A Hashtag Retires

I single-handedly trended the hashtag — #ThisDayThatYear in 2020. Needless to say, I have no data to backup my claim, so I am going ahead and claiming it. In any case, I don’t see any others claiming it.

One of the recurring themes of 2020 was rehashing memories. Good times spent with friends and family, traveling, or the sheer fun that was consumed in the past years when life was normal. Because what was otherwise considered as normal, was not possible most of 2020, almost everyone became nostalgic with what was; a hark back and an intention, simultaneously.

Most social networks now have a “Memories” section, which remind of what you did on the same day the previous year or even years, and because we didn’t have anything new to post — old posts were regurgitated with consistent frequency. In terms of posting photographs, 2020 was the year of (a) recycled photographs, and (b) indoor photography.

Of the first category, I noticed that a majority of recycled memories were of people being with people, with callbacks that all sounded like “Oh, what a great time we had!” Even if the photos were of empty roads or lonesome mountains — they reminded of travels with people. Whether or not the photos had people in them, they were of people.

Of the second category, most photographs were of what we could see, standing at a boundary; looking out. Doors, windows, streets, garden flowers, and such. If you looked closely, these images described the border that a photographer did not cross, during this time. They were really selfies, taken with the back-camera. Whether or not the photos had people in them, they were of people.

Cameras, cars, trains, roads, places, and conversations were perhaps as despondent as we were, as our myriad intersections transformed to an isolation.

I am now looking to trend the hashtag — #ThisDayThisMoment

It’s Not About Photographs – VII

One of my friend, never lets go of an opportunity to remind me that I have never taken a photo of her. She does it in good jest, and she is intelligent, funny, always. (She has stopped reminding me; she shouldn’t) Not sure, if she would like to be mentioned in a public post, so let’s call her SM. Fact that she wants me to photograph her, it would be safe to assume, that she likes the portraits of my friends that I often post on social media.

Needless to say, I’d like to take photos of her and her wonderful family, which includes AP (SM&AP are married, BTW). I am scared, however. Not about my ability to take good photos, but how those photos would be received. Not because how SM and AP would see them, but of my own limitations. SM and AP are pretty cool people – and I believe, they’d like the photos that I’d click for them.

My fear, is placed, elsewhere.

An old man working at a molasses (jaggery) unit, Kolhapur, Mh, India

An old man working at a molasses (jaggery) unit, Kolhapur, Mh, India

Photography is a difficult art. Not because of the technicality of using a (proper) camera, but because of what you see in your view-finder. Broadly, there are three. [I am using “she”, but it equally applies to “he”]

For one, there is the person who wants to be photographed. This person has a relationship with the camera. This is not their first photograph; they are sure of the angles that work best for them. The photographer has little to say, the subject direct the camera. There is an awareness, of what the lens will capture and they have a say in what can be published and what cannot. These are people you want to take photos of, for the glam factor. You shine as a photographer, but there’s not much you can do. Easy for the photographer. TYPE 1

Then the second. The “unawares” – they are the photographer’s delight. Pliable. The photographer can take control. Move your head a bit right; turn right slightly; smile, but not so much. As a photographer, I can play a dance with light, but they cannot. I can edit the final result in oh-so-many-ways, but their consciousness shines through. All of them are beautiful, but I wish they would know it too. TYPE 2

For the third there is the person, who *just* does not want to be photographed.I have many photographs of folks like these. Hand on their face, eyes closed, looking away, blurred by their moving.I am a fan of blur (It’s good that they do not know it). These portraits, you click when they are oblivious. Most photogenic folks, for some reason are these. I have no idea why, but photographers seek these people. TYPE 3

Not sure if you are waiting for me to say, which TYPE is better. Sorry, no one type is better than the other. Oh, I forgot to say, there’s TYPES in-between. Like 1.2 and 2.4. All of you are wonderful in your own way.

***

There’s no such thing as a bad photograph. Portrait or not. A photo is a moment captured in time. Every photograph has a past and future, though, by itself it is captured present.

A photograph is imagination. More than that, a photograph is how I see you.

It’s Not About Photographs – VI

Don’t take a photo of what you see – take a photo of what you want to show!

I said that in a recent conversation to a friend. There were some composition rules she was missing, which she could have easily rectified; was just helping her take a better photo the next time around. What I said to her, however, has been haunting me for a few hours, now. I don’t altogether believe what I said to my friend. I think, I was asking her to be more careful with the camera. Or, in my head, I was asking her to be more careful with the frame. Our eyes see a lot, we send it all to the brain. Somewhere, somehow, all the chemical and electrical events that occur during this transmission from eye to brain, are not the sum total of the image that we present.

