When I made pictures as an amateur, there were some that just stuck to the heart. I had no words to explain why I liked a certain picture that I had created. I would just look (I still do) at the photograph first in the camera and then the computer screen and wonder what had made me take that picture.
As I made my way through photo school and the years there after till today, the answers came to me. They come again and again reinforcing something that was told many a times by a lot of our teachers and discussed countless times amongst friends. Shoot what you feel; the camera is a mechanism of capturing emotions. Once you pick it up and think about the power it places in your hands, there is no going back to the morbidity of the usual. Point it at life and life points right back to you, mostly smiling; though sometimes it does stick the middle finger at you; but it smiles alright.
Last week I shot two assignments commercially. One was a maternity shoot and the other was a classical Indian music concert. While shooting both I was, countless times, overwhelmed. Making pictures is such a joyous process and it makes me so happy. In that moment of clicking the shutter lies my happiness and I have no memory to deal with. Check out this video from the concert.
The sound of the picture is my silence.
I am also happy to report that I have refurbished my website. I love the midnight hour to make these announcements.
It’s an imprint; a sign or maybe a symbol of the impending future. It is future in the making and when one looks at it; is assured of what today will grow into. It’s tomorrow today. One could associate many emotions of tomorrow on that, which has been photographed today.
Featured here is my two year old nephews wet foot print on the floor.
2 days after the 83rd birthday of Ruskin Bond, I happened to pick up a collection of his fiction & non fiction writings this morning. And as I went from one piece to another I smiled and laughed at the tales he had to tell. A feel good book largely that kind of took me back to my childhood – especially the summer – his stories were about mangoes and baths in the canals in the towns where Rusty lived. One tale spoke about his journey to becoming the cook of the scouts team. Another took me to an attic in London; where in the loneliness of the first few days, a mouse was company.
As the day wore off, I took a short ride for business. Once out of the house I couldn’t help but notice the sights that were always on the roads when I rode on them, but never presented themselves in the manner as they did this evening. I noticed the small shop selling pakodas on a tiny turn; a dry wheat field across the stream that usually I fail to notice when I cross it. I also stopped at the highest point of the highest flyover in my city to observe the land scape that it overlooked. To a great distance in the sky I saw the roofs of buildings, open spaces on either sides of the road that the fly over crosses; I saw the sun setting in a golden hue.
As I sit and write this out, I find it imperative to mention how my heart yearns for travel; something that has not happened due to the commerce required to run life. Coming into May of 2017, I decided to bring pending businesses to a close so that the criss cross of the Indian Monsoon and Summer are months when I would be out to look around the country side. Usually May is a long month and its taken a toll on my plans, I am delayed in completion of all work by another 15 days.
But I did travel. Rusty took me to the canals and mangroves in his town. The words of his stories – simple and effective – painted their cities, caricatured their people – be it the bumbling Uncle Ken, the authoritative Bhabhiji – lady of the house or the two white mice who were gifted to Rusty by a station master when he landed up in Lucknow instead of New Delhi after an overnight train journey. What does also stand out in memory is the working miniature train model – I’ve seen those and in the days of the past planned to own one by saving a lot of money and building the collection one by one.
I have come to know someone (though not directly) who reads the book Shantaram but has never bought it. Thats because he finds the book every place he has travelled to. I also know a lot of folks who read up about the places that they intend to visit. Some also read famous stories from the place they are visiting. I think they do this because it gives them a sense of belonging and identification. I also know people who have remembered incidents/ lines from stories and put them into their travel experiences (read photographs). In his autobiography , Khushwant Singh’s descriptions of the places that he has stayed in across his life are beautiful; at a certain place he mentions a walk that he took from Simla to Kausali; one almost walks with him. In her biography of the Late Mohan Singh Oberoi, Bachi Kakaria recreated for me, the erstwhile pathways in Simla as Oberoi walked from his home to the Cecil – the first hotel he managed and ran. She wrote about the boilers and steam coming out of them, and the farm house where Oberoi lived till his last and how the sun shone through the windows in the soft Delhi winter. Such was the impact of that reading that I desired to stay at the Cecil and about 15 years post the first reading, I finally checked in to the Oberoi Clarkes in Shimla only to learn that it wasn’t the Cecil. Gosh I need to read that book again!!!
They travel – these words. They take us places.
And as my plans of travel for 2017 take another bout of delay enforced by my pursuit of commerce, the fact that I can travel with words brings a smile to my lips and peace to my heart.
