If you have come to this post thinking that this is a rant of someone who is not making money through photography, please go away. While I am not making money from photography, I think it is a few moments (maybe months) away. And I am sticking my neck out.
Photography is easily accessible. Pick up your DSLR and you’re one. Pick up a P&S and you’re one. Pick up your phone and you’re one. Editing is simpler than ever with all the softwares around, especially the ones that play easily on our phones – snapseed, vsco et al. So all you have to do is take picture, put some filters and send them out to the world to call you a photographer. Some apps help one traverse that journey from human to what seems to me is a Chihuahua with ears and noses.
Those who have picked the trade up professionally, will agree that in the market of averages, cost is the determining factor. No matter how good you are, if you’re in the market of averages as I call it, the amount of work you get will depend finally on the price and the pocket. The middle class wont stretch itself and especially in these trying times of the economy. Even in lucrative markets like weddings, the averages play a huge role. They seem to rationalise everything when it comes to visuals.
Then there are many who undercut. Undercutting hurts big time – both to the serious photographer and the customer. Because the one who undercuts sometimes may not get the visual; plus he/ she has taken the business away from the one who could do it. The customer’s cries are over and above.
So while I am in this happy zone making pictures and videos, drawing my heart out and preparing for some exciting personal stuff in the future, one zone in my mind is always occupied with the bills, emi’s and savings. But it is an exchange that I am happy to settle for; because when I am photographing, the world doesn’t matter at all.
In my opinion, art has to reach the middle class. They need to have access to happy pictures of their prime, their kids and parents and all this must come at affordable packages. So the philosophy of bulk might have to kick in. But that requires a strong backend. Thankfully my team and I are working on it. Speed, accuracy and art remain the essence of our services and there are enough folks in the world outside who realise that they can bring happiness to themselves by either contributing or consuming. But pay your artist promptly.
I also think an artist needs to be multifaceted. Unless I am big enough to command a Steid to make my books, I am content doing it myself. Write, read, edit, blog, sponsor, network – everything yourself.
Some awesome baby pictures coming soon. Until next time.. which should be soon.
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.
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).
During my term at Art school, our class had the chance to go to the awesome tourist city of Jaisalmer in Rajasthan. Shooting practice is what it was called. The month as I recall was March – just in time for the desert festival. Sunny days and pleasantly cold evenings.
In photographic terms, I was a freshman then. Much like the kid who tries to palm fill as many goodies as he can from the tray, I wanted to shoot pretty much everything that I saw. Fill the card!! was the cry. Loud and clear. The plan was to shoot the best pictures that Jaisalmer would have ever imagined – in 5 days, I would have the most amazing collection of travel pictures ever. Yep – all done and dusted. Hero status checked. Now just that shutter needed to be pressed.
But as I stepped out to make those amazing photographs, all was a maze. Places like Jaisalmer have the problem of plenty and I just could not fathom what and where to begin. A day and half went by as I walked by absolutely confused, shooting whatever I could lay my hands on. Hardly what an aspiring documentary photographer would do. I just didn’t fathom the enormity of the place.
Walking in the streets, making my way to the fort, fellow Fseven photographer Bhagyashree Patki and I crossed a residential space. The common folk place. Mix of houses and affluence; a big white 3 floor house just opposite a small one floor house with an open terrace. BP took some pictures of the locked house door, when we heard the voice “hello!! would you like to see my house?”
A girl, maybe 12 – 13 years, standing across the ledge of the house, adjacent to the door. We hadn’t noticed her; she saw us. “My name is Deepa”, she answered when BP asked her. Deepa invited us inside the house, encouraged us to shoot pictures. She sat on the steps in front of the door and smiled wide. “I can take you around”, she said.
Then Deepa walked us around. She took us to all the places that are worth an eye in Jaisalmer and took us to people who we would have missed. Like this person who has a long moustache. I mean you have to see it to believe it. She made me meet the wife of a local musician who plays the Ravanhattha; this lady does not know how to speak hindi properly; cannot read or write but can converse fluently in French and German as she needs to engage with the tourists. I could not converse with her as I do not speak either of the two.
Deepa walked us to certain rampants of the fort which we would have skipped in the usual course of events. And we saw Jaisalmer from the top. The day came to an end; she went home; we came to the hotel.
The next day we met again. While my memory fails me in the exact sequence of events but this was when we went to the Havelis – Patwon and Nathmal. Both havelis are significant and are a must do as they unfold the architecture and history of Jaisalmer. The evening brought a visit to the Gadisar Lake, calm and serene.
