It was the first morning of Delhi Photo Festival 2011. I spotted Prashant Panjiar steaming in. I stopped and congratulated him. About a year ago, he had shared the plans for the festival over beer with Dinesh Khanna and Shyam Tekwani (Former India Today photographer who had done pioneering work in Srilanka). “Finally all set Prashant, congratulations” said I. “Set? Nothing is set..everything is falling apart” he huffed, puffed and sped away. I looked around, everything seemed allright to me. It was the first festival of such kind in India and Prashant had a reason to be harried. He didn’t have to worry, the next few days were intensely joyful for us. We saw lots of photographic work, listened many of them speak and exchanged thoughts. However the most cherished moments were sharing thoughts, ideas and our own vulnerabilities with peers over coffee, beer and dinner. This happens only during festivals when one is away from the day to day rigours and when serotonin flows!
Photography today is largely seen as subservient to the written word. When used in the media to illustrate a story, captions are mostly descriptive, they explain the obvious. When we read prose or poetry our minds construct our own personal worlds, but when we see a picture, we demand explanation of everything even the obvious. Till about late 80s photojournalists did great work in India. Iconic images and great photo essays were made and published, though all the action was confined to New Delhi. As the digital revolution advanced the place photography had in the media went out of the window. Yet many young practitioners today are doing wonderful work in India but outlets to exhibit are few. Also the issue with photography is that it is not easily available for people at large to view, interpret and enjoy. It is confined to galleries or expensive photo books, which only enthusiasts and connoisseurs visit. Almost all other art forms are easier to access. We need many public venues for photographers to showcase their work easily. Photo festivals can step in to provide a platform. I hope Delhi Photo Festival and other festivals become conduits to take the power photography to people.
I witnessed the beginnings of the digital revolution in New York city in 1992, everyone in the industry spoke in hushed tones about and looked at it with great trepidation. Ever since then I have felt that we have been in the cusp of change. Today we have crossed the threshold but everyone talks about the demise of photography as we knew it. We talk about lack of budget but there is money. We need to find ne patrons, new avenues to raise money for projects, new ways to take our works to people. I am an eternal optimist – I believe that photography’s new golden age is about dawn.