“I follow my feeling” An Interview with Fausto Giaccone

Italian photographer Fausto Giaccone’s works from his beautiful photo book ‘Macondo’ is the centre point of the Sensorium art festival being held at Sunapranta Goa Centre for Arts from December 6. In his book, Fausto has magically revealed Gabriel García Márquez’ literary world by way of photographs I had interviewed him for Navhind Times.

On his photographic process for Macondo
Fausto used a Rollie, a ‘Twin Lens Reflex’ analogue camera for this project. Wrierc Chiaramonte in his essay ‘Memory of Macondo’ writes about Fausto shooting while holding the camera close to his heart.

“It is a very nice interpenetration by Giovanni; however, it is a metaphor.  I started photography in the 60s and at that time the camera was Nikon F.  All my life I have used Nikon, a 35mm camera. The choice of Rollei for Macondo happened because I was trying to find a new photographic language – not that of a photojournalist, because all my life I have been a photo journalist.

“Photojournalists used 35mm cameras and I thought of trying to find a different approach, a different distance. I didn’t want to carry heavy cameras and lenses either. Rollei was perfect in all aspects. I was not interested in wide angles or tele photo lenses.

“Also, when I read ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ the first time I was very young. I remember that I could not place the story in a real world.  I was in South America and at that time had not been out of Europe. I was not able to put it in context.

“At the end of my work I realised that the choice of Rolleiflex and what came out of it probably was appropriate. Because the language I used was not really the language of today; it is not really very contemporary. It had the likeness of historical and classical photography. I am not a very organised photographer, I follow my feeling”, says Fausto

 On following his feeling
“I don’t know if it will work for everyone, but for me, I need to feel first. It is a kind of instinct. I feel when things are all right for me. Then I understand better what is happening around me. Sometimes I change; I adjust my way of working. But feeling is most important. I had worked in Colombia many times, always on precise assignments.  But, for Macondo I wanted to be totally free.

“It was not an assignment, it was just a desire. After almost forty years of work I wanted to do something more important than my professional work; something that spoke about me. Though the work was inspired by Gabo’s writing, this was kind of an outer portrait of mine, which perhaps all personal works of photographers are.

I read his auto biography and biography by Gerard Martin. In the beginning I started to capture the places that reminded me of the ‘100 Years of Solitude’. As I went on everything I saw reminded me of ‘100 years…’ and now all the pictures from the book remind me of the novel.

 On the experience of shooting ‘Macondo’
“The thing that was a big discovery was that everything that Gabo wrote came from a reality, and that it was not a fantasy or magical realism.   I understood it clearly when I went to Aracataca, the place where he was born. Gabo wrote: ‘At that time Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs.’

“I went looking for it and found that precise spot!  “There were many such instances. It was like discovering a key.”

His thoughts on photography today
“Yes, it has become much easier to take a single image today because of digital photography. The problem is not the shot, but the sequencing.  One must know how to sequence and tell a story, may it be for a book, catalogue or an exhibition. It is difficult, really difficult, to find the right way.”

 On his working style
I work slowly.  I build stories year after year. I have had just four books in forty years.  I like to build and rebuild things; it is important to me. I like to stay for long and find a personal vision. It is very important to find a personal vision. I become friends with the people I photograph, I keep in touch, and I photograph them over time. They become a symbol of the passage of time. For me the most important work is when life – my personal life – and photography fit together.  I like to work in places where it seems there is nothing to see. But I ask, dig deeper and see pictures where apparently there is nothing to be seen. The most difficult thing is to find things when there is nothing. Macondo is not only work; it is my life. Because it is a culture I like, I feel very close to.

Allure of film

Like all my peers, I started shooting on film. In mid 80s in India, B&W was much cheaper than colour and I could process it myself. It was easier to print than colour. Ilford FP-4 was widely available at Rs.20/- per roll if one bought a pack of 10s. Microdol-X was my preferred developer, diluted 1:3. So I shot a lot of B&W and later colour after turning a professional.

{However back then, in the 80s I didn’t ever think that there would be a day when one had to search for film in India, in the same way as I couldn’t imagine then that there would be a day when one can walk into a camera store and buy anything she wanted without paying customs of duty of 250%}

I have now begun to catalogue my work of three decades.  As I look back three decades and, the “Allure of Film’ pulled me in. The images shot on film, negatives especially look beautiful, poetic. There is an enveloping softness, something intangible in those images that tug your heart. Shooting with film teaches you the craft of photography, to visualize and patience.

The images recorded on the modern digital sensor are sharper than a Hattori Hanzo sword. However many of them seem to lack the craft that is required to make an image using film. The revival of film is already underway, with the success of Impossible Project and the efforts to revive other brands of film. Ferrania tried to raise USD250000.00 via their Kickstarter campaign and they already have USD281000.00 with eleven days to go!

