One of the things that an iPhone does not do well, amongst other things, is alerts. The context of the ambient sound in which the alert sounds were supposed to alert the owner of the phone is definitely not a road-facing flat in a busy suburb in Mumbai. That is why I saw Sagar’s Facebook message only when I picked up the phone to calculate the required run-rate at the India-Sri Lanka semi-final at Cardiff.
“Please give me your phone number, it has been a while, I want to catch up,” it said.
I wondered what it could be about – well, whatever it is, it will be my first call with someone in Seoul. With the flood of positive-thinking picture-messages that one sees on Facebook, it is difficult to be negative; you tend to find the good in everything. Of course, it is always a pleasure to have a conversation with Sagar, but an international call is not the best for a conversation; it is good for a quick chat, but a conversation?
He called about ten minutes after I had sent my phone number. The rain was lashing hard and the game was paused for the call.
We lost a few minutes in the ‘how are you doing’ phase. I usually am at a loss when people ask me what’s going on. More often than not, there isn’t much going on, though we are so busy doing things. Doing things to move ahead, running fast, yet remaining in the same place. Those, are not the things worth ‘reporting’.
It would be impossible to have a chat with Sagar and not talk about photography. After a few “updates”, needless to say, we spoke about photography. There’s an interesting experimental project he had undertaken on the Photography MOOC that we are on. The experiment wasn’t moving forward as much as he had expected it to. I was disappointed too, but not surprised. An international experiment which involved sending paper-based photographs around, using traditional mail, would have challenges in these digital decades.
The first camera I ever used was a Hanimex 110 Tele TF. It belonged to my father, and he allowed me to use it on occasion. Later, seeing that I used the camera so often, he got me a second-hand Agfa Click III. Photographs taken by that camera could not be distributed, they had to be shared, if at all. Each share meant a trip to the studio and buying a print. As you can imagine, it was a little more difficult than clicking on the share button and auto-post it to all your networks. Also, given that you had only 24 exposures in a 110 film roll, you were very judicious about every photograph you took. Feet, food and foolish faces were not photographed. The film roll, developing and printing was charged to your pocket-money and your patience.
“It’s possible that people have not clearly understood your experiment,” I said, “it is difficult for people to think of photographs as print products, perhaps that’s the reason?”
“Well, I have received only one response,” Sagar said, with a hint of sorrow. It was going to be difficult to get this experiment in place and into a gallery, we both sensed that.
“I read your post,” he said, changing the subject.
I had written, quite casually, in a recent post that I had stopped taking photographs. He was the first one to comment, and had said that he had seen it coming. Many of my friends were aghast, some were amused, and the rest confused. I had smartly titled the post as “It’s Not About Photographs” – but it didn’t seem to give an indication of what I really meant. To be fair, I had not made my thought abundantly clear in what another friend referred to as a potpourri post. On a music player, the stop and pause button actually serve the same purpose, but they have very different connotations. But starting the post with a sentence like, ‘I have paused taking photographs,’ would not make sense.
“Yes, I have stopped,” I said. I knew however, that I’d have to qualify this simple yet apparently mysterious statement, “I am just taking time off, you know, like a gap year, or something like that. There was a time when I took photographs of everything that I thought was worth a photograph. I suddenly had many photographs of many things. And though they were nice and were appreciated, there was something missing.”
“I think I know what you mean,” he said, resonating his comment on my post, urging me to continue.
“I found certain themes in my work and started to work on those for a while. It was quite exciting, even though I was retrofitting some photos into themes, it helped clarify my own thinking about the photographs. Once again, I seemed to be using the Hanimex or the Agfa. I didn’t feel the need to take a few hundred photographs to get one fabulous photograph. It was going good for a while, and again, I feel that earlier sense of emptiness. This is very difficult to explain; one would call it the artist’s dilemma – when the artist questions his or her own work. I have refrained calling myself an artist for long, but I’ll use that word because I cannot think of a better one, now. I don’t know if it makes sense, but my photographs don’t seem to move forward. Or in any other direction, for that matter. They are stuck.”
“So, you are saying you are bored?”
“I am not sure if bored would qualify as the right feeling. I still like to look at things, feel them – but I do not feel like picking up the camera and capturing that moment. Sometimes, I wonder if the word capture has got something to do with it,” I added as a joke, but wondering if I meant it.
“It is a block,” he said, but it seemed like a question.
“I think I need to know something more about the photograph than what I know. Maybe I need to think see things that relate to what I feel. Or perhaps – and this seems more likely – maybe I need to feel about what I take photographs about. That is some gap, and the camera is slipping deeper in that gap, away from my reach.”
There was a long pause in the conversation. That’s one of the reasons you should not have one on an international line.
“Well, I’ll take photographs, you know,” I said, more defensively than I would have liked, the silence from Sagar was awkward, “maybe I am just making a very big deal out of it, and I just need more opportunities to get out and take photos. I haven’t travelled in a while. Maybe it is as simple as that.”
“Yes, that could be a reason,” he agreed from three and a half hours away.
“Well, when you are here next month, maybe we should go out for a shoot, a good 24 hrs. Just us, find out,” I offered.
“I agree, let’s do that,” he said.
A fictional version of a conversation that I had with Sagar Kolte fellow blogger and photographer, a dear friend and a philosopher-mathematician. The conversation happened more-or-less in the same manner as you have read, with small changes, adapted for this post. The photograph in the post is taken, aptly, from one of my portfolio series – “Keep the Faith.”