Monthly Archives: October 2012

On photography by Steve Jobs

Since Sunday I have wanted to photograph – you know that insane desire to step out and create something.  Unfortunately with the imminent change in season here in Delhi, the weather, and the light, is tending to be unpredictable.  I did manage to today – walked for an hour-and-a-half in the sun completely drenched in sweat trying to find something, anything really, and finally photographed whatever was in front of me in the last 5 minutes or so of that time. Not for anything else, but because the desire to hear the sound of the shutter was overwhelming. I knew within my heart that those photographs were rather ordinary to say the least, and so I’m not using those. (In fact, I don’t know which photographs would be appropriate for this post…). And then I started thinking of inspiration.

I guess I need to do something different, “think different” as Steve Jobs would have said. Many people, many things, many circumstances influence my photography and my life – Steve Jobs happens to be one of them.  Leonardo da Vinci is another, but I’ll write about him sometime else. And importantly, all of you who read what I have to say, though I write for myself even today, influence me by your art and your words, and even more importantly those utterly “ordinary” people whom I photograph who teach me indelible lessons of, and for, life.

Even the slogan of Apple is just that – Think Different.

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes.

The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them.

About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They invent. They imagine. They heal. They explore. They create. They inspire. They push the human race forward.

Maybe they have to be crazy.

How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art? Or sit in silence and hear a song that’s never been written? Or gaze at a red planet and see a laboratory on wheels?

While some see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

When I read this (and I do it often), I dream of making a difference, of changing the world and I vaguely know how.  It reaffirms my need to dream. To dream a really, really big dream. It won’t be another Apple that I’ll create for sure, and it has nothing to do with professional photography (that’s something I am not going to do). It’s a dream using photography to probably make a difference in the lives of many, many people – at least I hope so.  I’ll try and I’ll try my utmost best.  And yes, photography happened to me by chance. As also did many things in my life. I didn’t know then what an influence those happenchances, happenstances would have on my life. The same is true for anything you pursue and love with your heart.

But since this post is about what Steve Jobs would have said if he had to tell me about life and photography (or whatever it is that you might love), I guess it would be this:

Lesson #1: You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

Lesson #2: Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.

Lesson #3: Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

And finally, he would have said:

“Stay hungry, stay foolish”.

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Again. And again. And again.

I write about photography, and I write about how it has influenced my life. But you could just about substitute anyone or anything that you love for “photography” and whatever I write will still be equally true.  And you and I both know that often I don’t write about photography at all. I just use my photographs and juxtapose them with words to say what I have to say. Sometimes I don’t even know what to say. But I know that there remains something to be said – you know that feeling deep within your heart of unsaid words bound and shackled by reason, yet overwhelmed by passion we let them escape. So I let them out, I allow myself to say whatever comes into my heart, I create photographs that hopefully reflect my feelings, and use words that describe how I felt. Maybe there will be a day when I’ll quote Ansel Adams and be quiet: “When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.” Until then, I shall photograph, I shall write.

When a musician tunes his instrument before a concert or performance he touches it gently, longingly, almost as a mother would hold her child, that same expression, the same caress, wondering what next? That is just how I feel when I touch my camera. Wondering what next. Wondering if I’ll ever be able to say what remains unsaid within my heart. It is a feeling of unspoken words, it is a feeling of falling in love. It is a feeling of being in love. And you know it is true when each day you feel more in love.

It is a feeling that even with all my words I find it difficult to describe. I can’t define love. I can only feel it. But the closest was when someone questioned me as to how would I describe a photograph of mine which I really love. And I said that I love a photograph when after I make it and step away, I feel as if I have left something behind, an indelible part of me, and ironically, paradoxically, contrarily, that is when I feel even more complete and willing and ready to leave a bit of myself yet again with someone, someplace. Isn’t that how love is?

Allow me to explain. About a week back, I’d gone to Old Delhi to photograph and in one of the many lanes that crisscross that part of Delhi I came across this man who was sitting in a shaft of light in the morning sun, in an otherwise dark, dusty, dingy lane. As I always do, I chatted with him for a while about what he does, made a couple of photographs of his friend who was also there while talking to him and then finally asked him if I could photograph him. Getting a yes, I made this photograph.

Now I might be wrong but to me he looked dejected, sad, forlorn, lonely, tired early in the morning and I wondered why. It touched me. So I sat down again with him, shoulder-to-shoulder and spoke with him a bit longer…and then after a few minutes he reached out for my hand, held it gently in his surprisingly soft hands and whispered: “God bless you”.  He meant it. And I felt love. I can tell you honestly that I would tradeoff that moment and those words from a “stranger” for every photograph I ever made. And then he smiled and I stepped up to capture that frozen in time.