What our eye does see is vast, the frame is a crop. Having a camera in your hand, in front of your eyes is a responsibility. How will you crop?

153400: Light & Arches

I cannot relate to the urgency of taking a photo. I just do not understand the urgency. Photography is patience. Personified. Why do we seek to take a photo in this moment when, it is possible that the next moment is better? And if the next moment is not better, what have we lost? If we lived in that moment, which we did not capture, is the moment lost to us? What wasn’t captured is a memory that is our own. Do you remember stills that aren’t available on paper or as digital files? When we crossed rows in the classroom; when we stood in front of each other, that split moment, when nothing was said and yet, an entire life was lived?

I don’t remember it, but you do. There’s no documentation of the moment, but both of us live it. Photos aren’t false memories – they are only artificial. Artificial in the sense of the frame in which they are presented to you.

Not that they do not represent the truth. Photos are as real. Just that they are a slice of the reality. And we have to learn to see photos for what they are. My eyes, your eyes.

All the eyes that see the photo, that is what the photo is about.

A Broken Narrative

Few of my friends know of a certain profile picture I use on Facebook, which indicates that I am away. Every once in a while I test if I can be away from Facebook (and therefore Twitter and other such networks). October was my away month — by my standards. I used Facebook sparsely. I’ll be back on the 1st of November. The last three or four times I did this away exercise, it was more of a test of my addiction, so to speak. While October started with the same purpose; the revelations were interesting to say the least.

The narrative of everything has changed.

There isn’t — according to the way I see it — anything that we can say, that will not be crushed out or hammered in by some ism that someone else follows. Opinions do not have spaces anymore. Jokes have no space. Most people I see, are angry and belligerent. Mostly, deep down, they are defensive – but outwardly they are angry and belligerent. Those that aren’t angry are on a trip, some trip, which offers them a false sense of happiness.

When ideological camps never intersect, where is that common space for us to speak and hear? What is our meeting ground? Not to make a statement; just to speak, to listen to each other. In the race to be heard, no one is listening.

I am not lamenting social change. I have lived my adult life, with and without mobile phones, e.g., and I am aware of the boons and curses of how society responds to changes it did not expect. In these times of (mostly) nonsensical back-and-forth, I struggle to find a place of my own.

~

Within that struggle, I have discovered a small place. It’s nice. Comfortable. Mine. It’s not mine, yet. But I’d like it to be mine. And it has the potential to be mine. In times of predictable spaces, determined by isms, I am fortunate to have found one that allows for isms, but is not dictated by an ism.

~

I am participating in Movember, yet again, this year. (That’s the day I return to Facebook) It has been over half-a-decade of Movembering; I have yet to find an organisation that works for men’s health, in India. If you know of one – do let me know. Nevertheless, It seems, I will be a permanent Movember Member; inspired in no less measure thanks to The Bum.

2016-01-01 17.04.50: Orchha

It’s the festival of lights, here, in India. In my head, there is a philosophical connotation to the festival. To tell you the truth, it is a festival of light and sound. Traditionally, philosophically, and spiritually. Not anymore. Either by armchair activism or sheer usurpation. Those that purportedly attack and those that apparently protect — both have it wrong. Festivals are resilient enough that they can survive attacks. Festivals are strong enough that they do not need protection. I wish I do not live long enough to have to wish “Happy Holidays” for a festival that you celebrate, even if I do not celebrate it. When a festivity is reduced to a holiday – that is when we have lost everything. We should be worried about sameness, assuming we will live long enough to sense it.

My apologies for this line of thinking on such a wonderful festive day. I leave you not with thoughts to discover the light within but just be good. In your own way. Do something nice. I will.

Happy Diwali!

The Elusive Truth of Photographs

Earlier, a short conversation ensued.

Something that I have struggled with for a while (and I continue to struggle). This post, is by no means an expression of any finality. Struggles are continuous. We take them with us to our pyre.

Ethics in Photography: Primarily related to manipulation through digital tools.

I first heard of Photoshop in the very-late 90s. I used to take photographs much before that. I never manipulated photos (I had no means to; didn’t have access to a darkroom). Then, with my introduction to Photoshop, I realised what was possible. It was still not easy. You had to get your photograph printed, scanned, and then manipulated.

Cut, to the last few years.

