'Cellphone Diaries' is a monthly column I do for 'Better Photography' magazine.
Cellphone Diaries- Episode 12
Flights of Fancy
Cellphone Diaries - Episode 11
Visual Stream of Consciousness.
Cellphone photography, for me, is nothing but a visual stream of consciousness. Come to think of it, that is exactly what photography is, eventually, as each one of us reacts instinctively to anything that catches our eye. But with phones specifically, what has changed is the sheer quantum of images that we shoot. I am always looking at potential subjects and coming across various situations.
This is where it becomes interesting how our vision can be consistent, yet different. Like these two photographs, where the graphic nature of one is in its excesses, especially with the lines of the shutters, while the other one is graphic almost because of its minimalistic lack of graphic-ness.
I think there is always a great learning in analysing the similarities and differences in the way we see, over a period of time. The difference of styles that we see here was not deliberate, and yet the two images make an interesting pair. Just tells us how important it is for us to keep looking at what we shoot . . as every time we view a picture, its meaning and associations can change.
Cellphone Diaries - Episode 10
The whole idea of train travel, for me, while being extremely romantic, is also an exercise in losing oneself and finding images. Unlike road trips, where you travel through masses of people, a rail journey is more about passing through spaces filled with solitude. I find it fascinating how I can actually feel quite content going nothing, but looking at the world pass by, one field at a time.
In a strange sort of way, it feels like a viewfinder in which the picture is constantly changing. And that is why the act of making this image, a process that took a fair amount of tries courtesy shutter lag, was not about documenting the place, but feeling the emotion.
Cellphone diaries - Episode 9
Photography, for me, is as much about work as play, as much about pursuing serious projects as having fun. When I wrote last time that Kissa Kursi Ka, my series on the lust for power in Indian polity is one of my 'pet' projects, I was playing a bit of a pun. Heera and Moti, my two furry companions, often see my cameraphone, and as time has gone by, even stand still for it, sometimes.
Sure, I can photograph them with any other camera, but even as practising photographers, our camera is rarely on us when we are at home. Especially with pets, they would much rather see our face than it being hidden behind a bulky camera.
I want to stress on how the use of a regular camera, however small it may be, is a deliberate and planned decision, almost like a ceremony of making a picture. That is fantastic, but then, one doesn't need to stress over seriousness all the time. Even as a singer, certain notes I may sing would be riyaaz, but there would be times when all I'd want to do, is hum. As long as we have that inherent respect for what we do. And then, a cellphone has become such a vital part of our social existence (even without considering the photography bit) that it is an extension of ourselves, of what we see and want to remember.
Cellphone Diaries - Episode 7
If Indian Life were a colourful tapestry, then Bazaars and the people who inhabit them would, to my mind, be the warp and weft of this fabulous fabric. This is an analogy which has played in my mind over the years while meandering through traditional Bazaars, in different parts of India, especially during Festivals of all faiths - whether Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian or Buddhist.
As you may know, to weave any kind of textile, the weaver needs to start with the warp threads. Warp threads tend to be stronger and coarser, because they must be able to withstand tight stretching. They also provide a core of support for the finished piece, giving the textile body and form. The warp is stretched onto a loom before weaving begins, and it may be coiled onto a spool for very long or large projects . . . and so on and so forth . . .
Now think of the Bazaar as the warp thread . . . somewhat coarse, but decidedly strong and all pervasive . . . this forms the foundation for the tapestry. And the people who set up stalls, display their wares, some even their craft and skills, are the weft. And the Festivals are the embroidery . . the embellishment . . . the icing, as it were, on this wonderful cake.
Cellphone Diaries - Episode 6
The much anticipated and much enjoyed Delhi Photo Festival will finally come to a close. And what an intense, inspirational and exciting time it's been.
It's phenomenal being able to witness the fantastic work of Photographers from around the world, but it's just that much more special being part of the Team that helps bring it together. It's definitely a high watching people enjoying their experience of the Festival knowing that you have contributed just a little bit to make it happen. And it validates all the hours and days spent working on making it happen.
For me, personally, the interesting thing is that I don't get to see the completely set up Exhibits till a week into the Festival. And the reason for that is that I moderate all the lectures, artists' talks, seminars and evening screenings from 10am in the morning to 10pm at night. So once the Festival is inaugurated I am stuck behind a mike for the entire Opening Week. However, the upside of this is that I get the best seat in the house ... right up there with the speakers and presenters. Of course, I have to listen to everything and everyone very carefully so that I can steer the Q&A and conversations in a meaningful direction. It's fascinating learning and really worth it when one witnesses the interest and enthusiasm of the young Photographers and students hanging on to every word and experiences shared by the wonderfully inspirational speakers.