I could describe all of this in more words that could possibly fill many pages, but if you close your eyes and reflect, you’ll feel just what I felt. As Einstein said: “It would be possible to describe everything scientifically, but it would make no sense; it would be without meaning, as if you described a Beethoven symphony as a variation of wave pressure.” 

So I open myself each day to give love – unconditional love, because it is only then that I am loved. I am not perfect, but I promise I try. Because it is only then that I fall in love.

Again. And again. And again.

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My Eternal Childhood

It’s been about 10 days since I wrote my last post. I’ve been distracted and busy with work, and was out traveling. But I put all of that aside to write just now. And for some strange reason, Rabindranath Tagore has been on my mind through the day, perhaps because when I think of my photography and writing, I feel just how Tagore wrote: “I have spent many days stringing and unstringing my instrument while the song I came to sing remains unsung.”

The week before last, I had gone to Mahabalipuram.  This village is listed as a World Heritage Site and is an eclectic mix of sun, seafood and sand. Famous for its ancient rock carvings, especially the Shore Temple, it was once the second capital and seaport of the Pallava kings of Kanchipuram. Even to this day, it remains renowned for stone carving, and you’ll undoubtedly see and hear the constant tapping of hammer and chisel as artisans chip away at exquisite sculptures.

So I was up at 03:30 getting all set for a 100 mile drive to be there before sunrise and capture the pristine beauty of the Shore Temple at dawn, but God had other plans. The sky was overcast, the light bad, and daybreak brought along a dull, dreary, depressing gray sky – you know the kind I’m talking about. Anyway I did what I had to do…despite the poor light I got some nice photographs of the temple (at least I think so, and you can see those here).

Sometime later as I was strolling around town, I came across this old lady sitting against the fluorescent wall of a guest house. This was such a contrast, a paradox, an unforgettable moment!  The Shore Temple quite literally paled in comparison to this sight…I chatted a while with her and then requested her permission to photograph her. As a friend commented when she saw this image, “…she sits right at the meridian where the two colors meet…like a threshold to be crossed…from one realm to another… “

And then later I met this flower-seller in the marketplace who reminded me of the words of A.A. Milne: “Weeds are flowers, too, once you get to know them.” 

After a while it started raining and that was the end of my photography. But strangely I wasn’t disappointed. And I say “strangely” because I’d just driven 200 miles up and down to photograph a World Heritage Site at dawn, but didn’t quite manage to bring the shoot to its so-called logical conclusion. All I was thinking of on the way back to the hotel was actually the first photograph I’ve posted of the old lady against the wall. I just hoped it came out well. I was actually quite surprised by my own reaction. You see I’d just been to a World Heritage Site but wasn’t concerned about those photographs and I’m not embarrassed to say it aloud here.

Which brings me to my point. And yes, I know I can go around in circles at times. Photography happened to me by chance about two years ago. It wasn’t planned in the real sense of the word. And it has taken me about a year of “serious” photography with the usual repertoire of sunsets and sunrises, flowers, architecture and picture postcard shots (not to mention the thousands of bad photographs) thrown in for good measure to finally realize what really affects me – people. I want to create lasting photographs of those I meet and those who influence my craft, and more significantly me, indelibly. I also realize I have many miles to go on a journey that’ll never end. I have a dream. I critique my own photographs unabashedly and right now I feel that they are becoming predictable, boring and monotonous. And I’m not ashamed of confessing it here. This is my journey and I need to be honest rather than wonder what people might think if I say this. I need to do something different.

And what better way to tell you how I feel at this moment than to quote Rabindranath Tagore again:

“I travelled the old road every day, I took my fruits to the market, my cattle to the meadows, I ferried my boat across the stream and all the ways were well known to me.

One morning my basket was heavy with wares. Men were busy in the fields, the pastures crowded with cattle; the breast of earth heaved with the mirth of ripening rice. Suddenly there was a tremor in the air, and the sky seemed to kiss me on my forehead. My mind started up like the morning out of mist.

I forgot to follow the track. I stepped a few paces from the path, and my familiar world appeared strange to me, like a flower I had only known in bud. My everyday wisdom was ashamed. I went astray in the fairyland of things. It was the best luck of my life that I lost my path that morning, and found my eternal childhood.”

The journey has just begun. My eternal childhood.

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