The ease with which we can now manipulate photos is a critical factor of how many photos we manipulate, and to what extent. When it was the darkroom, and the effort was huge, you’d be satisfied with the photograph you took. Most photo upload sites Instagram, for example, depend on manipulation. Notice how the app is created; the process calls for manipulation. As this became the norm, otherwise puritan sites like Flickr (yes kids, there’s something called Flickr, and yes, there’s an app for that) joined the bandwagon, and created a manipulate-first strategy. Like we have mobile-first strategy. The humble smartphone camera, humble, no more, now included built-in editing tools. It’s worth noticing, also, that the editing tools are primarily auto-fix or filters. Not Levels, or Curves, and such (I know some apps have them, so don’t kill me for saying it). Why bother users with complex scientific concepts like a Histogram? Why teach core concepts of amount of light and duration of light? Focus on publishing!

All of the above, only to establish our current environment. No judgement, at least not yet.

Let’s come back to the short conversation that ensued.

A participant in a photography competition withdrew his entry, after it was found that he had retouched a photo to remove undesirable artefacts from the photo — in this case, a straw-like-thingy.

The question that was posed: Ethical Violation or Technical Breach.

My instant response was: Technical Breach. And it was so, because the competition disallowed major manipulation:

The rules of the contest state that “No cloning, montaging or digital manipulation other than cropping, ‘digital spotting’, burning and dodging is permitted,” so the photographer alerted Walkey about the suspicious submission. [Link]

For those of us who think that digitally manipulated photos are an ethical violation, I ask: is cropping fine? Or Burning? Or Dodging? In my opinion, cropping is completely removing a context in a frame! By showing me a photograph that is devoid of some context (by cropping) the photographer is changing meaning. Pretty much like sensational headlines or context-bereft sound bites. Then, are you making the sky look more blue? The leaves more green? Are you, Mr. Photographer, deceiving me? Was the sky really a dull boring blue that was almost white, when you saw it? Were the leaves not as you had imagined?

I am not advocating an ultimate realism in photography. As a person who takes photographs, I know that reality changes every millisecond, and so does context.

Broadly, photography serves two realms: that of documentation and that of art.

If an artist painter, who uses a canvas and oil paints were to paint a sky that was true blue (as most of us imagine it to be) we would never question it. Yet, fact of the matter is, we rarely see a blue sky as blue as we imagine it to be. We applauded the orange-grey-green-blue abstract skies of JMW Turner. When a photographer HDR’ed a sky, we felt cheated. This is the first realm of photography, and that is art.

The ethical questions, essentially come in the second realm — documentary photography. This realm deals with reality, harsh reality. And I am not talking of gory photos of dead bodies and such that we see on social media these days. If a photo’s purpose is to show you reality, and if it is manipulated — to edit meaning or create a new meaning — it is, clearly an ethical violation.

Common to both these realms is how we take photos. Given the means and the ease that has been afforded to us, the line between art and documentary photography has blurred beyond recognition. Whereas, we should be seeing photos as either art or as documentary, we are looking at them as manipulated or not.

“Both those taking snaps and documentary photographers, however, have not understood ‘information.’ What they produce are camera memories, not information, and the better they do it, the more they prove the victory of the camera over the human being.” ~ Vilém Flusser, Towards a Philosophy of Photography

This post wasn’t going to be complete without a quote from my guru.

Where do I stand?

In the simplest of terms, capturing a moment, for me, has always been about amount of light and duration of light. Primarily. That is what makes a good photograph. Now that the basics are covered, a photographer creates meaning. That is what makes an interesting photograph.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the manipulation of photographs; if presented as art. For, if you are photographer, you know that the real manipulation begins, before you click. When you set your aperture, when you compose, when you set your shutter speed. When you choose to include something or exclude something in the frame, that’s when manipulation has started. In a digital editing tool, you are only continuing the process. Even if you add a simple border, that’s manipulation.

Except, if you are documenting. Documentation is essentially boring. There is no need to manipulate that. Just file it, and be done. And when (and if) you manipulate a documentary photo, you are crossing really thick lines.

Here is a case study:

2015-11-03 12.03.06

This is a photograph I took of an AC fan, outside my office, with my mobile phone camera. After a few minutes, this is what I posted, on Instagram.

Do you feel cheated? Or did you just not care, and enjoyed the Instagram? Now that you know the raw truth, what do you feel?

