Kidnapped photographer's snake charming exhibition opens at Abertay University

Kidnapped photographer's snake charming exhibition opens at Abertay UniversityThe photographs of a Scottish artist who was kidnapped and held captive by an Indian snake charming family are to go on show at the University of Abertay Dundee.

Ross Fraser McLean travelled to India last summer to photograph the country's diverse culture, cities, countryside and desert land, but a promise of great photographs of snake charmers left him held captive by an outcast community of those still practising the illegal tradition.

Ross was offered the chance to photograph the semi-nomadic Sapera caste of northern India. A promised short journey turned into a three-hour rickshaw trip at night to an isolated part of the country, where he was held against his will for three weeks.

The photographs from that arduous experience now go on show at Abertay University's Hannah Maclure Centre gallery, on the top floor of the Student Centre.

The exhibition's opening reception is Friday 10th February, 6pm-9pm, and the show then runs weekdays from Monday 13th February to Friday 27th April.

Ross said: "Working as a photographer, you are always striving to get inside, to get beneath the surface of what you are looking at. Only this time I realised I got in a little too deep. 

"This project would never have existed had it not been for these proud people's desperate desire for a voice. They won my trust by this willingness to be photographed and I hope that this exhibition will give an insight into a way of life that is rapidly disappearing.

"I had the chance to flee at one point at the sacrifice of my photographic films but I chose to save my images, and I can only hope that this journey was worth it."

During his captivity, Ross's only hope for escape was a dangerous journey into the Parvati Valley, a place infamous for the mysterious disappearances of lone travellers.

Exhibition curator Clare Brennan of Abertay University said: "This is a truly incredible story, one that still amazes me. Ross was at serious risk throughout his time with the snake charming community, never knowing how his captivity would end.

"We're delighted to put the photographs from his kidnapping on show at Abertay University, particularly as he managed to document the entire experience."

Snake charmers are now outcast from Indian society since their profession and ancient tradition was outlawed by the Indian government in 1991. They live on the edge of society and often struggle to survive.

Even though they have been keeping snakes as pets for generations, today petting a snake for a living is a violation of wildlife protection laws.

Though the end of this practice is also the loss of an ancient tradition, the government of India is still trying to rehabilitate snake charmers in certain villages as well as allowing snake charmers to perform on selected occasions.

The ‘Charming Snakes' exhibition is free and open to everyone.

www.abertay.ac.uk