To thine own self be true

I am a fan of Bryan Adams; I admire his music greatly, a few songs in particular, of which “(Everything I do) I do it for you” happens to be one.  Strangely I don’t believe in the lyrics of the song anymore though:  “Walk the wire for you, yeah I’d die for you…”. Why would I want to die for someone if I loved them? I’d do everything that I can to live for them.  The incurable romantic that I was (I still am, and shall continue to be), I’ve used these words in the past without knowing the real meaning because it “sounded good” you see, a declaration, nay a proclamation of my “true, eternal” love which was eventually rather short-lived! And that is the difference now. I don’t use these words anymore, I won’t use these words anymore.  I no longer am who I “should” be. I am just me. But this transformation didn’t happen overnight.

I clearly remember it was the summer of 2001. I had just begun reading Eckhart Tolle’s bestseller “The Power of Now”. I flipped open the book and there on page one, these words stared back at me: “I cannot live with myself any longer. This was the thought that kept repeating itself in my mind. Then suddenly I became aware of what a peculiar thought it was. Am I one or two? If I cannot live with myself there must be two of me: the ‘I’ and the ‘self’ that ‘I’ cannot live with. Maybe I thought, only one of them is real”.

I stopped there. Page one. This book didn’t need to be read anymore. I felt a sense of déjà vu, not perhaps as extreme as Eckhart Tolle felt, but still.  As I thought about the meaning of these words, I realized I’d been on a journey becoming someone I wasn’t really, and for many reasons. I also realized I had to find myself, the “self” I had lost along the way.  There began my journey, my quest.  Many years, many miles down this path, photography happened to enter and become the center of my life in 2010. And that’s when there was focus, that’s when I saw light (pun intended).

What photography has allowed me is a retrospective, a means to reflect. The photographs I have made, the images I have created are milestones along this road of discovery I have traveled. My photographs are the essence of how I felt at that time, of who I was then. And I am my most critical, my harshest critique – not only of my images, but also of myself.  I’m not being self-deprecating here; merely factual and honest.

For instance, about two years ago when I’d just about started photography, I happened to be selected as an official photographer for the Audi Fashion Festival at Singapore. This was also at a time when I needed an identity; I wanted to be called a photographer. All my profile pictures on Facebook were with a camera, some with a bazooka-sized lens. Obviously to be in the middle of gorgeous women photographing them made me thrilled, absolutely ecstatic.  Sure I was attracted to the glamor, the glitz, the bling. We just don’t say it, but this was every man’s dream come true – to be a fashion photographer! It was a recognition of, should I say, talent but I didn’t even think about that. Far from it. All I could think of was the amazing models I’d be in the center of. Here are some of the photographs from that evening:

Now these are technically sound, not perfect, but sound photographs. You’re free to disagree though. I was delighted with the results then, but not any longer. You know why? Because today I look for something else in a photograph which these don’t have in the least. These images are ersatz, plastic, and artificial. They have no soul, they don’t strike a chord, they don’t touch me deep within, they don’t make me laugh, they don’t make me cry, they don’t make me feel.  I don’t remember them, and I won’t miss them when they’re gone.

Along these years, I also learnt the meaning of solitude. Being alone allows me to be reflective, to be meditative, to see all that I’ve done wrong, to find out what matters to me most, to figure out what should I do with my life. These are not easy things to do, easy questions to ask – believe me; sometimes you get answers you never wanted to hear. But someone did say “bitter truth”. These moments of solitude are primordial. As the Upanishads state succinctly in Sanskrit: Tat Tvam Asi , which can be translated as “Thou art that,”. The meaning of this is that the Self – in its original, pure, primordial state – is wholly or partially identifiable or identical with the Ultimate Reality that is the origin of all phenomena in this cosmos. I simply interpret this to mean that all the answers are within, not without. I’ve just returned from the Himalayas slightly less than a week now. These are some photographs with soul I made while I was wandering in such solitude:

Having seen it all, there is determination, yet a twinkle and mischief in the eyes.

And here is steely grit, purpose and perseverance writ large.

And now vulnerability, tenderness, compassion and care.

These people, these photographs remind me of JRR Tolkien’s words from “The Fellowship of the Ring”:

“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.” 

Give me these “ordinary” people to photograph any day, every day. I’m happier with them. This is who I really am, and yes you can call me “ordinary”. I’m just being myself, not how I “should” be or how you’d rather have me.

To thine own self be true.

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  1. Nigel June 6, 2012 at 12:26 pm #

    A new fan… lovely style and content. Love to hear more.

  2. Heidger Marx June 6, 2012 at 7:50 pm #

    Dear Debesh,
    Thanks so much for your blog from the bottom of my heart! As a former corporate warrior turned into a peaceful warrior with a camera, your words resonate very strongly with me!
    Please keep writing these blogs!
    Thank you!