It’s Not About Photographs – V

It’s been a while since my last post. Given what’s been going on, there should have been a post every couple of hours. That itself, in a curious way, explains why there have been no posts for ten days.

And, even now, it’s not about photographs. But it is about the same two people I had mentioned, in my previous post. Not to mention, there is some photography involved. My artist friend and I, have had many conversations about a muse. Philosophical, practical, even commercial. That one word, as it works in art, has been a constant source of intrigue.

I recently took a photo. (I care little about the nuances of using the word click or make a photo or capture an image.) That’s for the writers, when they want to project a simple act as something that has multiple dimensions. I prefer take or took because that’s, what I think, photographers do. It’s already there; we just take it.

When I took this photograph, I was captivated, more, by how these two people: Amit and Sagar, would see this photograph. Somewhere, deep inside, I felt they would enjoy it (Seriously, no compulsion, guys). The photograph in itself is perhaps mediocre, a bad one, or perhaps the best, ever. It matters less. What matters, for me, (and that’s what happened in that moment) is that I imagined that it would mean something to someone. The joy, when my finger met the shutter was double-fold: one, of the act itself (I liked what I saw) and two, the future joy that someone; someone specific, would not just appreciate it, but relate to it.

Creation is incomplete without joy. It does not matter, if the joy is personal, shared, or public.

Here’s a spiral staircase, when I was far away from home, thinking of my friends.

A Spiral Staircase, showcasing the Poetics of Space

A Spiral Staircase, showcasing the Poetics of Space

In that one, very small instance, I was with them; they were with me. It was a moment of joy.

Sagar, Thank you. I continue to question why I take photographs. I am not necessarily in a comfortable space. Yet, I like the questioning.

Thank you for planting the seed.

It’s Not About Photographs – IV

Sagar came home, yesterday.

We don’t meet very often, but when we do meet, it is a time which we cherish. I am — clearly — taking the liberty to speak for both of us.

Every now and then we become complacent. We agree with ourselves that what we do is great, or at least good enough. We look at other people. We like their work, appreciate it. We think they are great; their work is great. Or at least good enough.

Then, Sagar comes home.

Everything changes.

A conversation, that once happened between Seoul and Mumbai is remembered. We laugh about it. I have taken a few thousand photographs after that conversations; haven’t published. (I like the word published – makes me feel important and famous – all I really do, is post them to my Flickr Account or to my Facebook Page).

We have a short conversation about where we are with photography. Since I started publishing photographs, I have said:

I use a Film SLR (Canon EOS 88) and a DSLR (Canon EOS400D). Not very technically competent. Always face a problem, when I say I am a photographer. People talk about lenses and cameras and filters. I think photographers should discuss photographs. Haven’t yet found a photographer who talks photographs. I will.

I found Sagar.

I should, with due respect, mention Amit Phansalkar; he talks photographs. (Only, that Amit doesn’t call himself a photographer; as yet)

Instinctively, we learn by imitation. To copy something, and see it close to the original is a satisfying act. Within this act, is creation itself, even if it is not creative. If we were to discard the imitation of the act, and realise the creation, we could do much more. Then we make a small change. We do a what-if. We like it, and then we do more. We slowly come of age; but importantly, we come of identity. Then comes the body of work. Which gives rise to signature. Then, comes the complacency, I mentioned above.

2015-09-20 22.53.03

Not that Self-assertion and Self-realisation are opposites, but that is the struggle.

Denying ourselves perspectives is denying growth. And how we offer ourselves perspectives is up to us. There are no templates, guidelines, rule-books, or formats; even though we are bombarded daily with 10-things lists. The lists have to be our own. And they may, quite curiously, contain just one list item.

We are not here to take photographs or see photographs. We are here to see, without a camera. [Paraphrased quote, by Dorothea Lange]

We’ll discover with each other, and in that, we will discover ourselves.

*

Sagar’s Blog | Sagar’s Portfolio

My Flickr | My Facebook Page | My Photo Blog

The Interesting Index

Who we call an interesting person is directly related to what we find interesting. If we think of a person as interesting, and that person in turn finds someone else interesting, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we will find that third person interesting. We may, but it isn’t always true.

Split-Tone portrait

I got some lovely responses to my earlier post, when I asked fellow bloggers to tell me what makes a person interesting. You should head over there and read some very interesting responses. If you haven’t already responded, and if you would like to, please let me know. That post, is of course about what makes a person interesting.

But how do we discover interesting people?

