Photo: Jon Enoch

Although Jon Enoch spends the bulk of his time photographing ad campaigns for clients like American Airlines, EA Sports and Benefit Cosmetics, he still loves to take up a personal project. In 2022, Enoch traveled to Mumbai, India with a plan to photograph vendors selling neon pink cotton candy (also known as candy floss) on the streets.

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Through his research on the region, Enoch learned that the eye-catching pink sweets achieve their dreamy bright color because of unauthorized ingredients – like Rhodamine B, banned because it can be carcinogenic.

'It could be said this is the perfect metaphor for the ills of our time,' Enoch says.

Here he shares how he gained access to his subjects and worked quickly on the busy streets of Mumbai to capture these eye-popping portraits.

How did you end up in Mumbai working on the Candy Men series?

I had planned the trip around the photography project. It’s somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit and I did a lot of research around portrait ideas, before coming up with the concept of the candy floss sellers.

I tend to travel for project ideas in cities that are going through modernization – you get that unique juxtaposition of life changing in many ways, but remaining traditional in other ways. My last photography project was set in Hanoi, Vietnam, where authorities were looking to restrict motorbikes. In the city, motorbikes are used commonly to deliver huge loads of goods, delicately balanced on the bike. That project was a fantastic visual metaphor for how life could change for those delivery drivers.

I was fascinated by the different sides of life in a city like Mumbai. On one hand, it’s one of the richest cities in the world and a huge financial hub, but of course on the other side, there are numerous slums and poverty. I wanted to capture a side to the city that wasn’t commonly seen.

How did you gain access to photograph these men?

The men didn’t speak English so it was very hard to communicate, so we did get a translator. I paid them for their time as it’s really important not to take advantage and, well, everyone knows where they stand.

I think because you're just getting them to do what they do anyway you can use the international language of mime. It was really just a case of putting in some legwork to track them down, finding the good ones and explaining what I was up to. Mostly the reaction was bemusement as for them this was just so everyday they were just baffled as to why I was interested.

Photo: Jon Enoch

How long did you have with each subject?

Not long at all, maybe 20 minutes with each person. I had already worked out where I would put them and had a good idea of how to light it before we started. We’d done the test shots before we found the right people so everything was already set up.

Why did you want to shoot at night?

There were actually multiple reasons for shooting at night. First, because I wanted to be able to control the lighting. If you're shooting in the daytime then you are going to have a lot of hard direct light to combat and that's going to be hard work and require quite a big setup to control.

Secondly, I just like the aesthetic of that mixed lighting you get at night. The flash, the spill from the houses and shops all mixing together. I don’t want my portraits to look like traditional ‘travel photos’ so it works for me. It’s also an insanely busy city. If we shot those portraits during the day, we’d have crowds of hundreds of people around us – even at one or two in the morning we had quite a sizable number of onlookers to contend with. [Mumbai]'s a chaotic city 24/7, just a little less in the small hours.

Photo: Jon Enoch

How were you lighting your subjects?

I’m using Profoto B1s dotted around with OCF attachments. For this sort of travel work I love the relative compactness. We might have four or five lights popping off just picking out details, but I’m shooting quite slowly to allow the available light to be picked up so the lights will just be putting out a trickle.

Did you try any of the candy floss?

I did try some. It was, well, like candy floss.