My fondness for Deepa grew. As did my curiosity about her. She was wonderful company, much like a pot of gold that you find in a desert. We visited places; she would talk endlessly;I answered selectively. Her comfort and confidence was amazing; I was more concerned about her staying out alone than she was.
One evening as we returned from another sojourn, we happened to fleetingly meet Deepa’s father and grandmother. A longer meeting with her father took place the next day when Sachindra, BP and I visited her house. Her father shared stories about the place, himself and his wife who was out visiting some relatives. He told us about his passion for being photographed and that he had acted as an extra in a couple of Bollywood movies and managed get himself clicked with Salman and Aamir Khan. Fancy that!! He opened up to us warmly. Not able to stop myself, I asked him if Deepa’s free spirit troubled him? “Not at all”, he said, “she is smart enough to sell a man on the street!!!”
Deepa’s company had given me the direction of what to see in Jaisalmer. I went to the fort area and walked the small streets inside. As I walked by a thin street, someone welcomed me. An elderly gentleman seated on a chair on the front porch of his house. His house was blue in color. All the walls. He stayed there with his family. I shot some pictures and left. Later I got them printed at a local printing shop and gifted the same to the gentleman the next day.
We were in time for the desert festival. A short drive out into the wilderness brought us to the desert, full of sand that changes colours with the sun. The camel races were the first events of the evening and a sight to see. Do you know the feeling of exciting anticipation? I felt it the crowd that day. The group’s racing their camels lined them up on the far end of the horizon and as soon as the shot went out, the camels galloped to the finishing line towards our side. Travellers delight!!!
I spent the next day in the fort. The Golden Fort as it is known, is a huge property now divided between the Govt and the Maharaja of Jaisalmer. Some of it is available for tourists to see. They have a handy feature to explore these places – a guide microphone – an instrument with preset recordings and headphones. Put them on, walk around the place and press the number that is displayed nearby. The entire story around that part of the monument plays out in the phone. And with music!! Within the fort, amongst many things to see and stories to hear, the one I remember most vividly was the act of Jauhar. Jauhar is a mass suicide committed by the women of the royal clan and families affiliated with the clan just before enemy forces enter their areas. Jaisalmer has been unfortunate to witness two such Jauhars. In the last Jauhar, as the men did not have the time to build the pyre in which the women would jump; so they decided to slit the throats. In the audio this was described as a sad but brave act. I still think about the same.
Another highlight in the fort was this a three dimensional map of the Jaisalmer fort which explained the architecture, design and logic of the construction. The fort was built at a height for protection. Within the high walls is a well designed waterways to ensure smooth flow and conservation. But as I saw it, the locals are now conserving water like this. Many places within the fort city have now been converted into homestays and restaurants. We had lunch in one such restaurant where the owner was one – in – all. He took the order, served us the drinks and food and then settled the bills. This was a lovely roof top restaurant; unfortunately I don’t have the name and pictures.
I was reunited with Deepa in the evening and we went to a local fair. Lots of rides and candy later, I convinced her to let me gift her a dress from the fair.
Parting day arrived. All of us went to met Deepa one last time to say our goodbyes. Deepa gifted us handmade cards with poetry in it. I requested her for a passport size photograph. I keep it in my wallet.
How much of conditioning can withstand the warmth of a heart. Not much, at least in my case. Three years and many incidents since I last met Deepa, but the time spent with her is well etched in my memory. And so shall it remain.
Things that I missed doing –
Seeing the windmills. Thought these are restricted areas but they areon the side of the roads and one can always have a closer look.
Visiting the haunted village – Kuldhara
My tips for a tour.
We travelled by train from New Delhi to Jaisalmer and back. And in sleeper class. Now unless you are adventurous and gregarious; if the idea of people grabbing your berth for a few hours while you are pushed to a tiny corner of it is ok with you, go sleeper. Else book a berth in an AC coach. Once the train enters Rajasthan, it gets fairly dusty as well.
Try and stay in a Haveli. There are plenty of them, now converted into hotels and homestays. The ones within the fort are smaller, but economical. If you have money to splurge go for the ones outside.
Do eat the Mirchi Pakoda. This is a fritter with a huge green chilly as filling. Its spicy, oily and yummy. And the locals say it kills the heat.
Aficionados can visit the bhaang shop, if it still exists. It’s near the fort and obviously popular. This guys makes bhaang of different types.
Listen to all the local folk music played live that you can. Carry some cash to give to these guys and they belt out amazing songs. Especially the one on Gadisar Lake. If you can manage to find him.
Last but not the least – meet Deepa. Circumstances permitting.
P.S. – Its been up my mind to go back and give Deepa her pictures. May we travel to Jaisalmer soon.
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.