Bangalore Beat 30: Old Market Street

As the name suggests, Old Market Street in Shivajinagar is the home for one of the oldest market places in Bangalore.  Even today there are many 70-80 years old stores. There are beautiful houses, all in a very congested area. A large storm water drain runs through it and today it’s an open sewer. Raw sewage flows like a river 24X7X365. People live and work right next to it.  And its not a slum. I had written last year in my essay “Whose city is it” that was published in my book Bengaluru/Bangalore – In First Person Singular

“A new era in Bangalore’s history may be in the making as arts and the sciences, IT and the other, the Pété and the Cantonment, the old and the new come forward to meet at long last. Great progress can be possible. The impediments in the way of a developed Bangalore are three-fold: physical, social and cultural. The water table of the city is dwindling at great pace. Today water is piped from the Cauvery for almost 140 km into the city at a great cost. Once the fourth phase of the Cauvery water supply is completed, it cannot draw any more water from the river. In the last 25 years, the population of the city has increased by 250%. The total area covered by the city has quadrupled. As I write this, newspapers report on areas in the city that have not had water supply for two months. Where will we get our water from? There are no answers. The second problem of garbage and sewage. Without waste management solutions, garbage is choking the city, its lowlands and waterways. The third area of concern is the rise of cultural jingoism that has reduced the openness and tolerance in the society. The supporters of this jingoism are everywhere, in politics, business and civic authority.”

Within a few months of the publication of my book, the garbage issue exploded in the city. Cultural jingoism threatened to drive away the people from the northeast. However, we have not really bothered to think about sewage issue. 75-90% of it sinks into the ground or just joins river Cauvery. This water can be recycled and reused; rather recycling perhaps is the only solution to city’s water woes. But there is hardly any effort in this direction. Another reason for this decay has been our relentless pursuit of financial growth and the entrenched mindset this is the only path to ‘development’  We have completely disregarded  our environment, heritage and the development of human capital.

How many countries can boast of a fresh water tap right next to a sewer, filled with black water? Is this development?

How many countries can boast of a fresh water tap right next to a sewer  filled with black water? Is this development?

Old Market Street, Shivajinagar

Old Market Street, Shivajinagar

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Bangalore Beat 29 : Soumya Rao

This is the second portrait from from my ‘Significant Other’ portrait project. As the name suggests,I do portraits of people with their significant other – friend, spouse, lover, parent or an object. Soumya is a psychiatrist and a regression therapist. She says “I consider books to be my significant other. It’s amazing how at every phase in my life I have picked up the right book at the right time. Books have guided me to where I am today. When down and out, I seek refuge in some books which instantaneously uplift me. Be it self help books, spiritual books or fantasy/fiction , they have always guided me …..they are my strength ….they are always there for me….they are my best friend(s)”. She lives in Bangalore.

Soumya Rao, psychiatrist and regression therapist.

Soumya Rao, psychiatrist and regression therapist.

Bangalore Beat 28 : Table by the window

Raghav Shreyas  died in 2008, he was just 35. A percussionist, photographer and an art critique, he was a regular at Koshy’s, out favourite cafe. Like any old Bangalorean, he loved everything of the yesteryear. He photographed the old central jail before they turned it into Freedom park, he photographed Ramachandra Sharma’s Phoenix Watch Works when he came to know that it would make way for the new metro station..so on and so forth. He used to make B&W prints for me too. Sometime in 2006, Raghav started a portrait project called ‘Table by the window’. He invited the regulars of Koshy’s for breakfast, made them sit at that particular table by the window and photographed them. His mother published them in a book by the same title.
I found myself at Koshy’s last morning. Light was streaming in through the window. Soon after writer Ramachandra Guha stepped in and sat by the window with a colleague. Ram Guha is a renowned scholar. Time magazine has called him ‘Indian democracy’s preeminent chronicler’. I did a stealth portrait of Ram.
If you are in Bangalore, do take a look at ‘Table by the window’. Few copies are available at Variety Book Stall on St.Mark’s Road.

The table by the window

The table by the window

Ramachandra Guha

Ramachandra Guha

Yours truly photographed by Raghav Shreyas

Yours truly photographed by Raghav Shreyas

Raghav Shreyas photographed by me

Raghav Shreyas photographed by me

Table by the Window

Bangalore Beat 27: Chasing Shadows

Yesterday I had an opportunity to speak about my photography to a group artists at a prominent gallery  in Bangalore.  I reached early, so went to  our favourite cafe,  Koshy’s for a coffee and to weave my thoughts together. I sat facing the windows and the afternoon light was streaming in through the blinds.  So, I decided to make a couple of images by chasing the shadows.

Shadows at Koshy's Shadow Road

Bangalore Beat 26:1986

This image is from1986. My cousin and guru of photography Rajendra Kumar loaded a roll of Ilford FP-4 into his Nikon FM-2 and asked me to walk around, shoot some pictures.  It was my first time with an SLR.  So I walked around Vidhana Soudha and Cubbon Park shooting pictures.   The city transportation system was called Bangalore Transport Service (BTS). The service was bad, always delayed and butt many  jokes.  I photographed people clambering into the bus in front of Vidhana Soudha,  the dome of which is sticking on top.

Vidhana Soudha and BTSFellow photographer, Vivek Muthuramalingam saw my  post and sent an image photographed in November 2010. Bangalore Transport System (BTS) had become Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) by then. And the city itself had become a metropolis.