And, of course, being a Photographer-cum-Moderator I get to shoot images from a very special and unusual POV. Something my friend, Kathryn Myers, an artist and Fulbright scholar, pointed out in her comment when I posted some of these images online and she said, "these have been great shots of the presenters, from an atypical vantage point."
Cellphone Diaries - Episode 4
The chair that you see in the photograph on the left, launched an entire series. Really. When I first saw this chair as I walked down the narrow lane that led from my hotel in Varanasi to the main road, I was struck by the curious amalgam of majesty and penury it seemed to represent.
It was obvious that the chair had seen better days. Most probably it had been the "seat of income" of the local barber as he shaved and coiffed his customers perched on this. And this must have happened over many years. The chair obviously means a lot to him still, as it is chained and locked for security and in spite of it's condition he still wants to make sure it is not stolen.
However, this particular day, as the early morning sunlight fell on it softly, the light was joined by this shower of delicate and beautiful flowers, almost as if some special celebration was underway. And this added such a wonderful sense of majesty to the chair making it look really special. I loved the light, the composition and the drama and the image looked really striking on my phone's screen. Somehow the specialness of the chair remained with me and I actually ended up noticing and photographing 3 or 4 more during the course of the day. And somehow, the phone camera helped 'seeing' them in a more immediate and quirky way.
Slowly I started seeing chairs as if they had a distinct character and also in their respective environment. And this led to the start of a new series ... a new photo project ... Kissa kursi ka. I shall share more on that in my column next month.
Kissa Kursi Ka No. 1: It is interesting to note how a single stimulus, one simple visual, can spark off an entire thought process.
Kissa Kursi Ka No. 51: Have you ever observed if certain objects or subjects are recurring motifs in all that you shoot? And if they assume different roles each time?
Cellphone Diaries - Episode 3
There is something about hospitals which makes all of us uncomfortable even just with the thought of visiting one. Unless, of course, one is a doctor or a nurse. I guess it is quite different for them and I have often wondered how they feel being in a hospital every day. Dealing with patients. Illness. Trauma. Emergencies. The pathos of suffering. Both, of the person who is ill and the family members who don't quite know how to deal with the situation and can only hang around hoping all will be well.
Recently, my Mom fell ill. Not terribly serious but worrying nevertheless. And when one has to go to the hospital in the darkness of night, somehow, there is more bathos in the pathos than if one went in the bright light of the afternoon. Entering a hospital through the Emergency also opens one's eyes to the myriad tragedies which are happening simultaneously all around us, but are not really aware of. Accidents. Heart Attacks. Burn injuries. Some patients are comatose. Others are crying and moaning in pain.
At 3 am, we were told she should be kept under observation for a few days. So there I was, as is my habit, taking visual notes, watching people with their loved ones. After all it is Photography that helps us value the moment that we are going through. It can record our thoughts, our memories, the way we feel . . . and not all of this may be the conventional happy snapshot.
Of course, as seems to be all pervasive in India now, one came across an example of political power even in this oasis of caring and worrying. A senior politician who had been convicted and is meant to be in jail, was residing in one of the hospital's suites on the pretext of being ill, with dozens of his followers hanging around in the corridors and foyer hoping for a darshan of the Neta ji.
Cellphone diaries - Episode 1
Photographs are recorded with devices, but Good photographs are made with a Photographer's mind. They are a product of observation. Of reaction to things and issues. Of a desire to engage with, or comment on, or just to record one's feelings for what one sees.
This is as true for photos taken with a mobile phone camera, a point and shoot or a DSLR. However, the power of a mobile phone camera lies in its constant availability with a person. And that, to a large extent, dictates what and how we photograph with it. For me this started as a means of 'note-taking' and moved on to a means of sharing quickly and has now evolved into a medium of comment and expression. Actually, i would say its all 3 bundled together and the subject influences how I engage with it. But as with all good things there are always some external triggers which stimulate a new direction. In the coming months I will talk about and share with you how just note-taking became sharing and has now become a few serious long-term projects. All with the trusted, ever available cellphone camera.
The images, accompanying this column, were taken during a trip to Mussoorie a couple of weeks ago. I was there on a commercial assignment but did get a few hours off to stroll around the Mall road where I saw these loaders waiting for their next assignment. It struck me that they are freelancers too and work when they get an assignment but laze around between jobs. Much as I do too :-)