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Candy Men of Mumbai: Peddling pink yet perilous treats

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Bustling Mumbai, India’s most populous city and financial center, is currently battling a growing obesity and dental crisis. One of the culprits is the prevalence of cheap and enticing sugar treats like cotton candy. Behind the pop of color is actually a more alarming aspect to this reality that needs more attention. London-based photographer Jon Enoch puts a face to this problem through his latest series featuring the city’s cotton candy peddlers.

Titled “The Candy Men,” this collection of unconventional portraits puts the spotlight on the sellers and the different and unique ways they display their goods. As with the rest of Enoch’s documentary portraits, the series juxtaposes symbols of tradition against the changes unfolding in modern times. With portraiture as his medium, he shows one side of the situation that Mumbai currently faces.

“My photography projects tend to capture a fast-changing world and how traditional aspects of a large city are changing — for better or worse — through the embracing of modernity,” he noted.

Meet the candy men of Mumbai

“The images were taken at nighttime, partly due to logistics — it’s cooler and usually quieter — and partly because it gives me the chance to experiment with lighting and create a specific portrait of these candy floss sellers.”

Indeed, shooting at nighttime allowed Enoch to add drama to what would have otherwise been normal portraits. Not that there’s anything wrong with the latter. But, I think the atmosphere suggested the dark reality behind the saccharine treats. Visually, it also allowed the cotton candy to better stand out against Mumbai’s streets.

“However, I found it fascinating that in Mumbai, it was never quiet,” he added. This suggests that he took time to really pick the best spots to bring his vision to life. “It was hard to find a space that wasn’t crammed with people. Life just goes on — day and night!”

Despite the lack of activity in the scenes, it’s interesting that the portraits suggest how busy the peddlers can get. It’s easy to imagine them walking around the beaches and fairs of the western part of the city, carrying all their wares in all sorts of creative ways to entice buyers to some candy floss.

Bright pink and dangerous

To better understand its message and impact, we also have to look into Enoch’s main motivation behind this series. Cotton candy and other brightly-colored Indian sweets may seem harmless at first. However, they sometimes contain prohibited artificial food coloring. Among them, Rhodamine B, is a potentially carcinogenic fluorescent dye.

“When I read that the desire to create the perfect eye-catching, bright pink candy floss often leads to unauthorized coloring agents being added to the mix, I thought it’s the perfect metaphor for the ills of our time,” he said on the reality that his project reveals.

I don’t see this series as putting blame on the candy men for Mumbai’s health crisis. Rather, it introduces us to some of the people who, in a way, are trapped into letting the crisis continue. As Enoch mentioned, there’s likely a bit of tradition at play here. The fact that these treats are cheap makes them easy to buy and appealing to sell.

An award-winning lifestyle and portrait photographer, Enoch bagged the prestigious Smithsonian Award 2020 for his images of Hanoi motorcycle delivery drivers. His nominations also include the World Photography Awards, Portraits of Humanity and The AOP Awards. Don’t forget to check out his website to see more of his impressive work!

All photos by Jon Enoch. Used with permission.

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