Open your phone. Go to the photo gallery. See the last 10 photographs. No – not the last 10 pictures but photographs.
How many of them hold meaning?
Literature and history are full of experts and critiques defining a photograph. The world of today has made its way through the complexities of their words and myriads of their thoughts. Taking a picture is common folk. Everyone does it and why not. Technology allows it, apps glorify it, softwares ease out dodge and burn techniques and huge hoardings advertise the awesome photographs made by phone users across the world.
Personally I am averse to taking pictures randomly. I retort in the most haughtiest of fashions when I am asked to click selfies and photos of any near and dear ones. Of course I do as a part of my profession – I am an events and wedding photographer, but commerce needs to over rule the heart. However, in the weekly meetings of a professional networking group of which I am a part, I am expected to photograph the acclaimed folks every week and I get called out for it. Just that when I get called out, I am mostly in my most despicable avatar.
But what do photographs stand for. I have been asked many a times as to why wouldn’t I participate in a selfie exercise or click random photos of anyone.
The photos that you see as part of this blog post are from two recent vacations. In both I was with my closest. And these are the photographs that I could create. When I look at them, I smile. They give me joy. These are people close to me. Each photograph has a moment attached to it. Its a record; a happening of my life; an event or its precursor. This is not random. Nothing in my photography is random. Not even my weakest photograph(s).
It was exactly a year back when I stepped foot on the famous Juhu Beach in Mumbai. We were on a family vacation and chose to stay at the Ramada Plaza – Juhu which opens into the beach. As I walked on the beach, I saw two policemen, on a bike, racing amidst the crowd blowing the bike horn in great urgency. I looked around to see an imaginary law and order issue which needed an immediate solution, but had to contend with nothing.
As I looked around and the evening grew into the night, an entirely new world emerged as the evening set in. Countless hawkers selling their foods and wares; beach photographers with indigenous apparatus that prints photos in a minute hog the beach to make a quick buck; the nearby eatery bustling with cries of who’s better than who; families sitting on rented mats eating out of their hampers occasionally mixing it with the foods from the stalls. The next morning I saw a completely new face to the beach with the same places of the night converting into jogging tracks, cricket squares and football grounds.
It was an ecosystem coming ṭo life – full of elements borne and bred by the beach.
The beach is many things to many. By the time that my first visit came to an end, I was taken in by the charm of the beach. One morning I came to the beach to witness selections for stunt men for the Indian Film Industry. Aspirants waited for their chance to be tested in mock fights replete with dishooms and aaaahs.
Another day I walked right into the middle of a football match and was promptly ejected of the ‘field’. During my monsoon visit I was appalled at the waste. I was later told that this was a result of human apathy and is a yearly affair. And how can I forget the morning singer wearing a black t shirt, shorts and goggles!! He had these huge headphones on his ears & sang Salman Khan songs to an amused crowd around him.
And while I noticed the umpteen number of relationships blooming and breaking on the beach; they deserve their space. After all its the maximum city – it has space for everyone.
As the pictures grew I decided to put them together in a form. And this came Ecosystem to print. Printed at and by PhotoJaanic, the wonderful photo printing company based in Goa, the book was delivered at my doorstep in three days flat after ordering. The site offers great options of laying out your prints in individual or book form, has some good paper options. The printing is neat and the shipping is full of care.
50 kilometres from Pune, lies the small district of Mulshi, a popular ecotourism zone, especially in monsoons. Punekars (and other tourists) flock to Mushi and its popular road waterfalls and resorts for a quick get-away.
On a day devoid of the sun and replete from the rain, Mulshi is heaven. The roads are washed black, the trees painted green. Winds rustle the leaves to make music. One can drive down the long winding roads for hours admiring the landscape of cut hills and small peaks. A general tendency of the traveller here is to stop the vehicle on the side of the road to either enjoy the waterfall or a snack or a beer to keep the spirit high.
But for the lucky, Kaa is always in the Jungle!!!
A friend told me about a jungle – untouched and uncut. “It has its own legend”, is what she said, as we drove into Mulshi.
The Devarai Forest is near a village in Mulshi, just off the main highway before the turn to Pimpri. To reach the forest, one needs to walk through the fields of the common folk, cross a couple of small rivers on foot, both of which were in full flow during the monsoon. Not sure of the way, we sought help from a lad from the village. He dropped us near the second river, but would go no further.
