Dancing with the Hasselblad

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”

Dancing with the Hasselblad



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!