It all began in Manhattan. I was 22 and working in the stock exchange while studying journalism at night. I went to see an exhibition of Sebastiao Salgado – The Hand of Man. I left the museum in awe. I was fascinated by the power of Salgado’s images. On my way out of the museum I bought a black and white postcard of one of his photos. It was the silhouette of a woman digging into an empty desert landscape. I put it in my Travel Journal with all the other scraps of information and forgot about it.
Two years later, I had left my stock exchange job, moved to Paris and was struggling to make it as a photographer. I was on a story in southern India and one night, when I showed the postcard to a friend, he informed the women were Itinerant Workers building the water canal out in the Rajasthan Desert.
He whispered seven magical words that caught my interest: The place is off limits to foreigners!
And away I went with my cameras, films, and enthusiasm. I traveled north to Rajasthan. I waited for a month in an old fortress where I spent my days grappling with local officials to grant me access into the forbidden zone.
Finally, I was given the green light. My guide and I drove north towards the Pakistan border. One morning, after several days of scouting the area along the Rajasthan Canal, I saw a flash of light out the corner of my eye. I asked the driver to pullover. I got out and walked over to a group of workers in a make shift camp on the roadside. I casually started to photograph the women.
I was drawn to one woman. She was busy cooking on an open fire inside her hut. Her 4 small, hungry children sat next to her waiting to be fed. She neither ignored me nor acknowledged me. When she was finally done, she came out and sat in front of me. She adjusted her shawl and looked at me for a long moment.
Suddenly I put my camera down and my heart began to race.
I picked up my camera bag and pulled out the postcard from the museum. Several of the men in her group came and peered over my shoulder and started to talk and laugh nervously.
She was the woman on the postcard I had carried in my camera bag for nearly two years.
Don’t you love it when the Universe is paying attention.
Suddenly she disappeared. She came back and wrapped a gold thread around my wrist and had my driver, now mystified by the unfolding events, translate that God had sent her a sister.
Her name was Sai. I stayed for a couple of weeks with her and her extended family, photographing them in their daily life. This story was my confirmation from the Universe that I was doing exactly what I was destined for.