Through the Looking-Glass

Quite often I don’t know the words I’m going to write, as quite often I don’t know what I need to photograph. Yet I know I have to, I need to, I feel it within. There is this incessant pull which tells me – go ahead, write, photograph. And so I listen and heed and write and photograph because both allow me to say what I feel inside – this is one of those times.

As a photographer I’m constantly observing, wanting to figure out what I need to capture next through my lens and within the frame.  I’m always on the watch for new subjects. Sometimes I find them, sometimes I don’t. What often I gravitate towards (as most photographers I know also do) are old people and little children. Yesterday and today as I was rearranging portraits of people I’ve made across the last two years or so, I kept thinking why this affinity? Why children and old people? Sure we usually don’t go wrong with those photographs, but that is being rather simplistic – there must be more to it, more than meets the eye, figuratively speaking. 

That is when thoughts started buzzing around in my head, and to get them into some semblance of order, here I am doing what I always do – write. Writing allows me to express myself without interruption, to figure out what my own reasons are, however right and wrong those might be. About children I’ll write some other time – let this post be about the not-so-young. As I more often than not do, I talk to people whom I photograph. The old are astonished when I sit at talk to them often for an hour or so; they are surprised and quizzical when I ask them about what they do, about their life, about things which perhaps have no meaning for most. After all what would I want to do with their lives? Initially I would chat with them because it would allow them to open up and I would hopefully make a good photograph. But now I speak with them because I find them enigmatic, each and every one of them, and to listen to them about life (and their lives) is edifying to say the least. In the times I have been with them what comes forth is sometimes wistfulness, a twinge of regret perhaps, a bit of sorrow, often satisfaction at having led a full life, but usually there will always be an expression of melancholic loneliness that there is no one there for them. 

The sub-conscious operates in strange ways – since yesterday I have had thoughts of Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking-Glass” in my mind – now I understand why. For those who haven’t read it, the book is a sequel to ”Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and a sort of mirror image of Wonderland – it uses frequent changes in time and spatial directions as a plot device, with many mirror themes, including time running backwards, and so on. So I stare through the looking-glass as I’m doing know, I see a mirror and I see the reflection of my life in the photographs I create, and I reminisce.

Their photographs, their stories remind me about the times I could have spent with my parents but missed out on those moments because I prioritized incorrectly. They tell me again of times I took my parents for granted yet was affronted when they did the same. We expect selfishly, shamelessly from them, yet are upset when they expect even a little from us. It has happened with me, I’ve done it and I say so openly. Have I been the proverbial prodigal son? Have I even been a “good” son always? Have I done all that I could for them each and every moment? The answer is an unequivocal no. And I also know I’m not alone in this. But that is, as is said, history, and it’s been much time since I changed all of that. What you and I can change is the present, the now, this moment, and in doing that we shape the future, our future. And “time running backwards” as Lewis Carroll said, I guess I could word it differently: Life comes a full circle, you see. We are children, and we yearn for our parents, then adults and yearn for and chase much in the world, ironically most of which doesn’t really matter, then parents maybe, and then children yet again in the twilight years and yearn for the touch and care of our children who are now, in some way, our parents.

Maya Angelou said it so beautifully: “I’ve learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you’ll miss them when they’re gone from your life. I’ve learned that making a “living” is not the same thing as making a “life”. I’ve learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance. I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back. I’ve learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision. I’ve learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back. I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn. I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” 

So this post is for your parents and mine. Let them never forget how you feel. Wherever they might be, and wherever you are. Express that gratitude. Keep them in your prayers and your deeds – now and forever.  Remember you need to do it in the now, at this moment, which will then become forever. In reality, time doesn’t run backwards; it happened only in:

Through the Looking-Glass.

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  1. Manzie July 1, 2012 at 3:47 pm #

    Awesome emotions !! Debesh keep ’em coming :)

  2. Laxmi Kaul July 1, 2012 at 4:49 pm #

    You sure know how to stir emotions Debesh ….beautifully

  3. Sonny July 1, 2012 at 9:07 pm #

    my writing is my salvation…..i have no other words to describe it .

    its uncanny…your talking about lewis carroll…..but i hope its okay with you if i share the beginning on something i’ve been working on for a few months……….this was written a few months ago…..


    She was convinced she could never write a novel. After all, novels are written by those who have a story to tell..
    and she
    had none. At least none that she was ready to share.


