Category Archives: Photography

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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Naina

Day 11

It was time, time for Naina to go. She knew what would follow, a pull from up above the heavens so strong, that even the idea of holding on to a mortal-possession seemed futile. Naina was summoned back to where her future purpose would be served. But she knew that her visit had made a difference, not just for Naina herself but it changed Priya & Dada’s life as well. She was now glad that it all came full circle and she said her goodbyes.

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This was the end. Naina was a little uncertain how would He react to her breaking the rules of the afterlife but was sure that she’ll be forgiven; after all, Naina was quite His favourite. Her destiny would now be revealed to her. God has a plan for everyone, a fact that Naina was an example of.

The lights grew dim and the lift had become stronger. In the final moments, she couldn’t help but smile.

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For more on Naina, check my photography blog Shot, Framed & Hanged on facebook. If you’ve not been following the story of Naina, make sure you subscribe here. Alternately, you can select the category of the blog post – Photography/Photo Story – Naina.

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Naina

Day 10

God works in mysterious ways and Naina was an example of the same. Her heart was filled with remorse but she was helpless, so much so, that she could not even see Dada and Maa one last time before she left. “Rules change once you enter afterlife and a contact might compel one to lose grip on reality.” She knew there was no way she could call on to them and tell them how much her heart aches for them. But she had to do something! She picked up from her box of memories, her journal which was full of beautiful drawings and naïve poems of how beautiful the world is. All this now, seemed like a joke mocking her! She decided to say her goodbye, with a final word, hoping they will read it. Naina was at the brink of doing the unbelievable. God’s own child was about to break the rule of her beloved Father!

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I am alright.

I would have given everything to be there with you, Maa & Dada, but I’m afraid this time, it’s not my choice. I want you to believe this in your heart that I’m always with you, no matter what and I’ll always be a part of every little smile that you share.

I would tell you everything that I know now, but I’m afraid, this letter is already an instance of me breaking His rules. I came back because I had to say my goodbyes one last time. Meeting you is not an option because, He would not be kind towards my mistake and I’ve asked too much from him already. He has plans for me, I’ll know about them soon.

I have to go now, but I’m always here, in your heart. I love you Maa & Dada! Now that I’ve seen angels, I realize, you two are no different.

Love,
Naina

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For more on Naina, check my photography blog Shot, Framed & Hanged on facebook. If you’ve not been following the story of Naina, make sure you subscribe here. Alternately, you can select the category of the blog post – Photography/Photo Story – Naina.

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Naina

Day 9

Realization has a way of serving you the hard brutal truth with no mercy. Knowing, this is where it all ends, Naina is filled with an extreme range of feelings. She tries to look around wishing that she’ll wake up any moment now, but no morning alarm rings. With a hope that He’ll be merciful enough to let her go, she looks up to Him, but could not draw the courage from within to ask for pardon, for she knows that He has planned something that is above her personal choice. Realizing her incapacitation and the upsurge of emotion from within, she cannot help but cry. All she could think about now is the way Dada woke her up every morning with a kiss on her forehead and the way Maa braided her hair in a new way every time. For Naina, this is not easy.

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For more on Naina, check my photography blog Shot, Framed & Hanged on facebook. If you’ve not been following the story of Naina, make sure you subscribe here. Alternately, you can select the category of the blog post – Photography/Photo Story – Naina.

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Naina

Day 8

She’s been in her room countless times but this one seemed so different. It is more than her room now, it’s her safe haven and she knows time is a cruel nemesis that she cannot defeat. That feeling, when you’re about to leave your home, knowing that you’re never returning back, is something which is all too familiar to Naina, now, more than ever. She knows that He would not let her come back again and she wonders if it would ever be enough, her stay here, at home.

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For more on Naina, check my photography blog Shot, Framed & Hanged on facebook. If you’ve not been following the story of Naina, make sure you subscribe here. Alternately, you can select the category of the blog post – Photography/Photo Story – Naina.

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Naina

Day 7

She called him ‘Mr.Brown’ and for Naina, Mr.Brown was her knight in shining armor. He protected her from monsters behind the curtains and goofy looking birds that moaned at night outside her window. It was with him that she felt safe. Kids have a way of finding comfort in inanimate objects because maybe, just maybe, they see the demons hidden in everything that’s alive.

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Naina has always been fascinated with architecture, be it man made or a masterpiece by nature. It was puzzling for her the first time she got this present of the Taj Mahal. She exclaimed, “Maa! How did you put Tal Mahal inside the glass?” Priya couldn’t resist laughing at how adorable her kid was! Naina had to feel one last touch of this beautiful piece, it meant saying goodbye to her mother.

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For more on Naina, check my photography blog Shot, Framed & Hanged on facebook. If you’ve not been following the story of Naina, make sure you subscribe here. Alternately, you can select the category of the blog post – Photography/Photo Story – Naina.

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