Don’t Mess With Rhesus Macaques: Amos Chapple On Photographing Meghalaya And Traveling Through India

Don’t Mess With Rhesus Macaques: Amos Chapple On Photographing Meghalaya And Traveling Through India

We’ve been following Amos Chapple’s photography ever since he made us fall in deep, heady love with Soviet-filtered images. And he’s come a long way from his domestic, newspaper photo-journalism days having forayed his way across the globe after being selected for the “Our Place” project that required him to photograph UNESCO World Heritage Sites. All the way from Auckland, most recently to India. Considering he’s tasted every adventure right from the Kurdish Hills to a flaming crater in Turkmenistan, we wondered whether photographing ‘Meghalaya - The Wettest place on Earth’ or ‘India By Drone’ matched up to the rest, so we caught up with him to find out.

Two Svan men in Mestia, Upper Svaneti, Georgia. Photo: Amos Chapple. ©OUR PLACE Publishing. Taken on assignment for OUR PLACE, a project which documents all World Heritage sites. See

Despite all the glorification, the real reason we love him is for reasons far simpler. His projects almost always seem to build to a satisfyingly human conclusion, connecting his viewers to places they’d never have thought they might share a connection with.
Either way, scroll on for the full script, stills from both his India projects, and why you should never mess with Rhesus Macaques.
I. 3 words that describe your photography style best. 
Interested, optimistic, slow.
II. Tell us a little bit about your recent trip to India.
I’d gone to Meghalaya a long time ago with a friend. We both fell in love with the place and had wanted to go back ever since. Last year I shot a story on the “Coldest Place on Earth” which got a really great response. I was looking for another “biggest/baddest/mostest” type story and it turned out Meghalaya is probably the wettest place on earth, so I had my headline and a good excuse to head back into the Khasi hills. I stayed for a full month.

Rainwater surges through Mawsynram Village during a heavy downpour. (© Amos Chapple)

III. From a photographer’s perspective, what’s the best part about India? 
There’s something happening behind every door.
IV. Can you narrate any one incident during your Indian travels that really stood out for you? Also, how were you perceived by people you photographed/ locals? 
Oh man, there were a few. The sketchiest was probably on a rooftop in Varanasi. I’d gotten up early to take a picture with my little helicopter. I got set up and was waiting for the sunrise but it was just a grey, dreary morning, not worth photographing. I was sitting there wondering what to do when I saw a monkey on the rooftop across from me. I figured I’d give the guy a thrill by flying the helicopter over to him.  I launched the chopper and cruised it out over this monkey. For a few seconds it was hovering above him and he was super interested - jumping up & down, running back and forth. Then suddenly he started looking up at the drone, then straight at me, like.. “I’m onto you buddy”.

Goats shelter in a bus stop during a drizzly afternoon. While it doesn't rain all day during the monsoons in Mawsynram, it does rain every day, with the heaviest rainfall coming mostly during the night. (© Amos Chapple)

I got uneasy and started flying the drone back over towards my building but he was hopping and leaping along underneath it getting closer to me. I realised the gap between my building and his was a pretty easy leap for a monkey so, with the drone just hanging between us I picked up my umbrella and started waving it around like “Yaargh! Stay back!” . At that point I got panicky when I saw two more monkeys bounding across towards us. One of the monkeys was a big alpha male - all muscle and teeth, so as they were leaping their way across the rooftops I was scrambling to pick all my stuff up with one hand, getting ready to run back to the door into the stairwell . As I landed the drone the big monkey leapt straight over the gap and the other two monkeys then leapt over all pumped up like “not so tough now huh?”

