Is Photography limiting our appreciation of the real world?

In January 2017, my parents came to see me in Mumbai. As a family, we have always enjoyed travelling and almost 20 years ago, I came here for the first time. I remember the open-top tour bus we were on going around the city from one stop to the other, keeping to our time as there are only so many hours in a day. We saw the Hanging Gardens that homes a boot-house, for my 8-year old self, it was something out of a Lewis Carroll book; the magnificent Gateway of India surrounded by the old and the new Taj Hotel, the Marine Drive, the museums in South Mumbai and many more sites that I don’t remember very well. For anyone who has grown up in India watching Bollywood movies, Mumbai is special; there is an instant relationship that I built growing up, that Mumbai was where one would go if they had a dream that needed a touch of reality. The Bollywood movies did, in fact, romanticise the city then and continue to do today. The tapori language became a cool benchmark after Aamir Khan’s Rangeela, and the non-Mumbai folks assumed that seeing celebrities on the streets would be such an everyday affair, that no one would really turn around and look at them twice, cause you’d probably see another in a few steps, right! Every kid in the nineties knew about Essel World and The Waterkingdom in Borivali, due to the overzealous ads Zee TV aired in between shows like Hum Paanch, Disney Hour, etc. So, Mumbai has been, for me, a big deal.

Two decades since then, flipping through the photo album reminds me of those times very vividly. It is not just the fact that looking at a printed photograph is more tactile, more physical and hence more real, for me, it is also the limited nature of film rolls that played a crucial part in all this. With only 36 shots worth of Kodak Gold in the 35mm automatic film camera, one had to be careful, to only make the best image and choose the best scenario, and make the process of photographing landscapes, portraits, street, buildings etc., all the more relevant. Before you could make an image, you had to first see, look and experience. The judgment of making images was more critical, more thought-through. To choose between a photograph of a family portrait and a photograph of a beautiful building was a tough one, as you only had so many expendable slots on the film.

As ‘digital’ has stormed the photography landscape in the past decade, the cost of creating a digital reproduction of the ‘real’ has reduced to a one-time investment – that of buying the camera. As a result, collectively humanity is producing more images every day than the hundred years put together before the turn of the century. The internet is jam-packed with images harbouring hashtags like #foodporn, #selfie, #photooftheday in their captions. Add to the mix that digital photography is a mode of instant gratification, it becomes evident why tourist sites are filled with selfie sticks, digital cameras and camera-phones.

Referring back to our trip a couple of decades ago, we were excited about going to The Elephanta Caves, off the mainland of Mumbai and an hour ferry ride from Albert Bandar in South Mumbai. We couldn’t make it then as we, unfortunately, picked the one day in the week that tourism is closed on the site. However, this time around, 20 years later, we were prepared. Elephanta Island is a UNESCO heritage site and has cave-sculptures made centuries ago, honouring Lord Shiva. If you ever have the pleasure of visiting the site, you’d see visitors in hundreds, local sellers selling ‘authentic’ Elephanta artefacts, many fearless monkeys and camera phones – all this everywhere.

As I go around looking at the architecture, the meticulously built sculpture and reading the very few placards placed around the caves (thank God!) I realise that many who have taken the time out from their schedule were more interested in taking selfies and recording the site through their phone moving from one sculpture to the other, or rather from one photo-spot to the other. No doubt, photography is great to record but sorting through hundreds of these images to analyse the craftsmanship of the cave-sculpture is going to be a far cry. It was then that I felt nostalgic for the pre-digital age when you had to look, see and experience before you would make an image as opposed to now when the experience entails taking multiple photographs in the hope that one would be social-media-worthy. Photography, I feel is limiting our appreciation of the real-world, we are so obsessed with the recording and documentation aspect of it that we are failing to see the underlying beauty or the lack thereof in the real world. The appreciation is (more?) valid in the real time, in the three-dimensional world, rather than a two-dimensional screen reminiscing on a lazy afternoon when the only thing to do is flip through old photos in your phone gallery. At sites like The Elephanta Caves, we fail to interpret the design, the history, the motivation to create and therefore the art, by keeping a primal focus on taking photos that suggest, “we were there.” What this lack of appreciation is slowly leading to is a reduction in our capacity to understand culture and history, and perceiving things superficially. If the image of a sculpture is just an add-on in a self-portrait, its essence as an art-form gets diminished and if the only motivation to go see the next one is to get another photographic document, then what’s the point of taking the trouble to go out anyways?

I’d be lying if I say that I was always away from this pack, on the contrary, I feel that it has taken me a long time and many missed opportunities of appreciating the art and design of these sites. Since the realisation, I leave my camera at home and go out with the sole intention of seeing and looking, not documenting.

