The Perfect Exposure

I never expected my photography and blog to be in the shape and form in which they are today. When I started writing here a few months back, I didn’t expect such heartfelt and honest comments and notes and emails from people. Those took me by surprise and continue to do so. Just a few days back, someone wrote a really nice mail to me and requested me to write every day. It touched me for sure, it made me happy and I said so as well to the person who wrote to me. Apropos the request to write each day,  I could have easily said “yes, I’ll do it”, but in all honesty I said, “I can’t because then it won’t be from my heart, it won’t be the real me, it’ll only be perfunctory.” I’ll then be doing it for all the wrong reasons – I’ll be writing for someone else, and not writing for myself which is what I always do. I photograph and write for myself because then they give me serenity and peace, and those feelings are then what I can reflect in turn. Is this being selfish? There is no easy answer to this, and it all depends on how you look at it, which is what this blog is about – what is the truth?

My writing has changed across the last three months since I started here – you can see the earlier posts if you want. And I’ll confess that some don’t really touch me the way they did when I wrote them. Sure I can edit them and make those “better” by any standards or even delete them but I don’t. On similar lines all my photographs are on Facebook, not just the better ones. I can’t, I won’t, I don’t even want to wish them away. But I let them just be there. They happened because of me. I am the cause. I am the reason.  This is just the way I can’t wish my past away, all the mistakes that I made, all the people I hurt. Is every photograph and word embarrassing, everything of my past regrettable? Not at all in the least – but we tend to live with the guilt of our follies and foibles carrying this burdensome crucifix for ages. So you see, we need to let it be, but we also need to let it go. The past “was” real, the present “is” the reality, the truth.

But again what is the truth? I made these two photographs of butter-lamps at Spituk Gompa in Ladakh. I’ve described the scene before, but let me try and recreate it. When I made the images of the lamps, I was standing alone in a darkened sanctum sanctorum, the windows of which were covered in soot, the air heavy with the fragrance of incense and oil, the sound of monks chanting their prayers in my ears. It wasn’t cold but I shivered, and I had goose bumps, as God came to my mind and I felt “faith”. I cannot help but quote Rumi who said: “In your light I learn how to love. In your beauty, how to make poems. You dance inside my chest where no-one sees you, but sometimes I do, and that sight becomes this art.” 

On a more prosaic note, both these images might “appear” to be the same at the first superficial glance –but they actually aren’t. Appearances are not reality. As Van Gogh wrote in a letter to his brother: “One may have a blazing hearth in his soul and yet no one ever came to sit by it. Passers-by see only a wisp of smoke rising from the chimney and continue on their way.”

Yes, these were made at the same place, almost the same time, with the same light, yet these are different. Without meaning to get into the technicalities of photography which you know I don’t get into, the difference in them lies in the settings of the shutter speed, aperture (or how much the lens is opened or stopped down) and ISO (or film sensitivity) which form what is called the “exposure triangle”.  I can juggle these into myriad combinations to create different photographs, but as photographers would tell you, only one combination is the “perfect exposure”.  Again perfect for whom?

As an analogy, I’d interpret these terms to be the pace at which we see things around us, how much we open our eyes to observe and not merely see, and how sensitive we are to that which we observe. An imbalance in any of these settings results in a “not so good photograph”, a distortion of reality, a misinterpretation of the truth. So we need to slow down in life, observe deeply and with more sensitivity. Coming back to where we were, again both images are real, you might like one, and I the other.  Having said that, in all these unique combinations of speed, aperture and sensitivity there will be one that comes closest to reality, on which both you and I will agree. The problem lies in reaching that agreement. We are unwilling to let go of our positions, of our dominant (predominant?) ego. Remember how difficult it is to say with absolute brutal honesty: “I’m sorry, I was wrong, I didn’t understand you. Please forgive me.”

I might not agree with you but I must recognize and realize that your perspective is real as well. On my “About” page, I wrote this: “In the continuum of time and space, intermediate finite moments shape our being and our perception, our mental prisms. After passing through our own prisms of perception, each refraction of reality contains only some pure essence of the light, only an incomplete part. So we will always experience some aspect of reality, of the truth, but only from our perspectives. None will see the whole, complete light. These are musings from my own refraction.”

Photography for me is a passion, but it is also spiritual. Just as my writing is. I can’t photograph or write at the speed of my thoughts. So I slow down to think and speak aloud as I type, observing carefully the tumult within me subside, as I become more sensitive to who I really am. And as I’ve said before, I don’t edit, I don’t rearrange. I photograph and write with honesty each time – and by doing that every time with honesty, it becomes easier for me to express the truth, and for me to be me. Rhonda Byrne called it “The Secret” – you can call it a self-fulfilling prophecy, psychologists can call it auto-suggestion, I merely say this is the truth. Or if you’d prefer to, you can just call it:

The Perfect Exposure.

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  1. Rohit Bhardwaj June 23, 2012 at 6:05 pm #

    Brilliant…I confess, I have to learn so much from you…the exposure, shutter speed and the sensitivity triangle and its projection to very thought provoking. Very well written.

  2. Preeti June 23, 2012 at 6:30 pm #

    You are incredible!! Every piece you write here is a reader’s delight. I love the way you end with what the start was……..I love it when you describe the emotions you experienced while clicking the pictures you post here……I love it when you explain in such detail what the pictures symbolize in your opinion because it brings in this fresh perspective….every single time I read your blog…….And of course, it is extremely touching to see you reply to everyone who has commented, not as a mere formality…..but acknowledging with heartfelt gratitude………For me…. you are a true gem and a gift to this world…….

  3. Ritu Dube June 23, 2012 at 7:14 pm #

    I was really struck today by your lines..the past was REAL and the present is REALITY…the truth..I like your posts as I find them real with a pictorial description. By reading these lines my PRESENT becomes my reality ..THE TRUTH …superb and fantastic.