    She often wondered what had been lewis carroll’s thoughts when he penned alice…did he really have a story to tell or did he too feel this undeniable urge to put his feelings down, as if putting them down might restore some order and form to them and him indirectly.
    After all, a million people around the world connected to a wonderland, born and bred wholly inside carroll’s imagination.
    motivating half the population of the earth to try and believe at least 6 impossible things before breakfast…
    writing about little tendrils and offshoots of feelings here and there somehow always seems flimsy in comparison to …to say…”dramas in real life”.

    Maybe all she had inside her was the jacket cover.


    i had been wondering what will be the next topic…how you will relate the lens and the feelings….the subject and the subject matter….its wonderful how you are able to put your thoughts down….muddle through that spidery web that exists inside each one of our heads and disentangle it.

  4. Sonal July 2, 2012 at 6:23 am #

    Nice… But I will wait for more .. Such passion and fascination can not just be from a little guilt..:) as much as I know you .. You may not have given as much time to your parents as you think you should have .. You must have been always there..:) so .. Think more.. May be you are more than a son now.. A human .. Wanting to touch another soul.. Fasinated by long journeys… Wisdom… Stories… Or a connection beyond races, countries, religion or culture… Where we all are same…:))

  5. PB July 2, 2012 at 9:53 pm #

    With majority of individuals, appreciation of parents comes when they become parents themselves. Sometimes it is right in time, sometimes too late and in some cases never.
    On photographing old and young, I find photographing old without any ensuing hassles. Photographing children at random, is very difficult in western world because of exploitation fears that parents harbor ….

  6. Laura Kaczmarek July 5, 2012 at 6:14 pm #

    Hello, Debesh – another post that makes me think. I’m sure that you were a fine young man back in the day, and I hope you have no regrets. Not one of us perfect, especially in youth. It’s all about progress, not perfection. I have never met you, but I feel as though I know you through your insightful writings: to have grown into such a compassionate man, you built upon a strong, solid foundation, which means you probably learned quite a bit from your parents – more than maybe you realize. *And, as usual, the photos in this post are very good; crisp, clear, full of feeling. Thank you for sharing. ~ Laura :)

  7. Leslie S July 6, 2012 at 1:09 am #

    Once again, Debesh, you have have touched on an issue that I never resolved when my parents were alive, especially with my mother.

    My mom died at 75, and I will be 72 this Sept. I just couldn’t find much commonality with her, but I’m thankful I have done that with my daughter who just turned 49. I don’t really believe in heaven, but I hope there is one so my mom and I can make things right.

    Your honest sharing of your insights is a beautiful gift to the rest of us.

  8. Debesh July 15, 2012 at 8:41 pm #

    Leslie, with all humility may I just say that we all somehow meet people who in some way are just like us. Your honesty in sharing what you just said with not only me, but all of us is absolutely beautiful. I really look forward to being in touch with you. God bless and thank you.

    Laura my friend, I have no regrets. Of course I have erred, as we all are wont to do, but as the saying goes, “we will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it”. I wrote about this in a post when I said about the past: “Let it be, but let it go”. What fine words you have used – it is about progress, not perfection. Thank you so much.

    PB, you’re absolutely right. Photographing children is always more difficult, but not because of the reasons that you have mentioned. Somehow I never found that to be an issue. What I found (or find) tough was (is) capturing the emotions, the expressions, the moment as it was. But as Laura said, progress not perfection even on that front.

    Sonny, as always your words are beautiful, insightful and mean a lot to me. I can’t say more than this. Thank you for everything. “Maybe all she had inside her was the jacket cover”…how poignant, how meaningful.

    Sonal, there is no guilt and regret. At some point of time there was, but not any longer. I don’t claim to be perfect or holier-than-thou ever. I still make mistakes – many, in fact. But I learn from them in pursuit of a better tomorrow, and me being a better person tomorrow.

    Thank you so much Laxmi and Manzie. I appreciate your writing in. I am touched by your kind words.

  9. neelam November 5, 2013 at 2:10 am #

    And so I thought why as a photographer you would be pulled to children and old beginning and end milestones…for in a children are sprouting..possibilities are endless…and for the old they have done all they could and are probably at peace with it all…in between is when one is too wound up on living up to self defined roles and so is can you as a photographer find truth in those eyes…as far being selfish as a child is concerned..well as a parent I can tell comes back to you manifolds…so all in all Karma takes care of it :) beautiful read…wish I had time to contemplate more..

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