Through my photography, I continuously attempt to ask the question whether a photograph is a document of the real or not, whether the representation of what lies in front of the lens an accurate measure of reality. There are many academic debates on the topic and it is very interesting that photography is the undisputed champion in the reproduction of reality. My only counter is, photography undoubtedly is the champion of a representation of reality, but reproduction… maybe not.

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What I learnt since quitting my job a year ago?

Today, a year ago, was my first day after quitting my very first job. It was part-scary and part-exciting, so much so that I woke up from one of the best sleeps of my life and had a fit of paranoia in the same week. From getting up in Bangalore that morning to a year later, writing this blog from a small town on a river bank about 33 miles from London, it has been quite the journey. 2014 has been kind and excruciating, although when I look back, it’s only the good things that I can recall but the year has been challenging and if given a chance, honestly, I would change 100 different things in it, but I think it is okay to accept facts and move on. It’s been a year of Yoda-level wisdom gathering and epic goof-ups. I met some fantastic people in the past year, from riders in the mountains to fellow passengers who for some reason, never hesitated to share their story and add a life-tip after our conversation; maybe I made them feel that I could use some, and no doubt I could have used some, I can use some still. As much as this blog is about coming a full circle, it is also a hopeful look-out for the times to come.

What I’ve learnt since a year of quitting my job to move onto doing something I have wanted for a long time is what this blog is about. I’m still in the process of getting there, but I’m sure it’s going to be just fine.

You’ve Got To Really Want It! — I worked as an engineer in a technological firm and moved into photography without realising how utterly low my skill-sets were. The first week at the new ‘job’ was a jab to the gut, but you’ve got to Karate the shit out of the situation! You have got to use this to your benefit, because the less you know, the more there are opportunities to learn. And you have got to have the interest to learn, it is otherwise a downward spiral of non-recreational alcohol, binge-watching reality TV and gaining 10pounds in a week (and no, I don’t speak from experience). I wish, if I could tell the year-old me that you’re not as good as you think you are. There are so many out there who give up everyday and move-on; why do that if you can find the courage in yourself to power through and that could happen only if you really want it, so you’ve got to really want it.

Grow A Pair — The funny thing about priorities are that people like me, have it figured out but don’t necessarily have the drive to be loyal to them. When I look back, I wish I had the courage to do the software-engineered trash talk and say, “F*** this piece of code, I am done debugging”, but I didn’t. There were a few nights that I would sleep thinking of problems at work and how unhappy I was with the way ‘things’ were happening. It usually makes perfect sense, if you’re unhappy, make a change, but the courage to follow through changes and own their repercussions is down-right scary at times. I think, on this day, I have a lot more courage to follow through my plans and take decisions that I wouldn’t have risked taking a year ago — in pop culture term, I might be refereed to as someone who has grown a pair.

Being Paranoid Helps — But following this pair-growing phenomenon comes the phase of being paranoid and if you go by what I have to say, it helps. As paradoxical as it sounds, it is true. The process of making life-changing decisions follow the paranoia-filled uncertainty. And that is a good thing! New neural networks in the brain start firing up making it the phase of enchanted self-discovery while maintaining a flow and ebb of ideas that are affecting your well-being day by day. This for me, was the first week of my new found freedom, starting Feb 04, 2014 to Feb 09, 2014. Soon after this phase of brand-new neural network arrangement I was left with just paranoia! And just paranoia did great for me. I was always worried, always tensed and hence always prepared. In retrospect it was because of the fact that I really wanted to be a photographer, I still do. The paranoia is still around and in some ways I have arranged for a symbiotic relationship — it feeds off my constant worrying, I try to keep myself prepared in return. Trust me, being paranoid helps.

You Always Have A Plan B — Life’s too short to NOT do something you like and too long to experiment and fail with a thousand different things. I’ve had the pleasure of being passionate about a few things — from the want of being a professional sportsperson in high school, to later being a musician; for lack of a better understanding of ‘things’, settling for studying engineering (which I thoroughly enjoyed), to becoming a graphic designer and finally a photographer, that too in the first week of my job as a software engineer. But every phase has taught me something, much like it teaches everyone something. It is always helpful to nurture this feeling of “being taught” by experiences. And truth be told the way things work out, in hindsight, it seems like a carefully executed plan. We might always know it, but we always have a Plan B.

