Tag Archives: Bible

I love you

I use the words I use, I write the way I write, and I photograph the way I photograph, because I am sensitive. You can call me an emotional fool. But what you call me and how you see me doesn’t really matter; all that matters is how I see myself. Someone questioned me once: “What is the most difficult thing in the world?” and to this I said: “To be honest with myself.”

Believe me when I say this. There was a time in my life when I was not true to my own self. I was more focused on what people thought of me than what I thought of myself. I ended up becoming the least common denominator, playing to the gallery. I forgot who I really was. I forgot my values and my principles. I was ashamed to be me, to be doing the things I had done, to be responsible for much hurt and pain and anguish around me. I literally couldn’t see myself in my own eyes – imagine that. I forgot the meaning of love. I was bitter. I was shattered. I was broken.

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But there is a kind and loving God. And all I needed to do was to place my hand in His. When I think of those days and the long, arduous and oftentimes painful journey from then till now, I am reminded of the hymn, “Broken Vessels”:

I was just a broken vessel laying shattered on the floor
Every piece that really mattered had been shattered o’er and o’er
Then I found a man named Jesus and He looked upon my face
He said if I would let Him, He would mold me back in place

So He gently placed my life upon the great potter’s wheel
He washed away my angry pain with love that I could feel
With His nail scared hands He touched my heart
He cleansed me through and through
Then He smiled at what He’d fashioned, ‘twas an image all brand new

Lord, I’ve seen the sign you’ve shown me, others shattered on the floor
Lord I know how much their hurting for I’ve been there once before
They’re just longing to be mended by your hands of love so free
Help me Jesus let me show them what forgiveness did for me.

Then He’ll smile at what He’s fashioned, an image all brand new.

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Jesus. Allah. Krishna. Guru Nanak. The name doesn’t matter. What matters is belief, faith, trust, respect, and love.

All of these feelings influence my photography and photography in turn influences my life. As Ansel Adams said: “You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.” 

I am human. I err. I am not perfect. Not even close. In fact, I am as imperfect as they come, and more. I have many flaws. But I consciously and painstakingly attempt each day to remove every bit of negativity from my being.  I try. And the journey is beautiful.  It becomes easier when you believe, you have faith, you trust, you respect, and you love. It is not the change in itself that is important, but the act of change.

And so you see according to me at the end of it all, it is no so much the photograph, but the act of photography. It is not so much being loved, but the act of loving. Unconditionally. I don’t ask of you to love me in return, but only ask that I may love you.

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To quote the Bhagavad Gita:

Karmani Ev Adhikaar Te
Maa Phaleshu Kadaachan
Maa Karma Phal Hetu Bhu
Maa Te Sanga Astu A-Karmani

To action alone hast thou a right
Never at all to its fruits
Let not the fruits of action be thy motive
Neither let there be in thee any attachment to inaction

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Or in the beautiful words of William Nicholson in “Shadowlands”: “I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time – waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God – it changes me.”

On the same lines, I love because I’m helpless – it changes me.

I love you.

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Invictus

I don’t think I’ll write long this time. But I don’t know. Each time I start to write, some more thoughts come to mind and then one thing leads to another, one seemingly unrelated thought connects to yet another. Just a few days back I was editing some photographs of doors and windows that I’d made across quite some time, and when I posted those, someone questioned me as to why were those photographs almost always of closed doors and windows? That was quite an interesting observation because I’d honestly never ever thought of them that way. To me, those doors were just waiting to be opened and for me to enter inside, cross the threshold into the unknown. I didn’t see the “closed” sign – what I noticed was “enter”. What had intrigued me was not so much the architecture or the design or the texture, but the fact that there was something beyond, something hidden waiting to be discovered, and something mysterious waiting to be unearthed…

That’s just the way it is with me – each and every day, I need to cross that threshold into the unknown, and by doing just that, I learn something more. Across the last few days, I’ve spent much time writing down a list of places I must go to and photograph, things I have to write about, photographers I need to meet, and by seeing just those, my calendar seems full for the next few years. Yes of course I dream, I dream about many things – but I don’t live in that world of dreams at this moment, today. My today is when I work to make those dreams come true – someday they will. And even if they don’t, I’ll at least be happy and satisfied that I tried my all without giving up. My today is where I cross that bridge into the mysterious.

So I open those doors. It is only by pushing me to the limits that I learnt of my own limitations. It is only through faith that I learnt the meaning of doubt. It is only by loving that I learnt what is hurt. Challenge your limits, don’t let go of faith, and find love. I never knew what photography would mean to me when I started two years ago, and I never knew I could write when I started posting in March, but here I am doing just both. Because I tried. Because I wasn’t afraid of that darkness. Because I didn’t care what anyone would say. Because I opened that door. Because I believe what Matthew 7:7 says: “”Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Remember that. Always.

And if the Bible gets too heady, just remember what William Ernest Henley wrote in 1875:

“Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the Master of my fate:
I am the Captain of my soul.”

Invictus.