Watchman

One way, is what I call the Positive Default. All people we meet are interesting, by default. We engage with people with this positive thought and embark on a journey together. There are no preconceived notions nor, expectations. When engaging in this way, it’s necessary that we keep an open mind as we discover each other. In time, both of us try to direct the nature of our engagement towards what we find interesting. When these directions are same, or similar, the interestingness index increases. We are able to give positively and we respect each other. We also discover some interests that are divergent or, often opposing. That’s when we both make decisions about each other. We may continue to engage and become friends for life. We may meet just where our interests intersect. Or we may slowly move away.

Then, there is a way of identifying interestingness and then engaging. The Confirmation Default. I am not sure how this happened before social media existed. Perhaps, it wasn’t possible then. Or, if it was, it was quite tedious. The confirmation default is a wait, watch, confirm, and then engage approach. We get to know who people are, through their social interactions (usually online) and we decide how interesting they are. If they are, then we engage, and life goes on.

Finally there is the Decided Default. Few people do this, but it happens. The decided default of interesting people is an -ist list. It is category-based. And it could be as specific or as generic as can be. People who wear red shoes; single and unemployed; double-chined 40-somethings; DINKs, or for that matter SINKs; senior citizens; unshaven South Indians; Metrosexuals; Maharastrians with an accent; Guppies, and the list goes on. The decided default is almost the opposite of the positive default. It’s a closed system of looking at things. The earlier post, and this post was triggered by someone who said that to me: applied a category and told me (straight to my face: I found that interesting) that I wasn’t interesting, by default. It didn’t matter to me that the person was a complete stranger, and had slotted me in a category within three minutes of meeting me, it however provoked me to explore my own default.

Rama

We can always find the slightest reason not to like people (and it is easy), yet we have to look for big reasons why we can like them (and that’s not easy). I don’t say this because I seek to make this world a better place. I say this with a very selfish purpose. I have found so many interesting people in my life, and life is better because of them.

In the process, if that helps making this world a better place, I don’t mind.

Death of a Camera

Just thirteen days. If she had survived just thirteen more days, she would have been eight years.

My camera died today. And all that I tried, to give her a lease of life, failed.

And Finally...There’s much to say. Of all the places we travelled together. Of the companionship that we have shared for the last eight years. Of how my camera and I have been ridiculed for being so out-dated. Of the wonderful moments we have captured together. She made me climb heights for vantage points. She made me walk on the edge for the perfect moment. She helped me see my friends in a different light. I’ve been very possessive about her, and she has loved me for that. (Other (human) women in my life have hated me for that, perhaps.)

She was mine, and mine, and mine, always. Yes, I could transplant this part and that part into her, resurrect her, but she would not be the same. She would only remain and image of someone who I loved, and I’d wonder as I looked through her eye, if she was her. I don’t want that. As a student of history, I have seen that tools have outlived their users. But see my fate, I have to see your death. Yet, while I am alive, I will never forget you.

For, the 24,693 children that we begot, will never allow me to forget you.

There will be another to take your place. But you, as the one who taught me the most, will always be special. Allow me some time however, for your absence is akin to a part of me missing. My eyes are blurry, my fingers weak, and my mind unfocused. Inanimate as you were, I will always remember you for the adventures you caused. Especially that evening in the sea.

Goodbye darling; sweet love. Soon a photograph will come into being. The eyes will be sharp, the finger determined and the mind thoughtful. It will have nothing to do with you. A new instrument, a new artisan.

But, I hope you will see your genetic legacy.

Thank you. Goodbye.

 

It All Comes Together

Bugis Junction

Bugis Junction

It was early in 2000 or 2001 that I took this photo. As the caption (on Flickr) says, “A photo that has eluded me for long. I probably took more than sixteen pictures of this place. I wonder why…” These were the days before the digital camera, when you can take a few hundred photos of one thing, choose the best, and happily delete the others. Film photography was expensive, and perhaps that is why we spent more time composing a photograph and ensuring perfect exposure. But it never comes easily to an amateur. Some exposures (photos) will go bad.

As you can see, I still didn’t get it right, after sixteen exposures. Yet, this has remained one of my favourite photos. Why this place and this name fascinated me then, was also a mystery. (Fifteen years ago, I wasn’t inclined as much to curiosity as I am now.)

Cut to today, after that evening with an elusive photograph, fifteen years later.

I am reading The Spice Route, and early into the book, one and a half decades later, I see the word again. Instantly the elusive photograph comes to mind. Something about travel, photography, and reading, makes perfect sense.

Bugis.