What’s The Worst That Could Happen? — As scary as it sounds, the analysis of this question, personally is the best stress buster. Ripping off John Mayer on his quote, as true to the fact that fear helps in being prepared of uncertainty, it’s also a friend that’s misunderstood. The way I look at it sometimes, if the worst that could happen isn’t that you “DIE! DIE! DIE!”, the situation is manageable. It got a little morbid there but the point I am trying to drive home is, more often than not, a Plan B lurks in the analysis to this question and isn’t too far from the ideal situation. Yes, instead of getting the utopian ‘there’ in the best possible time, if might take a little longer to make it, but it is still okay. So in my opinion, lay down all your scenarios, plan and deal with it (if it’s not death) because, what’s the worst that could really happen?

Find a Sensei. Trust the Sensei. — I was lucky to have found mine – Aneev. Brutally honest and extremely funny, that’s all you need in a master. What you’ve got to be is completely trusting, and that’s all. I held myself accountable for some of the most basic errors I made, if I could change this other thing, I would have liked to be harder on myself than what I was. The thing is, there is barely any room in this world for mediocrity; there are so many out there who could half-bake a cake and complain about the ingredients being wrong. Having said that, there is definitely no room for self-loathing as well, which is why it always helps to talk to your mentor and reason out your understanding of things. And who knows, the sensei might recommend you to apply for a photography programme in the UK over a round of beer after a good day of shoot and about six months later you could be writing about it for a blog. For that sake alone, find a sensei and trust the sensei.

Familia — The exceptional amount of support, trust and strength I have received from my family has been exceptional to the point that it was surprising! It counts a lot to talk to your family about what’s going on and the sheer enthusiasm with which they want to know about the recent changes. Nothing beats the fact that a year ago, I made a joke to my father (who back then had quite recently taken an early retirement from work) about being unemployed, suggesting that we’re the only ‘jobless’ ones in the family. It is under their protection and heartfelt support that I know that I can achieve what I have set out to. Always, love thy familia.

Don’t/Can’t/Won’t/Shouldn’t Quit — As I wrote earlier, there is barely any room in this world for mediocrity. Added on it the pressure of performance is the daily struggle of the once-much-celebrated Generation X. It doesn’t ever make sense to give up, unless you’ve tried a million different ways of making things work, because if you haven’t, the ‘change’ in itself is not justified. This is where I like to think about the 1000-day rule, it is pretty much the theory that if you’re working on an idea, giving it at least a 1000 days to workout is necessary. This is where the collective effort from my family, my sensei, my paranoia, my analysis to the dreaded question and my plan B helps. The way I look at it, if all else fails, think of doing that one that you find the most pleasure in, so much so that you wished it was the way of life – right there you’d know how to carry on.

I hope what I’ve learnt from this past year stays with me and keeps me moving forward. For better or for worse, it has gotten me so far, I don’t see why it won’t take me all the way.

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The Aura

“What is aura? A strange web of time and space: the unique appearance of a distance, however close at hand. On a summer noon, resting, to follow the line of a mountain range on the horizon or a twig which throws its shadow on the observer, until the moment or hour begins to be a part of its appearance — that is to breathe the aura of those mountains, that twig. Now to bring things themselves closer—and closer to the masses— is as passionate a contemporary trend as is the conquest of unique things in every situations by their reproduction.”

Walter Benjamin’s “Short Introduction to Photography” | Page 209

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It’s No Rocket Science, Not a Bike Ride Either

Drink your drink right! – This is probably the one thing that is not appreciated enough when it comes to the idea of having a fine drink. I myself was ignorant about the means of the sophisticated when I had my first glass in my hand. It is definitely not rocket science, you need not be pro to appreciate the beauty, taste and feel of a soulful drink. It is however, not a bike ride either, a drink gulped in one go is demeaning its existence.

The Original

I have done my research and found people who know what they are doing and here are my finds,

Holster the Drink – Pour at least 1-1.5 ounce of scotch into the glass. Swirl it. Feel the power in your hand.

Feel the Aroma – Feeling the Aroma is feeling the essence of the drink. Our olfactory senses are given quite the treat with a fine glass of Black Dog Scotch Whisky. Concentrate on the smells and pick out individual aromas. Give the glass an occasional swirl or two as it helps release more of those volatile compounds that make your drink perfect.

The First Sip – Sip in a small amount at first, only enough to cover your tongue. Hold the whisky in your mouth for a while till it stops burning on your tongue and you feel the sweetness underneath. Swirl it around your mouth, making sure to feel the divinity in the spirit. After you are done figuring out the individual flavors, swallow.