We saw a house, abandoned and moss laden – thick and green in colour. We walked by the house and voila!!! We entered a most dense settlement of trees. A completely new world was in front – leaving behind the vast fields and the flowing Mutha river. Just a few steps and I was inside!! Not sure about Meri and Pippin; but I had the same look on my face as Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli when they entered the Fangorn Forest.
I never really had many opportunities to go into a forest. As a kid journeys to National Parks and Forests were limited. My parents preferred visiting cities and beaches. When I grew up I inhabited the same likings. Consequently, standing in a dense forest surrounded by trees was a unique feeling. I was out of my comfort zone.
The trees were old. In their grown up years some of them must have fought with each other…their branches tangled in a permanent arm twist. Some must have been friends…lovers maybe too…they bent and stood the same way. They were tall – even lifting my head I could not fathom the top of the tree. I needed a Bilbo moment when he climbs the tree to find the direction to the Lonely Mountain.
Legend goes that the forest was protected by a Goddess who pronounced that if anyone cut so as much a leaf in the same, he or she would face her wrath. And hence the Devarai has seen many seasons of staying the way it was.
After sufficient exploration of the forest, we walked back, to have our lunch near the river Mutha. In a distance, a family splashed water on each other – drunk on Whisky and Coke, unaware of the tree treasure just a few steps away.
From a formally educated photographer this could be unusual. But the events leading to the thoughts mentioned are such that it is compelling for me to put this down in words.
Education doesn’t make a photographer. No amount of it can. There is enough literature within the world that talks about how photos are experiential – they are borne when the six senses of the photog come together. It is then, the photog’s fortitude to push the limits and create pictures that stun sensibilities before normalising to satisfaction.
On travel a couple of months back, I found myself managing a Lubitel. The Lubitel is a fully manual medium format camera; popularly also known as a Twin Lens Reflex. In one roll of film, one can shoot 12 square photos. One can modify a few settings in the camera to bump up the number of shots to 16, but I like it as it is – 12. To operate the Lubitel, one needs to hand-complete all activities of creating a photograph. Loading the film and winding it to a shoot – ready position, looking through the waist level viewfinder to get the composition correct without the help of grid lines, managing the exposure settings in a half imaginative state – a light meter or a digital camera help partially in pre empting what the photo would look like; is what my life became as I went about creating photographs of the trip.
Processing of these photos is done by experts. So I sent my film rolls (210 photos in 8 different films) for processing to the experts and after three weeks of waiting they handed me 92 photos. Just that. The rest were all washed out. As I peered at the photos that the agency was able to process; the sense of longing for the ones that they could not took a back seat.
As I saw these photos, the memory of the process of creating each one came back. I was in Goa in the last week of March – and that is perhaps the last week before the hot and strong summer sets in. Moving out the hotel between 10 AM and 5 PM is sacrilege. It is also sacrilege to not spending time by the pool in the same time zone. But shooting with film took me out. Armed with a bag full of film, a tungsten powered light meter and a small digital camera I rode out to places that I thought would be fit to be shot. So while beaches remained a easy go, climbing Fort Aguada and Fort Chapora in the severing heat, being chased down a small hillock that overlooks the Vagator Beach by stray dogs and losing my way and landing up in a small village while on my way to Arambol. I never reached Arambol though – turned back because at the point of losing direction I realised that I was 15 KMs away. Making a picture using a TLR attracted attention of all kinds. People stopped by, confirmed if it was the camera of the olden times; some wondered as to why would I spend time doing this if I could easily create digital pictures. Most people ask the cost.
The thing about shooting with film is that it makes a photog look at his or her trade awfully lot more closely than they would. It made me “look” and “wait”. The key to success was not to press the shutter at the wrong time – the moment had either just passed by or had not come. It made me work to getting to the place in light that mattered.
And I realised that while doing all this to create the pictures that I was, I had discovered a new face of Goa. I ventured up a hill, a fort that I had never climbed, into roads that always looked deserted and boring. I stopped near fields and small pools. I saw chapels and houses of locals. I got into a village and spent time talking to a lady about how my way was lost.
It was then a realisation that has eluded me for the most of my travelling life. It is imperative for a traveller to push the boundaries on a trip. An extra kilometre, an hour less of the normal sleep time, a conversation in the middle of no-where – might just lead to that all important moment in the trip – where you find the picture that sums it up.