Hermann Rodrigues

Hermann Rodrigues migrated to Scotland from India over 30 years ago, but what he discovered there still continues to ignite his passion! Through the lens of his camera, he has been exploring the South Asian community which has been drastically changing while still celebrating their cultural heritage.  Hermann has now built an impressive collection of more than 30,000 photographs. Most of his photographs narrate the stories of people with South Asian origins who have made Scotland their home.

Inspired by his work, we decided to find out more about his passion and his journey of exploration, so here goes…

Why did you move to Scotland?
I came here to Edinburgh in 1990 to accompany my wife who wanted to do a PhD in Edinburgh.

What kind of a cultural environment were you expecting in Scotland?
You have to remember that the early nineties were pre-internet days. I was here with a totally open mind. Scotland then was known for its stereotypical images of Bagpipes, Tartan and the kilt.

Had you ever expected that you will find any traces of Indian culture in Scotland?
No, not at all. I was actually surprised that there was an Indian community at all. I did not think or know that colonial connections between South Asia and Scotland would bring people from the subcontinent for a variety of reasons.

THE FYRISH MONUMENT – Built in 1782 on Fyrish Hill (Cnoc Fhaoighris), in Fyrish near Alness, Easter Ross, Scotland, on the orders of Sir Hector Munro, 8th of Novar, a native lord of the area who had served in India as a general. It represents the Gate of Nagapattinam, a port in Tamil Nadu, India.

When did you first come across Indian culture in Scotland?
I came across an organisation called the Edinburgh Indian Association which actually was formed in 1883 by Edinburgh’s Indian students. I started going there for various functions and soon found that the members came from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and some even came from Kenya and South Africa. They were all clubbed under ONE banner of being called ‘Asians’.

Then I decided to photograph them just to bring out two things:

  1. The differences in culture, religion and region and
  2. The way Scottishness influenced the new migrants.

Did you intentionally decide to discover/explore more? Why?
I was very fascinated by stories of migration that people shared. I was fascinated by migrants settled in remote parts of Scotland including some islands who even spoke Gaelic a language only spoken by about 50,000 people in Scotland.

Suryaveer and Bonita who decided to move from India and settled as farmers in Ayrshire, Scotland.

Tell us about your work in terms of capturing this phenomenon via photography. What motivated you?
This project has been the love of my life since the very beginning. It was very difficult at first but I pursued it nonetheless. Most Asians back then were economic migrants. Some did not agree to be photographed because they did not know the value of this work. From photographing people I moved on to recording through photographs all visual connection between Scotland and South Asia.

An Indian restaurateur standing in front of a billboard for British Steel in the 1990s

To give you an example I discovered a small town called Patna in a remote part of Scotland. It was founded by a Britisher who lived in Patna, India and made a fortune trading in ‘Patna Rice‘. Even the logo of the school there is a sheaf of rice.

‘Patna’, a village in East Ayrshire, Scotland

Similarly, there was a school in St. Andrews called ‘Madras College‘. It was set up by a Scottish missionary who lived in Madras. He came here and set up this school. In fact, there are a total of 26 schools named Madras College in the UK.

Madras College, a Scottish secondary school in St.Andrews, Scotland.

What are your most memorable/favourite discoveries/experiences?
My most memorable experience has been recording the Gaelic speaking Pakistani community in a remote island called the Western Isles. It was great to see the two communities live in so much togetherness and harmony.

Which are the places in Scotland where we can experience this?
The South Asian community now has changed drastically. IT professionals and qualified doctors are in most cities. Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee have vibrant Asian communities. These communities celebrate Asian festivals with much flamboyance and colour. Holi, Diwali, Dussehra are played involving the Scottish community too.

Dussehra celebrations in Scotland.
Sikh community in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Marathi community celebrating Ganesh Utsav festival in Edinburgh, Scotland.

How does the native population see this phenomenon? Do they support this?
The new immigrants are actually global citizens. Their qualifications, confidence and experience, especially the ones in IT, make them confident enough to make any country their home.

Accordingly to you what role does culture have in the lives of the Indians who have migrated to Scotland?
The new migrants do confidently portray their culture here. Whether it is Durga Puja or Holi almost all festivals are celebrated here.

Students from the University of St Andrews, Scotland celebrating Holi.

Do you think the next generation of the migrant population will continue this legacy? Why?
Yes. It’s because the new migrants are confident. They do know the value of retaining their culture. They encourage their children to learn the language, culture and involve them in such activities as Indian classical dancing and language classes.

Nandini and Agomoni dancing at Old College in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Do you plan to continue your work of documenting this cultural phenomenon?
Yes of course. I am so fascinated by these stories that I would actually love to go around the whole world recording and photographing the Indian diaspora, including people of Indian origin in Fiji, Australia, West Indies, Surinam, etc.

Hermann’s work is truly inspiring, it shows us the value of our cultural roots and their importance in terms of maintaining our identity wherever we go. We are extremely thankful to him that he decided to share his journey with us. We wish him luck for all his future explorations and we hope that he will continue sharing more stories with us.