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The Photographer’s Heart

Michael Freeman is a great photographer and also the author of many books including “The Photographer’s Eye”, “The Photographer’s Mind” and “The Photographer’s Vision”. Since he hasn’t copyrighted “The Photographer’s Heart”, I’m using it for this blog.

This will (I think) be a longish blog (and as a caveat, this blog is for everyone, not for photographers only).  I’ll also break my own rule and name people in this – after all, it is my rule and my blog. I just realized that I’ve written about lessons for life that people I’ve met and photographed on my travels have taught me, but I’ve never said a word on the lessons for life I’ve learnt from those who taught (and continue to teach) me photography. This is my attempt to set that right.

Flashback two years – I’d just purchased my camera and happened to be chatting with Willy Foo (www.willyfoo.com), quite easily among the best photographers in Singapore.  In response to a question of mine on a photograph of his, Willy proceeded to explain to me in absolute depth and complete detail, the story and the technicalities behind it. This was quite surprising for me – the photography equivalent of the “cat out of the bag”. So I said to Willy: “How is it that you’re telling me everything?” I don’t remember his exact words in response, but in effect he said that he was not only a photographer, but also a teacher and this was his duty. In these two years I met many others – I disturbed them at odd hours, all sorts of times, requested unedited files to see how those are prior to processing, compared edited photographs, asked for critiques, wanted them to teach and help me, and not once did I hear a “no” in response. Some, of course, have had significant influence on my craft – Laxmi Kaul showed me the beauty of monochrome and of the portrait, a debt I shall never be able to repay. Recently I’ve connected with many immensely talented photographers because of my photo-blog (in no particular order): Glenn Capers (wingedoracle.1x.com), Heidger Marx (heidgermarx.com), Chris Faust (chrisfaustphoto.com), Bruno Chalifour (brunochalifour.com), Matthew Pace (matthewpace.photoshelter.com), Greg Buck (winkandblinkphotography.com.au), Roy Money (rwmj.smugmug.com), Kim Ayres (kimayres.co.uk) Panta Astiazaran (panta-astiazaran.smugmug.com), Marcus Thomas (marcthomasphotography.com), Laura Kaczmarek (atgimages.zenfolio.com), and many others, none lesser than those named. The reason I’ve added their websites is rather simple – when you see their photographs, you’ll soon realize that in comparison to theirs, my images are a child’s “crayon-on-the-wall” drawing compared to a Matisse. But all of them, without fail, made time for me. So who said the world is different today and we don’t have time for each other? And the amazing bit is that other than Willy and Laxmi, for the rest I am just a LinkedIN or Facebook profile. Yet they showed me the way – for which I am, and shall always be, grateful.

Lesson for life #1: Give. The most precious thing you have is your time – give some of it, more if you can, to another. Sometimes your time is more valuable to them than to you. Lesson for life #2: Help. Help however, with whatever you can. You never know how much of a difference it makes to the other. Lesson for life #3: Teach. The greatest gift you can give someone is knowledge. Sow its seeds and watch people blossom. You will never get a better reward ever. Lesson for life #4: Share. Let your experience and wisdom be free. And here the mathematicians will squirm (or turn in their graves) – when you share, you don’t divide – you multiply.

And to the naysayer mathematicians, let me narrate from the Bible, Matthew 14:15-21 (Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand):

“As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”

Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

“We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.

“Bring them here to me,” he said. And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to Heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people.  They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.”

So these are lessons for life that photographers have taught me. But we aren’t any different from anyone else, which is why I said this blog is for everyone.  We have just the same insecurities as any of those I’ve made portraits of, the same pain, the same fear. We’re also just as good as our last image. Perhaps the only difference that I can think of is that we see things with a difference. Therein lies the paradox, the irony – in that difference that we see, is also our likeness.

“When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.” (Khalil Gibran)

“Said the little boy, “Sometimes I drop my spoon.”
Said the old man, “I do that too.”
The little boy whispered, “I wet my pants.”
I do that too,” laughed the little old man.
Said the little boy, “I often cry.”
The old man nodded, “So do I.”
But worst of all,” said the boy, “it seems
Grown-ups don’t pay attention to me.”
And he felt the warmth of a wrinkled old hand.
I know what you mean,” said the little old man.” (Shel Silverstein)

“In times of grief and sorrow I will hold you and rock you and take your grief and make it my own. When you cry I cry and when you hurt I hurt. And together we will try to hold back the floods to tears and despair and make it through the potholed street of life.” (Nicholas Sparks, The Notebook)

Have you never felt these emotions? There is no difference between me and the people I photograph, but for a fraction of a second, and the side of the frame that we’re at.  When I see them up close and personal through my lens, I am reminded that all I can do always is to love, and love unconditionally. Yes, at times it hurts, but that doesn’t mean I stop loving.

Mother Teresa once said: “I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world.” I’ll rephrase that and say: “I am a little pixel in the hand of a creating God who is sending a picture postcard to the world.” This is what I have to say. This is from:

The Photographer’s Heart.

