone, backgrounds, Cellphone camera, colour, Commute, Hippie cab, Mumbai, natasha desai, On Assignment, Taxi