By foreigners — Asian or European — seeking to usurp control of the most obscure extremity of the spice route, all such indigenous operators would be termed ‘pirates’, a pejorative freely applied to any rivals and especially to local seafarers who attempted to defend what they considered their own territorial waters and maritime rights. The Bugis of Makassar, in particular, invited obloquy. Master-shipwrights and excellent navigators who were supposed to be able to detect a reef purely by smell, they darted in their rakish prahus (sailing vessels, sometimes with outriggers) from unsuspected anchorages on the coasts of Borneo and Sulawesi to challenge all rivals. Against monopolistic Europeans the Bugis would continue to wage a rearguard action well into the nineteenth century, by which the term ‘bogey’ or ‘bogy’ was entering common English usage. This may have been a coincidence; but allusion to the spice trade being not uncommon in nursery rhymes, those who as children were hush-hushed to bed by ‘here comes the Bogey-man’ may well originally have been threatened by a ‘Bugis-man’ who, at the helm of a piratical prahu, would certainly ‘catch you if he can’. ~ The Spice Route, John Keay

The online-etymology dictionary that I frequent often, has a different tale. But I did find other references for the etymology of ‘Bogey.‘ The disagreement about the etymology notwithstanding, it was an excitable moment for me, to encounter the word.

*

I am enjoying the coming together of my travel, photography, and reading. The fascination with a word or an image, the context and meaning coming to you, years later, is a wonderful experience, even if it is not new. I recently told a friend, that I watch movies twice; just like I want to visit places, at least twice.

There are times when you can visit places again, without actually going there, and that’s a fine feeling.

Photographing the Photographer

Photographers are people too, you know.

And like people are photographed, photographers should be photographed too. As an amateur photographer, I photograph people. These people are more often than not, my friends and my family. Most of them like the photos I take. (or make, as one of them likes to say.) Some times, the people are strangers. I am quite nervous of photographing strangers. Actually, I am afraid. I always think they will object, and take my camera memory card away. I value my privacy, and protect it well (even if I am very open and available on most social networks). There are levels of privacy. I care less for what you could find in any government document or snatch from the local courier. Real privacy is what what’s in your head. The day they can use that, you have lost your privacy. It has little to with credit cards and addresses. And because we have levels of privacy, respect plays a big role for a photographer.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

But, back to the topic.

Photographers are people too.

And the world urgently needs to see this truth. Especially those that think of people who take photographs as photographers. There’s nothing different about people who take photographs. If they have just started photography, it may be different. But for the rest, see them as people in photographs, like they see you. See, in the photographer, what the photographer saw in you. If you do that, two things will happen: one, the photographer will be grateful; two, you might end up becoming a great photographer. As an amateur photographer, however, I advise you this: to make a photograph of a photographer, make sure that he or she doesn’t have a camera or a camera strap around. Strip the photographer of the strap, try, and see them as humans for what they are. Not as photographers.

I leave you with this image.

A photograph of a great photographer (Dorothea Lange), by another great photographer (Elliott Erwitt), where you do not see an evidence of the presence of a photographer.

On either side of the lens.

NYC26511

Due Credit to Magnum photos. © Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos. USA. Berkeley, California. 1955 [Photo has been used in this post for representational purpose only]

 

Of Gratitude

If you have followed this blog for a while, you will know that of the many things that I am blessed with, is my friends. And this blessing has little to do with the companionship, which, of course I treasure, but has more to do with the idea that my friends challenge me to become a better person. I believe I do the same, but I cannot be the one claiming that.

A couple of days ago, a friend, who I respect tremendously, and I met for coffee. We had limited time, because I had to leave in 90 minutes for another engagement. It also happened that we were meeting after several years. Maybe 4 or 5. We didn’t spend time trying to recollect the time that had passed since we last met. We agreed that it was somewhere in an acceptable range and hugged each other. We had to walk to a cafe, that was about 10 minutes away. In those 10 minutes, we completed the trite conversation. Life, work, family and such updates.

After ordering food, we were, as if we have met everyday. We came directly to the problem at hand. We both are interested in photography and we both haven’t been photographing much. He talked of how we could transpose […] photography to […] photography. (I keep the blanks, because it’s his idea, and it’s an idea that’s WIP. Those details don’t harm this narration in any way.). We talked of how our audience experiences what we do. His ideals of art are higher than mine. It’s ironic that he considers me a good photographer, when I consider the same about him. Many ideas of scale, experience, technology, and intent were discussed. What he discovered when he was doing […] photography, how I decided to deceive the POV experience of my audience when I used […] techniques. How no one questioned that image. How, over time, a good photograph has come to become less valuable than an appealing photograph.