Copyright :Vivek Muthuramalingam

Copyright :Vivek Muthuramalingam

All in a flash

Mid-80s were difficult, but interesting times to become a photographer. When I knew that I wanted to become a photographer, I was keen to study at the International Centre for Photography (ICP) in New York City. ICP in conjunction with New York University used to offer a 3-year BFA programme in photography. The annual tuition fee was $10,000 and they did not offer any scholarship. I couldn’t afford it. I didn’t want to study to get some inane degree, hence I went to New Delhi to meet some senior photographers, show them my work and ask their opinion of my idea of quitting college and took the plunge into photography. Forget Internet, there were no phones those days.In our neighbourhood in Mangalore, we had perhaps 10 phones in 100 houses. One had to book a trunk call and wait for at least an hour to talk to people in Bangalore.

I went to meet T S Satyan first. He was very happy that a fellow Kannadiga wanted to become a photographer. However being a true middle-class Mysorean, he advised me to complete my graduation, just in case photography didn’t work out. He suggested that I meet one Mr. S Paul. I hadn’t heard of him. He is  Raghu Rai’s brother and was his mentor. He even gave  Paul’s number to me and said that I could give his reference for an appointment. Mr.Paul was then the chief photographer of Indian Express. I called him, he asked me to meet him the next morning. There was a fire at Bharatpur bird sanctuary and he had to leave to report on it. But he did not turn away a teenager who wanted to become a photographer. He was gracious. Next morning, Paul looked at my work as he was getting ready to leave. He thought my idea of quitting college and doing photography was an excellent idea. I did just that.

HEAVY DUTY ON EQUIPMENT
Buying equipment was a nightmare. Customs duty on cameras and lenses was a prohibitive 250%! And owning more than one camera and a lens without paying duty was illegal, a criminal offence, if I recall right. There was no way one could afford all that. So most of us bought stuff from the gray market. Well, the reliable gray market of Bangalore those days was one man. Let us call him ‘S’, but one couldn’t approach him just like that. One had to be referred. And when you met him, he would show you one piece – take it or leave it, no bargaining. I bought my Nikon F3 from him for Rs10,000 in 1988. It’s 25 years now, but it works well and I still use it. In fact at the Mumbai international airport, a cop manning the X-ray machine, saw two cameras in my bag, asked for my passport and realised that only one was entered in my passport and offered to buy the other, right there with a currency of my choice. That was 1992.

A roll of 35mm of Ilford FP-4 (125ASA) would cost Rs 20 back then if one bought a pack of 10s. I exclusively used Microdol fine grain developer and the negatives from 25 years ago are still in very good condition. The trick is to wash it well and remove all traces of chemicals. Colour photography was a pain because good processing was hardly available. Even the colour processing kit that Kodak used to sell to us was sub-standard. I know that some of my friends found dead cockroaches in the concentrates.

NEW YORK CALLING
When I met Mr.Baldev Duggal of Duggal Colour Projects in New York in 1992, he looked at my ‘transparencies’ and said, “ Your pictures are great, but your colour processing is terrible” and asked his colour section head Raja Sethu to make high quality inter negatives, colour and B&W prints, worth about US$300, free of cost. (Duggal used to photograph for the Illustrated Weekly of India in the 50s and moved to New York City. He set up Duggal Color Project Now called Duggal Visual Solutions in the 60s. That has gone on to become one the biggest photo labs in the US). The working conditions in the 80s and 90s in India made it difficult for us to compete with others on the global scale. It changed only with the advent of digital technology and internet.

I was lucky to meet several great photographers during that visit to NYC – Hans Neleman, Chris Callis, Greg Heisler and Eric Meola to name a few. I continue to be in touch with some of them. All of them saw my work and asked me to stay back in New York and set up my practice there. I wonder why I didn’t. Sometime, I feel I should have.

Later, by mid-90s, I was really frustrated about the lack of discussions on the aesthetics of photography and out of frustration, I started a magazine on photography called LIGHT. It had no ads, neither did it have any technical articles or essays. I concentrated on visual thinking. I crowd-sourced to produce the magazine, at a time the word ‘crowd-sourcing’ didn’t exist. The magazine was supposed to be a quarterly, but I managed to bring out three issues in three years. It was a bit ahead of its time. The beautypart is that though the last issue came out in 1999, people still remember it.

My first solo book, Karnataka, was published in mid-90s. Someone who bought the book a few months ago in San Francisco wrote to me “My father was born and brought up in Mangalore. He moved to England in the 50s and although we visited as a family three times, I felt a bit disconnected with his home. Looking at the book brought me very close to my father, who passed away in 1983, imagining him growing up there”. Words such as these make me realise the true potential of photography. I often wonder over the last 25 years if I took the right decisions whenever I was at the crossroads. I may never know, but a spiritualist would say, that I did.

First Published in Bangalore Mirror on 18th January, 2013

Two pages from the third issue of LIGHT

Two pages from the third issue of LIGHT

New York City, 1992 : I was photographing the NYSE. I heard some one ask me "Aap Hindustani hain?" - I looked at the voice and it was the fruit seller asking me. He was from Pakistan and we have a nice little conversation

New York City, 1992 : I was photographing the NYSE. I heard some one ask me in Hindi “Aap Hindustani hain?”(Are you from Hindustan/India?) – I looked at the voice and it was the fruit seller asking me. He was from Pakistan and we had a nice little conversation

Bangalore Beat 24: An afternoon at a tattoo studio

Till recently in urban India, people with tattoos were considered as freaks.  However people did tattoo the names of their spouses on their forehands in rural areas. That has changed now. There are many tattoo studios in the cities and people are flocking to get tattoos done. My niece Pia is an illustrator and a tattoo artist. Thanks to her, I spent an afternoon photographing for my book ‘Bengaluru/Bangalore – In First Person Singular’ at the studio where she used to work – the Dark Arts Tattoo Studio run by artist Pradeep Menon.

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