Behind the Scenes: Photographing Bengali Sweets Maker Pintu Roy

Photographer Kelly Campbell traveled to the college town of Santiniketan in West Bengal to photograph Pintu Roy, a second-generation maker of mishti, Bengali sweets. Commenting on the photographs in this gallery, Kelly describes what it was like to capture a day in the life of the sweets maker.

By the time I arrived in the early morning, Pintu and his wife were already at work making sweets in an outbuilding near their home in a small village near Santiniketan. Inside, there was a wood-fired, hand-built clay stove. The walls were black as pitch from smoke, and the only light came in from the door and one window. When I first walked in, they were frying pantua, cottage cheese–based sweets, tossing them into the air to help them brown evenly. This was done with a flourish, and each time they tossed them a little higher than you would think. I was struck by how gorgeous the light was and took this shot.
For the next three hours, Pintu, his wife, and his father, Sukharanjan, who started the sweets business, made sweets together. I brought the bare minimum of equipment with me: my Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, a small tripod, and a flash. I mostly worked with the natural light from the window and the door, but I did use the flash when I needed to capture a lot of detail, as with this shot of peraki-making. To make peraki, crunchy turnovers stuffed with oozing date-palm sugar, the dough was rolled out and folded around the filling, then fried. The bench that they’re working on here was just a few feet off the floor. To get this shot, I stood on it.
Pintu’s wife was very involved in the whole process. Here, she is transferring the fried peraki into a spiced sugar syrup.
After each batch of sweets was done cooking and had cooled down, it went into the cart. Here, Pintu’s wife carries a beautifully arranged plate of peraki from the workshop to the cart.
By the early afternoon, the cart was full, and off we went. Pintu walked the bike most of the way so that I could keep up on foot. We spent three or four hours walking through a series of little villages, Pintu ringing a bell and calling out his wares as he went. I was a bit concerned that people might become self-conscious in the presence of the camera, but that wasn’t the case. They were far more interested in the sweets!
It was lovely following him around. He knew all of the kids, he said, and saw them almost every day as they grew up. Each stop was a visit, not just an exchange of goods for cash. When people did ask what I was doing there, he’d say, “My sweets are going to America,” with a lot of pride in his voice. I tried to capture the joy of those interactions. In this shot, the kids had missed the cart as it passed their house, and they ran after him.
At the end of the day, as he neared the end of his route in Santiniketan, I said goodbye.

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