Entering the Taj Mahal, Agra, India. Seth Rosenblatt (c) 2006.
It is nearly impossible to take a photo of the Taj Mahal without having people in it. This defies snapshot logic: you want to show off the thing, or at most you and the thing, not the thousands of other tourists who are admiring it as much as you. But finding an attraction of any kind in India that doesn’t have people at it is nearly impossible and, I began to realize as I walked around the Taj complex, blinded by the nearly unbearable whiteness of it all, that the “other people” in the photo are part of the structure.
The Taj Mahal doesn’t have the same meaning when you dissociate it from the native Indian who pays 10 rupees to visit its grandeur or the tourist who pays $20 for the same privilege. The Statue of Liberty is the same, as are the Golden Gate Bridge, the Pyramids at Giza, Versailles, the Golden Temple in Kyoto, and the other man-made wonders like them. They don’t represent quite the same thing without the living human element, because it’s the pulsing mass of our species that continues to define them and give them life long after natural forces should have reduced them to rust, dust, ash and worse.
Without people these structures lack context, and in India context is everything.