  4. Anu June 23, 2012 at 7:25 pm #

    The pictures are a treat to the eyes and the words, a treat to the soul. You have such a fantastic way with words that weaves a web in the reader’s mind, making them completely entangled and engrossed in the blog.

  5. Manzie June 23, 2012 at 9:42 pm #

    Love the intensity of your writing and the story your pictures tell. Keep ’em coming for us lesser mortals who draw inspiration from your work :)

  6. Heidger Marx June 23, 2012 at 9:47 pm #

    Dear Debesh,
    I congratulate you to yet another wonderful and touching post!
    It is delightful to see your evolvement, going beyond the technicalities of photography, going even beyond the pure artistic aspect of composition, and reaching into a spiritual realm where techniques and even artistry are pure tools to convey this perception of yours.
    At the end of the day, we are all alone in the constant struggle to deal with our egos, some stronger, some not so pronounced. And you certainly passed the test of not giving in to the temptation of having your ego pleased with writing a blog a day. Your level of consciousness is a blessing to observe, thank you, as always, for sharing your profound thoughts with us!
    – heidger

  7. Sonny June 24, 2012 at 9:08 am #

    I have to confess, when i started reading the blog….the thought kept going on in my head, what is he trying to get at , But i read on…..and it was around that line—perfect for whom ….that it started trickling into my sub conscious….am a bit slow on the uptake you see …….i loved the analogy….musings from my own refractions….so true, for writing , photography or any medium of expression for that matter ….my best friend always says…..every time i write one of those intense blogs which end up with people from across the world getting into passionate discussions…that just because i am right , does not mean you are wrong……:)

    which brings me to blogging…..smiling more [ go edit it ]……of course our writing changes ! we change ….don’t we ? our mindsets do…..our inner turmoil does…..our response to external and internal stimuli and the stimuli changes……therefore our expression of all that will grow , mature and change….its a given…….

    I’ll tell you another secret…..writing and blogging are different…if it was just writing…you’d write in on ms word…you blog to share and get feedback….take it from me….it will get to you….on odd days….it will….the response, the feedback from your friends, peers……people you look up to… will start waiting for it…..and somedays…you’ll doubt yourself too… is only your inner passion and love for writing and making pictures that will make you carry on….as you must…..:)

    i loved the lines from rumi……on odd days i too feel him, it , inside me……and of their own accord…..the words spill forth….

  8. Sonal June 24, 2012 at 3:51 pm #

    Appearances are not reality…. n we all see only a part of reality..always…. what a beautiful thot… and my philosophy and mantra in life too… no one can be entirely wrong or entirely right….acceptance and respect is what is required….
    seeing u evolving in ur blogs …is it better than growing up ? as evolving is adapting too…:) always makes me think and meditate…..and i can’t give a better compliment..:)

  9. Noni Chawla June 25, 2012 at 1:03 pm #

    Very thought-provoking and clearly from the heart.

  10. Payal June 29, 2012 at 8:40 am #

    Really very well worded, Debesh…and I agree, your writing has matured over the months….maybe a reflection of the change in you? but, all the same, it has been and still is very honest and refreshing…..:)

  11. Debesh July 1, 2012 at 3:28 pm #

    Rohit: Many thanks sir; that is sure a big compliment coming from an accomplished and thoughtful writer such as you who never fails to inspire me with his daily reflections.

    Preeti, your words touch me deep within and I really appreciate what you say. What I attempt to do when I write is recreate the journey for myself as close as I can, to relive that experience to the fullest. And I am more than delighted I can take you along with me. Strange that you mention my promptness while I am acknowledging your comment so late, and for this I am sorry. I don’t quite think I am a gem and a gift, though. I am just someone ordinary living this extraordinary gift of life.

    Ritu, many, many thanks for your kind words.

    Anu: Your words have wound an indelible spell over me – what you just expressed. I am really happy you enjoyed what I wrote. Thank you so much.

    Manzie, no one is a lesser mortal – we’re all mortals. The intensity of my writing is what I really am within – intense. Thank you very much for writing in – I appreciate it.

    Dear Heidger,
    How beautiful your words are – going beyond where techniques and even artistry are pure tools to touch this perception…I am so happy that our paths have crossed. Thank you so much for being there for me, with me – I am blessed.

    Sonny, nothing about you is remotely even slow on the uptake – so that disclaimer needs to be forgotten. No, I won’t edit your smile and grins from now on. Quite like you being that way. We can agree to disagree on the reasons we write – all of us are different, and we need to embrace those differences. If you can remember these lines from Rumi each day, each moment, not only will you love more, but through that love, leave behind a legacy of beautiful art.

    Sonal, you embarrass me… I am touched by your lovely words. And I am so happy to have you in my life. Thank you so much for being there.

    Noni: Sir, just reflections of what lies within and is seldom expressed in words – thank you so much.

    Payal: Thank you so much – evolution as Sonal said perhaps…

  12. Jen M. July 4, 2012 at 6:41 pm #

    I just came across your blog today. Thank you so much for sharing it with us on LinkedIn! What an amazing treat!

    “Perfect for whom” is such an important concept. If I stopped making art until it was “perfect for whom”, I would probably never show anyone my work! You have to form your words, your art, your photos until YOU know in your heart that they are “ready”.

    Many blessings!

  13. Debesh July 14, 2012 at 9:55 am #

    Thank you so much Jen for your so kind words; I appreciate them. Yes, art is something absolutely personal, and we should create it for our own self – if in the process of that creation and expression, we offer happiness to others, then of course it becomes a double-benefit. Thank you once again.

  14. Neelam November 2, 2013 at 12:33 am #


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