Two wrestlers practising the ancient Indian sport of Kushti in a pit they had hacked into the ground two hours before. Photograph: Amos Chapple

I scooped up the drone then started backing towards the door.  I was really yelling but with my arms full of stuff I couldn’t swing the umbrella properly. So these three monkeys were fanning out around me while I was yelling like crazy and wobbling this umbrella around as I backed towards the door. Luckily it was a swing door which hadn’t latched shut so I crashed backward into it then kicked it shut with the monkeys leaping up & down to see in. When I put my face up to the glass one of them lashed out with his hand right at my face. Don’t mess with Rhesus Macaques.
V. What were the major challenges of shooting in India?
The biggest difficulty from the trip was shooting with the drone. It made a big stir with the locals so I had to find ways of flying it without being seen. The picture of the slum was the hardest to get. I’d scouted around the day before to see where I might be able to fly from but the local kids were super excited to see a foreigner inside their slum and within a few minutes I was being tailed by this crowd of yelling kids. There was no way I could then then pull a flying machine out of my backpack, it would have been bedlam. So the next morning before dawn I hid in the back of a tuk tuk and had the driver deliver me to a spot I’d found. I climbed over this wall to a schoolyard, then onto the roof of the school. A couple of old guys saw me & peered through the gate for a while but I just lay down, out of sight and eventually they lost interest and wandered off. Then when the sun came up, I was able to get that picture of “Hill 3 and leave the slums with hardly anyone noticing.”

Access to running water, which the hill lacks, is far more valuable than any view. Photograph: Amos Chapple

VI. How do you pinpoint locations that you want to shoot when you travel on assignment? 
I look for places which are newsy to some extent, and interesting visually.
VII. You’ve already had two photo stories—-Aerial Images of India and Meghalaya—are there any more we can expect? 
Just hundreds of less interesting shots I still need to upload to Getty Images; nothing worth looking out for.
VIII. The North East is considered to be very different from the rest of the country. Since you covered a lot of ground in India, what did you feel was really different about Meghalaya in comparison to the rest of the country? 
I think the biggest difference - and let me be clear that I love India in almost all its incarnations - is the gentle vibe of the Khasi. There’s much less hustling, and they’re just a quieter, more modest people. At one point I found myself in the weird situation of reverse haggling - a young Khasi guide was refusing to take extra payment, even though we’d hiked further than we were supposed to. I doubt you’d find a similar situation on the mean streets of Delhi!

In a scene played out every weekday morning, students of the RCLP School in Nongsohphan Village, Meghalaya, India, cross a bridge grown from the roots of a rubber tree. In the relentless damp of Meghalaya's jungles, wooden structures rot away too quickly to be practical. For centuries the Khasi people have instead used the trainable roots of rubber trees to "grow" bridges over the region's rivers. (© Amos Chapple)

IX. As a photojournalist, you’ve travelled to many countries. Which have been your best experiences and why? Where does India fall into that grading? 
I love Iran most of all, then Georgia. India and Spain would be tied for third :)
XI. Where are you off to next? 
I’m off to photograph the little “frozen conflict” of Abkhazia then I’m due to start a book project on my home city of Auckland. It’s been years since I’ve photographed on my own turf so New Zealand feels almost exotic now.

Goats shelter in a bus stop during a drizzly afternoon. While it doesn't rain all day during the monsoons in Mawsynram, it does rain every day, with the heaviest rainfall coming mostly during the night. (© Amos Chapple)

Quick Question Round:
I. If you could photograph any one thing in space close-up, what would it be?
Soviet space junk.
II. 3 photographers who really inspire you? 
Matthieu Paley - Best travel photographer of our time.Anders Petersen - Swedish genius.David White - New Zealand newspaper photographer. Known as “The Pitbull” for his tenacity.
I thing/ person you’ve always dreamed about shooting? 
Iran by drone.
The last image that really moved you?
Anders Petersen  “Mental Hospital”


Your favourite meal in India? 
Fresh, spicy ‘Matar Paneer’ with chapati and an icy cold Kingfisher.
Any picture you’ve taken that’s most special to you?

Picture 20 here: That is today’s Iran.

Image Credit - Amos Chapple

Click on the gallery below to see more images from Chapple’s India adventures:

[gallery link=”file” columns=”4” ids=”14670,14669,14668,14667,14664,14663,14659,14657”]

Words: Mandovi Menon

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