Photography and other experiences.


Like a turtle I went inside my shell. One after the other I saw a photographer present work which was socially relevant or carried some great artistic story. What was I doing? I was just going out of the house and taking pictures.

The Delhi Photo Festival was an eye opener. “The world is too far ahead”, I thought. Young photographers are being encouraged and engaged by big organizations while some have grants to cover Kashmir and other conflicts. I don’t know anyone nor do I know how, but the pertinent question facing me was what did I achieve in my four year long photographic journey? I felt guilty picking up the camera and was crestfallen like Calvino’s Antonino without his Bice.

So I decided to roll  my mind into a tube to  see something  centered on an issue and then make a story relevant to those who see it. My concept made me go out into the world again but with a flagged mind.

The journey started with rough, tentative sweeps over the city, much like an artist’s first impression on a canvas. The more I went out pursuing the concept ,the more I disliked the idea. Perhaps I was venturing out of my comfort zone. Previously I believed that an image, if it reaches a state of visual climax ,is a story in itself . This approach was different and I was uncomfortable.

The airing took me back to the reading of great essays written on photography by Shore, Sontag, Barthes and Szarkowski. I wanted to improve. I wanted to do things differently.

But there was still something fundamental to photography which agitated me. A question which remained largely unanswered was the photographer’s urge and his need to take pictures. If that answer is buried between the lines in these essays, I either did not fathom or have completely missed it.

A photograph is heterotelic. In my opinion the DNA of its pixels carries the entelechy of the image taker . Seems like an obvious statement, but the image’s soul breathes with the decision to have it in the first place ! Many of these decisions can be explained but what if the purpose of the image is not known to the photographer himself ( the kind of work I do)? What if the need to photograph is like the need to reproduce ( fortunately that desire warmed me just once)?

What if photography was like kleptomania, picking up moments from existence out of compulsion ?

Take for example a recent photograph I took.

On a Sunday morning I just sat down at a place and took pictures of people crossing the street . Ostensibly to see ‘life’ unfold. I do that often and ‘find ‘ interesting moments. For all the effort to get up on a Sunday morning out of a cosy bed, I get pictures like this. And it is not just about me.

What about him? We don’t know each other. He came in my frame and posed, did not move till he heard the shutter click and then quietly left the scene.

But I am digressing from the point here.

After Delhi Photo Festival I concluded that I was wasting my time doing such random things. It requires discipline, foresight and a conviction in some social or an environmental cause to create a body of work and that is how I should take pictures. Then I put some silica gel in a zip-lock and mummified my camera.Every night I stared at the ceiling for some inspiration till I fell asleep.

The inspiration came in the form of a  book launch.

It was Dayanita Singh’s  ‘House Of Love’. Since I bought it, it has become perhaps my second most read and seen book. The other is not really a book, it is a Tintin comic, ‘The Calculus Affair’.

The images from ‘House Of Love’ moved me immensely. It is a book of metaphors and many images ( for me) are allegorical . I greatly recommend this book to all interested in photography and/or writing. Aveek Sen’s words ( A nocturnal Vacation) at the end are beautiful and deeply personal, but some how remain incomplete in describing the urge to photograph.

But the larger issue for me is that the ‘House Of Love’  brought me back to my own self. I regained my ‘innocence’. I unwrapped my camera and went out to shoot just for the sake of achieving a visual climax. I don’t care two hoots whether it ends up in a body of work or not.

To explain my silly behavior, I’ll describe two pictures from her book. The first one is of two beehives ( Continuous Cities, page 20). A red light renders them like viscid drops of blood, tense yet victorious against the force of gravity. The other image is of a bare tree, again painted by a red light ( Being of Darkness, page 136). The background is darkness of a night, so it appears as if  its twigs, like throbbing arteries are feeding the earth with its blood.  For me it brought a sense of re affirmation. This is where the heterotelic nature of an image argues for itself. The color red may have different allegorical inference for Dayanita, but I see blood. Even  two roses ( Portrait of a Marriage, page 76) look like blood stains on a wall. I doubt that was the intention of those pictures, but they are lasting impressions on my mind due to reasons of my understanding. However, the point is that according to Dayanita, she took most of the images well before the concept of the book was conceived.So an  image is like an individual before it loses itself to a civilization or a community or to a story in a book. Much like a human being, its destiny is  unknown till its consummation and justification by time.

Whether I’ll ever work on a story, I do not know ( though I get intermittent urges to go back on my ‘project’). Whether the present pictures will somehow like little iron shavings get arranged in a  larger picture, I know not. But I cannot stop taking pictures.

Thank you Dayanita and Aveek for giving us this wonderful book. Even my father who is just a casual admirer of photographic work loved it.

Till I find a reason, I’ll take pictures without one…

Who knows the future? Maybe my pictures will also make a book as beautiful as the ‘House Of Love’…

2 responses

  1. Very well written… Marvelous inspiration…
    And your photos are truly amazing…
    Keep up the great work!!

    April 7, 2012 at 10:49 pm

  2. M

    Hello Prateek ! Brilliantly written, so revealing and thorough. These are things that I , and I am sure many others have pondered over as well. The story. I have also featured you as a blog/writer/story-teller I am inspired by, on my new story-telling initiative called Peepul Stories. . I’d love it if you’d contribute. Do take a look.
    Thank you for writing these marvelous posts.

    April 26, 2012 at 8:55 pm

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