2756: Glastonbury Abbey, UK

This quality of conversation is where I feel I blessed. It has nothing to do with the number of friends that I have. I am blessed that smart and knowledgeable people are willing to be a part of my life. And each time I speak with them, they make me a better person and force me to ask questions that I have shied away from.

For making me a better person, I am grateful to all my friends.

Of Small Things

Small things can be great things. If only we knew.

We always want great things. We seek the big changes. The dramatic occurrences. And while we wait for these great, big, and dramatic things to happen, we miss the small things. With the end of November, the Ides of November came to a close; here’s December, and I am off for a wonderful weekend with one friend.

I have some special plans about what I will do this weekend, and I will miss all those who could not make it. It would have been more fun, with them.

C’est la vie.

*

lost my photography mojo a while ago. Too many people, said I was good. Most of them are smart people. I thought I had arrived; when in fact, I had just left. This weekend, is perhaps, my chance to check if I actually lost it, or if I wasn’t exercising it. You’ll know, soon.

*

It has been over a year of no long drives, since my best friend got busy. I have to teach myself what it means, being by myself. Togetherness is not over-rated; being by yourself is under-rated.

*

All that BS about old friends and new friends is over-rated. People are people. In spite of some of my friends I continue to trust. The day we cannot trust, a large part of us dies. Trusting because we want to make sense; not trusting because it might be broken someday, makes zero sense. If that were true, we can never live a full life.

*

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The place I am going tomorrow, is so spacious, it can accommodate all: my love, my trust, my fears, my shortcomings, my ambition, my dreams, my hopes, my trepidations. She is my other mother, she is.

*

She loves me; I love her.

Flashback Photography: Part 3

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 visited this place in 2012. Apart from the branding, not much has changed.

I visited this place in 2012. Apart from the branding, not much has changed.

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.

Early experiments with Rule of Thirds.

Early experiments with Rule of Thirds.

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.

Early experiments with Light & Shadow

Early experiments with Light & 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.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Flashback Photography: Part 2

It’s been fifteen years now.

Sometime, in 1999-2000, I bought my first film SLR. I was earning now, and the hobby didn’t seem as constraining as before. Since the many family cameras, I had read books about photography and was getting exposed to things like DoF, exposure, aperture and shutters. The family cameras seemed restrictive in terms of what was possible. With the new Cannon EOS 88  many rolls were now being exposed to the experiments of exposure and slow-shutter speeds. Many photographs were never printed. I was still using proof sheets. A friend lent me a book on SLR photography. I was now investing more in books.

Two things were becoming difficult: understanding tone and the optical maths.

This wasn’t the first time I used an SLR. I had once borrowed from a cousin, back in 1992. I was in college then, and wanted to take part in Mood Indigo. My friends were willing subjects, and I clicked away in the spirit of the competition.

Scan0002

I was in Singapore, on an assignment, when I bought the EOS88. No better place to take the camera out for a drive. The city is colourful, artificially though, and there’s a strong sense of symmetry and balance, all over the city. Everything in the city is in place, and setup for an amateur photographer, where the subject has been readied for your photography experiments.

The true test of the camera, came three years later, when we went to Kenya, to Masai Mara  To have an SLR and to be out on a safari: what more could one ask for. In between, and later there were many trips in and around Konkan that helped me to use the camera to its full potential.

I wasn’t taking a lot of portraits though. Looking at a human looking back at me, was unnerving. If the portrait looked back at me, I immediately lowered the camera, without taking the photograph. I didn’t know how to photograph people and there was a part of me that was scared about the subject looking back at me, or even knowing that I was taking a photograph. It would not be till I bought my next camera, that I would start photographing people  Perhaps the only people I could take photographs of, were little people. I wasn’t scared of them.

Dragon behind Trees

Flowers, trees, mountains, oceans, and empty houses seemed less judgemental than people. Before, during, and after the photograph, nothing changed. They were the same. The EOS88 was the time when I learnt framing. When there isn’t much moving in what you see, it’s you who have to move your PoV and find the perfect composition and balance. Humans tend not to not move. Even if their body or their face doesn’t move, their mind is constantly moving – and it shows up on their face, and then, in the photograph. To capture that one wonderful moment – I didn’t have that skill.