  3. Roy Money June 6, 2012 at 7:58 pm #

    Dear Debesh
    Many thanks for your thoughtful, generous and courageous efforts to share your journey with us. As I wrote in a previous post I sense that we are on parrallel paths. As a student of zen I feel that my photography is an extension of my spiritual quest to to experience and practice more fully a nondual awareness of reality. As one of my favorite zen writers puts it, reality is neither ‘out there’ nor ‘in here’ but includes what I am doing right now. One of the ways I think about the process of making photographs, whether exposing a sensor with my camera or working on the recorded image afterwards, is navigating the invisible barrier between here and there.
    A couple of online resources I have found insprational and useful –
    Looking forward to more of your posts and exchanges with you.

  4. Anu June 7, 2012 at 8:23 am #

    Congratulations on having the courage to ask yourself where you want to really be in life and follow that path. It is easier said than done. Loved reading the blog. The wonderful pictures that you have taken of the “ordinary people” as you call them…. has character, has all their experiences in life written on their face. Great capture!!

  5. Rohit Bhardwaj June 7, 2012 at 8:37 am #

    A very engrossing and insightful post on your evolution internally. The main aim of a photograph is to be so evocative that it does not require words to spoil it.
    You are achieving that perfection
    Very good post…

  6. Anuja Ghosh June 7, 2012 at 9:45 am #

    Thanx so much. It is a very good read. Makes me introspect.

  7. Ajay June 7, 2012 at 12:32 pm #

    I guess you read that book “The Power of Now” as we worked together…and I have seen the transition personally! This article is me reading what has been experienced together to some extent…and I like the Ordinary Debesh any day…Your photography speaks the words of your inner self! Keep it coming sir!

  8. Sonny June 7, 2012 at 3:06 pm #

    If you ever need an assistant or are taking an intern…am submitting my name already….:))
    …….even though we share the same love for photography….we are different..your title for this blog resonates with me….and explains what I mean….you travel far and wide…to discover what it was you wanted to shoot, what it was you love…..
    … traveled to a tough majestic land and beautiful people….captured them in their true sense….to share with the world…..

    my forte ?….smiling…is my love of finding, capturing beauty in everyday ordinary life around me……which most people don’t even notice….it is what brings me maximum peace….

    like you said….to thine own self….be true….………i_plead_creative_insanity

  9. Debesh June 8, 2012 at 11:15 am #

    Nigel: Many, many thanks for being so gracious with your words. I appreciate your compliment sir.

    Dear Heidger,
    I said it last time as well, and I’ll say it again – I should (I must) learn modesty from you! I did see you website in even more detail after we’d exchanged notes on my last blog, and your photographs are just amazing. I love the vibrancy and colors in the images you create, and of course the thoughts behind each and every one of those. I look forward to being in touch with you in the days ahead.

    Dear Roy,
    Yes, it does appear we’re on parallel tracks, albeit apart by a few miles…Thank you so much for the links you’ve shared, and the rather eloquent quote. I must add that your B&W photographs are quite simply – WOW! Thank you for capturing that beauty.

    Thank you so much Anu, Anuja, Rohit sir, and Ajay for your lovely words and your so generous compliments. As I say always, I’m not sure whether I am deserving as such for so much, but accept those I shall gladly. I’m happy you enjoyed reading what I had to say.

    Sonny, you’re too modest and too gracious. I’ve seen your photographs and what you write on your blog. It is soulful, touching, simple and from the heart, and I love your honesty in both pictures and words. Some of the images you’ve created are outstanding. I would be most happy to meet up and do some photography together – maybe you’ll end up teaching me a thing or two! Thank you again.

  10. Matthew Pace June 8, 2012 at 6:27 pm #

    What you have found in being a photographer is what I sign off with
    “…for me photography is my passport in life; my camera my ticket; the images the trips taken…”

    Keep traveling

  11. Sohbet June 8, 2012 at 8:32 pm #

    That is the fitting blog for anybody who needs to seek out about this topic. You understand a lot – its almost onerous to argue with you (not that I truly would need…haha). You undoubtedly put a new spin on a subject thats been written about for years. Nice stuff, just great!

  12. Patty Hofer June 10, 2012 at 9:17 pm #

    Great post, will be a every day guest from now on!

  13. Debesh June 16, 2012 at 12:48 pm #

    @Matthew: Brilliantly signed off sir! Thank you for reading and commenting on my blog. I appreciate it.

    @Sohbet and Patty: Many thanks for your compliments and your time. Look forward to more discussions in the days ahead.

  14. Rani Wilfred July 1, 2013 at 8:53 pm #

    You have moved me to tears… Truth is so powerful. It breaks one into so many pieces…large and small… and when is put back together again.. one receives the gyft of a whole new self.. reborn.. renewed.. renamed. It needs courage to let the hammer fall on you.. cudgel you.. eradicate your beilef system.. challenge your perceptions.. and anihlilate the very world you were living in. It is the previlege of a chosen few. You surely are a special one.

  15. Debesh July 21, 2013 at 2:06 pm #

    Thanks so very much for your kind words Rani. I am touched that my words resonated with you, inside you. You are absolutely right in what you say about truth, and how it shatters and hurts and yet heals…and no, I am not the only one chosen. We all are. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and I look forward to being in touch.

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