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The Lord is my Shepherd

In our high-speed and high-tech world, walking has sadly and unfortunately fallen out of favor.  “Pedestrian” is almost derogatory – a euphemism for something prosaic, rather ordinary and commonplace. Yet, walking with intention, walking for a purpose has deep roots. Australia’s aborigines walk during rites of passage, while Native Americans conduct vision quests in the wilderness; for many centuries, millenia perhaps, people have walked the Camino de Santiago, which spans across the breadth of Spain. I recollect having read someplace: All these pilgrims place one foot firmly in front of the other, to fall in step with the rhythms of the universe and the cadence of their own hearts. As one foot walks, the other rests. The fact of doing and being comes into balance. Remember “The Pilgrim’s Progress” written by John Bunyan?

I am one such pedestrian, one such pilgrim, and I am just back from walking in the Himalayas across a week and more, where I met another pedestrian, albeit slightly different. This is the story of Dighti Ram, a shepherd. At about sunset, I saw him standing in front of his dilapidated stone wall-and-tin roof shed staring out at the pasture; having nothing left to do but settle into my tent for the night, I walked up to him to see if he’d agree for me to make a few photographs with him. As I usually always do with the people I photograph, I chatted with him for a while even before I pressed the shutter. Why do I talk to people before I photograph them? One for reasons of photography: it puts them at ease and makes for more natural portraits, and two for selfish, personal reasons: always, each and every time without fail, I have walked away from such conversations with “so-called ordinary” people having (re)learnt invaluable, indelible lessons of life.

Dighli Ram is a 69 year old man who has tended to his goats and sheep across the last six decades in the sometimes verdant, mostly freezing, but always beautiful mountains of the Dhauladhar, the outermost fringe of the Himalayas. He has about 300 goats and 400 sheep, large tracts of farmland, and a house leased to a company, bringing his net worth to $120,000, wealthy by any standards in India. But this isn’t about Dighti Ram’s balance sheet or his assets – I’m just putting elements into context.  As we got conversing, I questioned if he ever got tired of doing the same thing day-after-day, walking the same stretch of land for sixty years, or for that matter did he compel himself to do it so that he could get more wealth, more property? His answer was to quote the Bhagavad Gita: “To action alone hast thou a right and never at all to its fruits; let not the fruits of action be thy motive; neither let there be in thee any attachment to inaction.” Lesson #1.

He invited me into his shed to share a cup of tea, and later made me promise to come and stay at his farm whenever I am there next – a promise I shall abide by. Now Dighti Ram didn’t invite me because he assessed me by my business card, my professional network on LinkedIN or my salary. His innate simplicity allowed him to invite me without questioning: “What’s in it for me?” Most of us believe that to give, we first need to have something to give. This is paradoxical and the trouble with that is, as Oscar Wilde once said, “Nowadays, people know the price of everything, but the value of nothing.” We have forgotten how to value things which don’t have a price tag – things (or feelings) such as empathy and care and compassion and love.  When I’m reminded of this, I realize that true generosity doesn’t start when I have something to give, but rather when there’s nothing in me that’s trying to take.  The more I am with such people, the more I learn to love unconditionally. In our dominant paradigm, Hollywood has insidiously co-opted the word, but the love I’m talking about here is the kind of love that only knows one thing – to give with no strings attached. Purely. Selflessly. Lesson #2.

His face lit up as he, the proud father, told me of his sons – one a shepherd like him and the other a TV-and-radio technician. Then with a forlorn, longing, faraway expression he told me of his wife who tends to the farm and harvest all alone, as he roams with the herd in search of pastures and how he misses her whenever he is away even at this age (which of course was utterly romantic). It reminded me of Kuan Tao-Sheng’s evocative and expressive words: “ You and I have so much love, That it burns like a fire, In which we bake a lump of clay, Molded into a figure of you and a figure of me. Then we take both of them and break them into pieces, And mix the pieces with water, And mold again a figure of you and a figure of me. I am in your clay, You are in my clay. In life we share a single quilt. In death we will share one coffin.” Yes, for all of us, our love, our happiness, our pride is alike; we share the same fears, cry the same tears. The more I spoke with him, the more I became convinced how in the tangle and weave, warp and weft of the Universe, we are all different yet just the same. Lesson #3.

Somewhere down the line in the course of our conversation, we started talking about wildlife in the mountains and he told me of the number of times he had sighted bears and leopards. So I asked if his herd had ever targeted by wild animals to which he said: “Yes, but I am safe as I have a rifle” upon which he proudly brought out a battered and bruised worn-leather rifle case, assembled his rifle and posed with it.

My smartass attitude got the better of me and I said: “But do you really think this small-caliber, muzzle-loading rifle is good enough to protect you against mountain bears or leopards?” – to that he just smiled at my ignorance, looked down at the ground briefly and then to the sky for a bit, and said softly almost in a whisper, “But He is always there for me.” Which is when the 23rd Psalm of the Old Testament came to my mind:

“The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”

So thank you Mr. Shepherd, for reminding me:

“The Lord is my Shepherd”.

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