My best friend urged me to take more photos of people. She said, I’d have to, if I had to learn. She was right, but I refused.

I was comfortable with still life.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Flashback Photography: Part 1

It’s been eight years now.

I completed my first (and only) formal learning in photography on this day, eight years ago. The week-long course, called Photography, Art & Architecture (PAA) was held at Central Saint Martins College of Arts & Design, University of the Arts London.

I was working in London at the time, and I had decided I’d make the most of it. It seemed like a good idea to take up some formal education in an activity that I was pursuing for so long. There was no way I could pursue a long-term course because of my work, so this seemed the perfect thing to do. Just a year ago, I had invested in my second digital camera, the Canon Powershot S2IS, which I had fallen in love with it for its versatility.

The PAA was especially interesting, because at least by the title of the course, it brought together the three things I was interested in: Photography, Art, & Architecture. The facilitator for this course was Diego Ferrari. (Some of his work may be NSFW). I didn’t know anything about him at all, but he turned out to be a very interesting person and a photographer. The first half of the first day was a general introduction, where I saw a few photographs of some well-known photographers (I had never heard of them) that, in a near instant, destroyed the sense of photography that I had accumulated for the last 28 years.

4916: Projected Windows
It was on the 10th of July 2006, that I was introduced to Candida Höfer, and I believe, from that day, my photography journey changed, forever.

In the week, the eight of us in the class, travelled to museums and art galleries, walked along streets, had conversations, asked questions and tried to make sense of what we saw and heard through three different accents: Spanish, Chinese and Indian. The visual language prevailed, however. As our day of watching visuals and taking visuals came to an end, we all shared our work with each other. Diego used to flip through the photos on our cameras, and we learnt that he could give feedback in three ways: (a) Naaah, (b) Comme ci comme ça,  and (c) Good! Very few of our photos in the first 2-3 days got a “Good!” When I think back now, I guess the first couple of days were all about unlearning; the next two about imitating, and the last day was when we noticed a slight hint of our own work appearing.

There were two other things I discovered, which I am able to articulate now, after eight years:

One, a good photograph is not necessarily the result of a sophisticated camera. A sophisticated camera gives much more control, but what matters more is the seeing. The tool is only as capable as the hands and the mind that wield it. An example.

Two, there is a way to capture the intangible in a photograph. Again, this is a factor of seeing and perhaps that one week changed more about how I saw things than the technique of taking a photograph. I still consider myself technically very weak, as far as photography is concerned.

But this day, eight years ago, as we finished and presented our portfolios to each other, little did we know that our photographs would change forever. And since what we seek is so different, this is a frustrating journey, filled with distractions in the background and blurs in the foreground.

And then, there’s a moment, when things are in focus, fit perfectly in the frame, and just make sense.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Where Have all the People Gone?

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There’ll be empty spaces soon
In the places where we all used to gather.
And they’ll ask; where have all the people gone?

Some Crossroads are Unlike Others

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Some crossroads are unlike others,
Even if they seem just the same.
They have more than three possibilities.

The Resolute 2014

I made a few resolutions for 2014. General wisdom says that you should make resolutions public; I think that’s stupid. Carry the burden of seeing the resolutions through and invite the burden of guilt if you fail. Not worth it. Yes, it’s a burden. A self-inflicted one, usually for good reason. So, I am not telling you what my resolutions are.

Funnily enough, my blog(s) did not figure in my resolution. Neither did anything related to social networking, or photography. It wasn’t deliberate, but somehow they didn’t make the list. It’s good, I think – I have other things that I’d like to focus on this year. Last year was critical as far as my blog was concerned – a nice round number anniversary of 10, was celebrated without much ado. Perhaps, I felt blogging for ten years is a lot – and it didn’t figure in the list. Social networking has lost its charm, so it was not on the top of mind, I am not surprised, it didn’t make the list. Photography, however, not making the list, surprised me. I have no idea why  it didn’t. It’s not that I have stopped or will stop photography; just that it should have naturally come somewhere on that list.

But a resolution list is not sacrosanct, as most of us know, the list can be modified, added to, or discarded altogether. So, as I am writing this post, I wonder if blogging and photography should figure in that list. I am not sure. It might.

The year has started off very well, wonderful news on Day 1. How it becomes a reality, we’ll see – but that it holds promise, is sure.

On an unrelated note, I am biased towards January.

 

The Reminders Within

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Some emotions will slowly slip through,
The inexorable cracks of time.
If we slice through, we’ll discover how we lived our life.