Source - passey.info

Source – passey.info

Feel the ‘Finish’ – Gulping down Scotch immediately leave a burning sensation in the mouth. One must be patient and let the drink linger in the mouth for a while. It goes down ‘smooth’ – without burning your throat. Sip. Breathe, breathe a lot, as you will start to realise the flavors that remain on your tongue, gums, and the walls of your mouth. This is the ‘finish’, and can last anywhere from a few seconds to several hours. This is where there is a transition from smelling the drink, to tasting the aromas.

en.wikipedia.org

The next time you decide to have a drink of India’s finest International Scotch Whisky, the Black Dog, remember these points and dwell into the luxury of the moment. Share these tips as well to those, who are missing out.

Disclaimer – The content is meant only for people above the age of 25. All views and mentions here are personal.

 

 

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Traveling with a good companion

“The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land” – Gilbert K. Chesterton.

On the Foreigner's Footsteps

On the Foreigner’s Footsteps

Travelling is fun. Travelling alone is even better. You’re the master of your own fate. YOU decide which place you want to go to, YOU decide how long you’re willing to stay there and YOU decide what you do while your stay. I have been on quite a few lonesome trips in my life and it might sound ‘sad’ for some who have yet to experience the pleasure of the same.

I have traveled to quite a few places in India. Places I’ve been to, have offered me chances of partying all night long and/or relaxing for the better half of the week. It all depends where you are heading to and how you intend to make the most of the day.

Where ever I’ve been to, Black Dog Scotch Whisky has always given me company. The perfect companion, whether you are out partying with your friends or sipping it from a glass at a beach reading your favorite novel. It has the versatility and the perfect blend that ensures you good times. I carry a bottle of Black Dog and my Whisky glass if I plan to head to a secluded area where all I look for is peace and some time to unwind and relax. If it is about hanging out near pubs and in cities, Black Dog is well known and easily available brand. There is something about this drink that does not let me complete my journey without an instance of it’s taste on my tongue at least a couple of times.

BD TGR_Easel 3x2-opt2

 

Would it not be the perfect day to return home a stranger? Travelling has the potential to teach things that lie beyond classrooms – Experiences!

Disclaimer – The content is meant only for people above the age of 25. All views and mentions here are personal.

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Rowling’s Fringe Benefits of Failure

The fringe benefits of failure has always been a source of inspiration, hope and belief that if you want something to work out and are ready to give in all you got, then it will eventually work out for sure.

But times have changed since the last time I read the essay. I find her as mystical as her characters that my generation grew up with, the writer of the brilliant series of ‘Harry Potter’, J K Rowling. I say the times have changes because the last time I read it, I was at a 9-to-5 job, frustrated out of the tasteless work I was doing, and completely oblivious to the fact that things were about to get better. I guess, we’re always oblivious. I’m sure, things ahead will work out for the best if I’m honest towards my work.

Back then when I read this beautiful lecture that Rowling gave at Harvard, it made me feel so weak. Not because, I couldn’t do what she’s done, but I was looking at myself, and I knew what I had to do but lacked the courage to take a step forward.

I always felt that when I found my calling, the one I was sent here to do, I would give away everything else and jump into the unknown to find it. Here, I was, knowing photography is what I wanted to do and learn the art, but I couldn’t let go of my work and go do it! That was not a very comfortable phase in my life.

Not that I couldn’t get things done where in was working, I was in fact doing a really good job, but every morning when I woke up, the question stared my face every time. I kept asking myself what’s the purpose of all this. Now, don’t misunderstand me for a fool who take risks that are way beyond human comprehension. I was determined that I would make a change and for the same, there had to be a plan.

Now, the funny thing about a plan is, it’s execution. More often than not, what seems like a brilliant plan up in your mind, often comes short outside it. So, there were changes, improvisations and above all, the one thing that always kills joy, the wait!

Being patient is not my thing. Getting-panic-attacks-out-of-excitement-and-fear, that’s more like it!

But then, things slowly started to fall in their place and one fine day I was all assured that I should quit the 9-to-5, and do something to move towards the final destination. Now, the funny thing about this is, is that I still don’t know what the final destination is, but I guess that’s just the part of the journey.

I can’t tell the difference between a weekday and the weekend anymore. It’s either a time when I’m working, or when I’m not, so it’s funny, weird and complicated, all at the same time!

I hope years and years later, I’ll look at this and smile, be proud if the fact that I tried. Success, or not, this will surely be a journey to remember. And success, and/or failure is again, relative if you ask me. Ask me? Yeah, please do.

Give the essay a read here or play this YouTube video from the graduation ceremony.

