It’s been thirty years now.
I’ve been taking photographs since they were available only as a paper product. It was an expensive hobby for a 12-year old to have. Not like how it is today. What little pocket-money I got, was almost completely invested in buying film rolls, developing and printing. I used to stay in Vasco da Gama those days. Kamat Uncle knew my father well, so he often gave me some discount on printing. Or perhaps he was quite curious of a 12-year old taking photographs and having his own camera. I owned a second-hand Agfa Click III, which incidentally, Kamat Uncle had helped procure. Thankfully, the camera was a gift from my father; it didn’t come out of my pocket-money. Whatever the reason, Kamat Uncle liked me. He introduced me to the concept of a proof sheet; for me, it was a pure budgetary consideration. He and I used to go through the proof sheet and decide which photos to print. There was a well-defined concept of a good photo: the subject was in the centre, the focus was sharp, and there was minimal background distraction. I was on my way to become a studio photographer. I think I fancied that idea.
I took photographs of my friends and my bicycle. (What could be more important for a 12-year old?) I wasn’t allowed to take the camera to school, so friends used to come home to get photographed. The girls didn’t come, so it would be a few years before I ever photographed a girl who wasn’t related to me by blood. I once took three frontal photograph of the gear wheel of my bicycle, from three different angles and was admonished by Kamat Uncle for wasting so much film.
In the classical Konkani twang, he asked, “Why don’t you decide what photograph you want, before you take it?”
I was 12-years old; he should have gone easy on me. But, as we chose the best gear shot that day, what he said, stayed with me. I have a 4GB card in my camera now, I shoot RAW, and have three 4GB spare cards. I always have a spare battery. Yet, I never take a photograph before I decide what I’d like. It has slowly been dawning on me that I can take multiple photographs of the same thing without additional cost, but old habits die hard.
Some years and a couple of family cameras later – which included the Pentax PC35 AF – I learnt about the rule-of-thirds and the golden ratio. My sister had joined a professional photography course, and she explained these things. For the life of me, I couldn’t set the subject at the intersection of the thirds. Kamat Uncle used to pop into my head often. “Subject in the centre, focus is sharp, minimal background distraction.” But after a while, I was overdoing the rule of thirds. None of my photos now, had a subject in the centre. Then there was some new discovery. Light and shadows. There wasn’t an easy way to convert colour photos into black and white. I started using black & white film to practice and understand the games played by light and shadow.
Most of these cameras were point-and-shoot, with some ability of auto-focus, focus locking, and self-timers. Which, as you may have guessed, led to selfies. We used to call them self-portraits then. My pen pals (yes, that was a real thing), were very encouraging, asked to see more of my photos, and now, all of my pocket-money was being invested in reprints to share selfies through status updates. We used to call them letters, then.
For all practical purposes the Pentax family camera was mine, and I was now the official photographer in the family.
Thirty years ago, if my father had not handed me our first camera, the Hanimex 110 Tele TF, my photography journey would have been very different. There’s Kamat Uncle who always had something to teach with every proof sheet I created. My friends, extended family were always willing subjects. I’ve loved the books I’ve learnt from (including optical mathematics). My understanding of composition, I owe it to my sister. I’ll never forget the feel of the heavy, metal-body SLR, that my cousin lent to me, nor the exhilaration I had when I bought my first Canon EOS 88D Film SLR. The most significant training happened on my digital Canon Powershot S2IS, and the refinement continued through my current camera, the Canon EOS 400D. Diego Ferrari has been an inspiration, and so have the great photographers whose work I have encountered, especially Candida Höfer. A heartfelt thank you to all.
You now know, how I became an amateur photographer.