My course in Photography, would be called Dancing with the Hasselblad. I would choreograph it with Mark Morris. If photography is about your point of view, literally, then how can everyone photograph from within a space of 30cm ( Camera in front of eyes or there about) .Why is it so difficult to move with the camera, a deep breath and your vantage point already shifts, imagine if you could learn to dance around your subject, the range of images that would emerge, many that would completely surprise you and me. Each shift changes the balance between background and foreground. Each movement affects the aesthetic of your frame.
Photographers please learn to get down on your knees and you will see, its a different world from there.I was always envious of my colleagues who were close to 6 feet, I could never see as they did, let alone navigate the crowds, until I started to realise that my 5 feet vantage point was my stength and then when the Hasselblad entered my life, the vantage point became even lower.
I like using my Hasselblad because I can use it at waist level/navel level, so already I have a different vantage point than what I am used to seeing, it allows the place to surprise me and then I literally do a dance with it. Moving up and down and to the side, walking into and walking away, before I decide on the frame.
It was Naoya Hatakeyama who taught me the significance of walking backwards, of walking into a situation and then walking away from it. It completely alters your experience of the space.
No conversation on Photography can continue for too long without a mention of Michael Ondaatje, the master of editing. In his poem ” What we lost” he writes among all that we lost-“how to enter a temple or a forest”. I try very hard to time my visit to a place I maybe wanting to photograph, with the light, the time of day. How I first see a room is very important, how I enter the museum determines my relation to it. I prefer the back door, that allows the building to reveal itself to me that is not the prescribed route. My chief patron here is light, how it falls and how it shifts the reflections. What is reveals, what it withholds, at different times of day and night.
I am glad I was gifted In Praise of shadows at just the right time, when I started to photograph without people.The same friend gifted me Mahlers 1st symphony that I often play on repeat, while I am editing and sequencing. He also brought Austerlitz to me. Perhaps this friend came to deliver these tools to me, the gifts that would help me fly, possibly away from photography even.
I wonder why people are happy just to photocopy what the eye sees anyway? perhaps the answer is in learning to dance, to be comfortable moving ones body. Perhaps you need to bend, to make yourself a little vulnerable, a little flexible, take the risk of ridicule or whatever it is you fear,and then see how a place or person reveals itself. That to me is the magic of photography, not just replicating what comes infront of the camera. That any machine can do.
PS- This ofcourse is advice at a seemingly practical level, the most important shifts happen with whats in your head, the books you read, the music you listen to, the places you travel to, whom you travel with, your conversations, your silences. The people you befriend, the people you unfriend.
Its really what you bring to the image, that gives it that ‘something else’. As Anish Kapoor said ” If an artist does not have an inner life, what comes out is bubbles”
If you wonder why your photos look like everybody else, get yourself a light meter and learn how to measure light as YOU see it. It will also slow you down and force you to make a more considered image.
Its really about how you measure the light and where you decide to focus. Photography and life. Are you a Photographer or a high quality Photo scanner?
You can also be happy, I suppose, being a photo copy machine that replicates whatever is put on it. Not good enough for me though.
If you listen to the room, it slowly starts to reveal itself to you. In my experience though, it takes upto 24 hours. Longer for a person, they are more cautious.
PS- will keep adding twitter posts to this one……
Its really about how you frame and what you decide to focus on. How you balance the light. Where you keep the highlights. How much darkness you allow into a situation. How sharp you make the shadows.How you allow the room to fill with light, more importantly what kind of light. Are you drawn to the harsh noon light or the very gentle full moon light. Most importantly your vantage point. The slightest shift in perspective alters the frame.
In Photography and in life too.
Who you allow in and what you leave out. That sort of makes the picture of your life and the photograph. what is revealed and what is withheld.
He is an architect but to me he is a great artist, he made frames around life. Frames that had to be experienced in situ, that were impossible to fix in photos.The reflections of the pillars on black floors in the afternoon light could reduce one to some very old tears. In bricks and mortar too it seemed to be about what he revealed and what he concealed. And the more you lingered the more the building revealed itself. The more time you gave, the more silence you made room for, the more the space opened up. And actually portraits too.
People take time to reveal themselves when they are being photographed.Often dependant on where and how you entered. People can sort of smell what your intentions are and they respond to those. And your intentions come from what you carry in your head. No getting away from the books you read, the conversations you follow, the experiences you bring to yourself, the people you engage with, the people you disengage.
How you frame and what you focus on and what your vantage point is then the key, for photography, and perhaps life too. So photography just a metaphor for life. Perhaps that is what photography is for me.
These are the tools of my trade, I have been using the same camera, same 80mm lens and same minolta light meter for almost 20 years. TRIX 400 is the film I have used since I started photography in 1980. I know these tools like the back of my hand. To this photo I forgot to add the tripod. Though this keeps changing as they make lighter and lighter ones.
Each one of these help me slow down, they force me to pause between photos and before starting. They prepare me for making the image, like removing ones shoes before entering a room.
There is the ritual of loading the film, first the sound and pleasure of tearing open the roll, then fitting it in place, listening to the sound while forwarding to be sure it has not stuck in the sprocket, and then fitting the back onto the camera.Then taking the camera and aligning it onto the tripod, after having done the dance around what I was hoping to photograph, those stretches that force you to ever so slightly alter the frame.The light meter one could say I need not use after all these years. But I like the ritual of going upto what I am photographing, measuring the exact light reflecting of the skin of the subject, then calculating how I might like to use that information. Even though I can , after all these years, guess the exposure.Then I bend into my camera, and fix the focus Between the camera being jammed into my belly and the gravity of strap on my neck, bending over, I make a tripod out of my own body. I like photographing from the navel level over the conventional eye level, I like that I see an inverted image, and then the magic sound of the shutter, An image has been made.