There are indeed many benefits of failure. I’m not sure if I’ll have the fortune or misfortune of finding every single one of ’em, but I’m sure every single one would teach me things that I’ve not known before and would make every moment a little more special. There are indeed so many fringe benefits of failure.

I end this from an excerpt from her speech which I often read, “You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”

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Four Seasons Wines – Merlot

Four Seasons Wines has always been synonymous with good wine in India. I have had the pleasure of enjoying a few of their wines before and when Ginger Claps approached me for a review of Four Seasons, I was all up for it.

Four Seasons Merlot

The bottle I got for the review was from the top of their line, The Four Seasons Merlot, a wine brewed in the valleys of Sahyadri, Maharashtra. The sheer passion that has gone in making these wines that you know in your first sip is the reason why it is a delight of a drink to have it at your private mini-bar.

The Four Seasons Vineyard

This wine is Ruby red in colour with a hint of garnet. Delicious aromas of ripe black fruits, especially plums are a treat for the olfactory nerves.

Tasting notes:

Colour : Red
Aroma : Complex aroma profile with good amounts of plums among the many ripe black fruits. Delicious.
Palate : Medium bodied with soft tannins and and a pleasant lasting finish.
Serving suggestion : Enjoyed best at 16 -18º C .A fine wine to go with fine cuisine like slow roasted rack of lamb and even roasted vegetables. Medium spiced Indian dishes also pair this wine. Ready to drink now but connoisseurs will realise that this wine will age well over 5 years.

All in all, a wine to relish on a breezy evening listening to your favorite jazz record. An assured way to make your evening magical.

Check out Four Seasons Wines at:

http://www.fourseasonsvineyards.com
https://www.facebook.com/FourSeasonsWines

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Wishful Thinking

Sometimes when I pick up my phone and browse through my contacts list, I cannot help but notice remarkable people in there, who are inspirations, friends, admirers and special. Obviously, there are those who I don’t know personally, like the guy who came to fix my broadband internet connection and gave me his number in case, it stops working again, or, the guy who delivers water barrels to my place. The latter aren’t on my speed-dial however are must-haves for my efficient day-to-day function.

With technology taking a jump in innovation, execution and performance, every day I come across numerous applications that bridge the communication gap across regions and relations. I wish there was an app that could transcend across the living, dead, imaginary, supernatural and the divine. If so, I would have a word with the following greats.

Nikola Tesla – He’s been an inspiration to many generations. A futurist, way ahead of his time, he is the pioneer of the modern alternating current electrical supply system. Tesla believed in the idea of progression and was, therefore, kind-hearted to those who used his patents. You name it, Hydroelectric Power, Radar, X-Rays, Remote Control, Neon Lighting, Wireless Communication, directly or indirectly is the consequence of the work that Tesla did. The unit Tesla is in his honour and is the unit of magnetic induction. If I could, I would ask him the approach, with which he solved a problem, more importantly, the questions he asked himself to vision a better world. I would learn and talk a lot!

Source – forbes.com

Lord Vishnu – Yes!  Brahma is the creator of the universe and Shiva is the destroyer. Vishnu is the preserver and protector of the universe. His role is to return to the earth in troubled times and restore the balance of good and evil. So far, he has been incarnated nine times! There is no doubt that you must have him in your group of 5, for reasons that include divine wisdom, but his attributes of Jnana (omniscience), Sakti (power), Bala (strength), Aisvarya (lordship), Virya (energy) and Tejas (splendor) could be a never-ending lesson that we can talk about.

Source – stephen-knapp.com

My Grand-Maa – Today, as I look back and think of my childhood, I see her everywhere. She’s always been important to me and will always be. I see her among the stars every night and make sure she’s always in my prayers. I wish she could have been in reach still so I would ask her how it is there in heaven and would confirm that she’s happy. 🙂

Mom & Dad – For me, Mom & Dad are a single entity. Incomplete without the other, I don’t see why they shouldn’t be together here as well. I’ve seen instances where kids forget their roots and leave behind the ones who helped them all the way. Lucky for me, they are on my list and it is fun to have them around, dropping quick texts and pictures to keep me up-to-date with whatever they’re doing.  

Parents to the groom

Mom & Dad

Tyrion Lannister – Okay! So this is pretty obvious, I’m a Game of Thrones buff! But I have my reasons to have this little fellow in my group. Yes, he is cunning, but is kind as well very witty, heartbroken quite many times but never hopeless. An ultimate survivor that he is, he never fails to turn the odds in his favour, with his quick thinking and excellent execution. A good judge of character, I feel I could learn a thing or two about human behaviour from this genius yet underestimated character.

Source – ebayimg.com

Ah! Wishful Thinking.

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