An old love of mine made a rather frank admission recently. She was jealous of a photograph. The photograph reminded her of her, she said. And that was the problem. After all, inside the frame was someone else altogether. A different girl. A new story, maybe. But it was the same hint of a smile and the same sodium vapour that kissed her face. Gorgeous light that was just right. It was a little eerie when she made the connection. Had she realised that my feelings for her, I now felt for someone else? It was something that I refused to admit to myself, to begin with, but here it was, a photograph that gave things away (Just like the climax of DDLJ, but that is a different Raj story).
I went back home and rummaged through old memories that lay strewn about in multiple hard drives. I found other instances of the same photograph. The subject in each one was different, but the way I photographed them, similar. What does that say of the one being photographed? Of the person who strikes a pose or the one who looks away? What does that say of the subject… any subject? Of the city that presents itself as the muse or the ghost town that seems to inspire?
In a way, all of photography becomes like an exercise in narcissism. When I photograph you, do I really photograph you? Or is it just my perception of who you are and who you may be? Do I simply photograph a reflection, one that paints a haze over you and simply speaks of me? Perhaps, what I see is not really so important. What’s more interesting, is why I see the way I see.
My words seem to flow better when I’m disturbed. With crazy deadlines, maniacal commotion and unexpected grief, I tend to write a lot. Line after line, joining the dots, my fingers struggling to keep up with the monologues in my head. The string of e-mails, the unending rants and moments of wisdom just sound so much better if they were written in a not-so-happy state of mind.
But then, as Eggleston may have noted, words and pictures have nothing to do with each other.
Trying months usually result in tried and tested photographs. You cannot make anything if you are not into it. For me, a picture needs that feeling of exhilaration, that sense of joy, a constant fascination with everything all around. And that only happens when you’re at peace.
There are people who find inspiration in the dreary, the masochists who believe that inspiration lies in despair, but personally, the process of looking really depends on whether that picture is beautiful enough to make you jump. Whether you are joyous enough to want to jump. That kick. That high. That visual orgasm. A feeling that makes you want to stare, swoon and sigh. The probability of me going out there and making the picture of my life does not depend so much on how hard I try, but on me being content enough to search, blessed enough to see and have those definitive moments hunt me down and find me instead.
To look, you must love. There is no other way to make pictures. No other way to be inspired. No other way to inspire.
Sometimes, it only takes a photograph to spark it all off—an instinctive grab that is representative of all that is going on in your head. Just a few days before the accident, just a few after falling in love at the Golden Temple, this was in Sidhpur, near Dharamsala. Now, when I look at what I saw, I don’t just see. I hear that isolated bark, that friendly chatter, I feel the impact of that hailstone, the wind in my hair, I smell the Maggi being cooked right beside through the whiff of the winter air.
Photography is not just about the visual. Sometimes, it is not about the visual.
I’m sure I will contradict myself.
So, what really happens when you put your eye to the viewfinder? Have you ever thought about what you really see when you look? More importantly, have you ever wondered whether you see exactly what you saw in a different time, a different age, or whether you simply see the new you, a collection of visual thoughts that define the new, evolved or maybe even devolved you?
You could be photographing two different cities at two different points of time. The unifying link, of course, is you. So, at times, there may be this similarity of style, of characteristic use of colour, black and white and all those choices that we make in a careful, measured manner. But then, quite often, you may see a recurrence, a motif that is almost incidental. Something that you haven’t really planned or thought out. They are, probably, the identities that are intrinsic to you—visual formations within your lexicon, the way you see, the way you feel and at their very core, the way you are.
Like these tiny people who were photographed in Bombay and the other one in Delhi, several months apart.