I can make another 11 images, as the roll has 12 frames on it. In my bag I might have 3-4 more rolls for the day of an extensive shoot. I sort of ration myself, because there is only so much film that I can carry on a trip. I might take a second frame of the same situation, just to be safe for focus and or exposure. but rarely more than that.
Its possible that i might have 3 shoots on one roll of film of 12.
Then there is the wait for the film to be processed, and the contact sheets to come from the lab. I never look at them too closely at first, just a glance to check that everything is fine, and the customary look at the negs. A few days later I sit with them and my loop, I always get depressed that I could not ‘capture’ what I thought I had. It takes many months for me to separate the experience/emotion of making the image and what the image retained. Often a very large gap and it could be many years later that I ‘realise’ the image. So many of my images have 2 dates, the date of taking and the date of realising.
This realising of the image, often happens like a deja vu, of seeing the girl on the bed, recognising that I had been in that emotion before, returning to contact sheets of more than ten years and finding the go away closer images. Or yesterday, photographing the Kandalama hotel and suddenly wanting to rush back to sift through my contact sheets because I had made that same overgrown with nature building, somewhere outside Calcutta, and then again perhaps in Patna, but somewhere else too.
The contact sheet, the paper that has 12 images in it, make it impossible for me to think of images in isolation.I read images left to right, diagonally, and each viewing changes the meaning of that image. Infact the contact sheet was one of the inspirations for the form of Museum Bhavan. I value my library of contact sheets even more than the negatives archive.
As for digital photography, I LOVE it for instagram and to whatsapp photo secrets to friends.
I try to imagine a language of images, that illiterate people even could access and use, I think of developing such an app. I like that the wide angle on the phone camera allows me to get very close, and do macro photography.I am waiting for the phone camera to get even better and then will be the challenge to develop another form for digital, perhaps. After all on digital cameras, its just a button between still and movie!
HELLO fellow SOLOISTS- I was wondering how to start the conversation on being a soloist, a term I started to use when ‘single’ seemed like you had not quite coupled, and I wanted a word that was not connected to coupling and familying anyway. A name for people who preferred to be on their own. Who chose to remain so. Gradually I started to say I was a soloist and the importance of being a soloist in my work, slipping the word into every interview I could (until i discovered the world of the blog) but this is what I just found….and possibly everyone else knew it all the time….. Soloist was decided/demanded long time ago
When Zeus asked Artemis what presents she wanted for her third birthday she responded without hesitation that she wanted six things:
~ to be allowed to live without having to be distracted by love and marriage,
~ a bow and arrow just like her brother’s,
~ a hunting costume and freedom from having to dress up like a lady,
~ the job of bringing light into the world,
~sixty young nymphs to be her companions and to help care for her hunting dogs, and
~all the mountains on the earth to live on.
AND THERES MORE
Artemis seemed to be more comfortable with the companionship of women friends. Often depicted by artists while hunting or bathing with her band of nymphs, the goddess Artemis valued her freedom and personal space and protected them with ferociousness.
Indeed, those who restricted her freedom, those who tried to thwart her commitment to reaching her goals, or simply invaded her privacy, paid dearly.
AND I LOVE THIS ONE, OFF THE NET, MUCH MORE TO STUDY….
In her abject grief, the goddess Artemis turned her dead lover into stars and shot him into the night sky where he remains as the constellation Orion. Never again did she allow herself to become vulnerable to romantic love.
Why does a writer aspire to make a book of photographs like a traditional photographer did, like me for eg. Why does the writer look to the ‘approach’ to photography as a traditional photographer did, which more often than not often was ‘project’ based, for a variety of reasons. Why not trust that Woolfian Writerly stream of consciousness, in both the writing and the editing. And just as in writing, the ‘work’ is made in the editing. Photography in itself is just not enough.
Why does the writer not find a form that uses his words and images, expanding both, rather than one illustrating the other. Now that everyone can make photographs, and do, we might want to stop looking for ‘forms’ within Photography. That would be limiting at a time when Photography is expanding by the day.
Also as we seem to return to becoming a more image based society, it might be to the writers advantage to see Photography as another tool to be considered.
I would say the same to Cinema and Still photography. After all its just another button on the camera. I am sure there are several forms waiting to be discovered in that switch of a button. I for one, am very drawn to the moving still image, but others with more knowledge of cinema will find other forms.
The ‘skill’ in photography is how you see, not what you see. Yes it takes years to build that voice but as a writer if you could bring your own perspective (as you do in your writing) to your photography…the images will sing. And then the long solitary time for editing.
Infact what we need in Photography are the great editors, we never had too many but both Robert Delpire and Walter Keller were among them. Today, if I had to suggest someone, I would say work with a film editor. But a literary editor with a refined visual sensibility could also work. As long as you get past the notion of established forms for Analogue Photography. As soon as you think of Photography as your language and not a borrowed one.
Photography is a tool , accessible to everyone. The Book, the exhibition, the projection were forms of traditional Photography. Now that Photography is just the raw material, we will have thousands of new forms emerging.
I am no writer, and no writer could come close to Sebald, but Austerlitz is my dream book. My favorite Photo book infact.