The great photographer Eric Meola made a stunning image in Burma that changed his life. It was of a ceremony known as Shinbyu”–where young boys would become Buddh and would be initiated as novice monks.

In a recent Facebook post he said

“It would be several weeks before I saw the image because I was, of course, shooting film. But I realized at that moment that my life had changed and that I had been privileged to witness a precious few moments that also marked a passage in this young boy’s life. I remember opening the box, and spreading the slides onto the lightbox, and looking intensely through a loupe and seeing this image for the first time. That moment of recognition has changed. We glance at our camera’s LCD’s as we would an image on an iPhone–an image flashing a scene for a few seconds. The connection of a “latent” image hidden in the darkness of a film canister, is gone. That sense of something precious and unique is now consumed by the world’s production of imagery. Today, in the single minute it took to open the box of processed film and find this image, 210,000 images have been uploaded to Facebook. In the next 24 hours, another 302,000,000 images will make their way onto Facebook’s servers. Three hundred and two. Million images. In one day. But for that one moment as I looked through the loupe, I knew I had made an image that was important, and that had changed my career and my life, forever”

Copyright : Eric Meola

Copyright : Eric Meola

A winter morning in Laporiya, Rajasthan, 2004. Shot with Kodak colour negative film

A winter morning in Laporiya, Rajasthan, 2004. Shot with Kodak colour negative film

Delhi Photo Festival 2011

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. 

Whose City Is It?

This is the essay I wrote for my book Bengaluru/Bangalore – In First Person Singular. The book was published in Feb 2012. It’s available on many brick ‘n mortar online stores.

I visited Bangalore for the first time in 1974 with my mother. We traveled overnight in a ‘luxury bus’ from Mangalore. My uncle picked us up from Ananda Rao Circle and drove us to his home on Hall Road, Richards Town, in the heart of the Cantonment. A few days later we made a trip to the Pété or the Old City to visit my mother’s friends. When we returned, my cousin who was a teenager then, asked if Avenue Road (Arterial road of the Pété) was like she imagined it to be—a treelined boulevard. When my mother told her that it was narrow andcrowded, she was disappointed. My cousin was born and brought up in Bangalore but in the Cantonment. And like the people of the Pété, she had no contact with the ‘other’ side. For the people of the Cantt., Bangalore then was a small area of about 25 sq km. That was their cosmos. But Bangalore has always been a different city for different people, from its founder Kempegowda to the Britishers, from South Bangaloreans to residents of the Cantt. and now the new settlers. And as it happened with my cousin, the city assumes its own character in peoples’ imagination.
Thirty-seven years after my first visit to Bangalore, I found myself at the highest point in the city, the helipad of the World Trade Centre in Yeshawantapura. I stood at 128 m above the city. I could see the sprawl. Aided by the fact that the initial expansion of Bangalore was in the south, the city had continued to stretch southward all the way to Electronics City. In the east, the sleeping suburb of Whitefield had woken up with an International Tech Park. Like a giant amoeba, the city arched along the new arterial ring roads. ‘Have road, will grow’ seems the motto. Looking northwards, I could see more expansion, galloping towards the new airport. The sun set, the city lights came on, on miles and miles around me, and I could see the new areas of the city so clearly.
Circa 1987: Rana my graphic designer friend, complained that the traffic was becoming so heavy that he had to change the gears of his motor bike, riding to work at Vasanta Nagar from his house in Frazer Town, a distance of about 3 km. He didn’t have to do so few years ago, he grumbled.
In the 80s, Bangalore was a wonderful place to live. It had the potential to be a great city. Ramakrishna Hegde, who was the chief minister of the state from 1983-86 was partly responsible for this. He wholeheartedly supported the arts and invited artists to make Bangalore their home. The city soon had a considerable number of highly creative people; society was tolerant and the environment was right for creativity to thrive. Reminiscing, artist S.G. Vasudev says, “The mid 70s were even better. Bangalore was an open society and absorbed everything and everyone.”
The 70s witnessed a renaissance in Kannada literature, theater and film. “This revival of Kannada became Bangalore’s renaissance,” says culture maven Prakash Belawadi. Pratima Nataka Ranga, the theater movement led by P.Lankesh and with the participation of B.V. Karanth, Girish Karnad and Chandrashekara Kambara produced many actors. Bangalore was in the forefront of the production of parallel cinema as well. The trend continued through the 80s.The cultural scene was vibrant. “It is art and culture that shaped Bangalore,” insists S.G Vasudev.
By the mid 80s, however, another revolution had begun to brew. Narayana Murthy and his crew had quietly slipped into Bangalore and set up shop in Jayanagar. Azim Premji’s Wipro began exploring new technology and a young man named Subroto Bagchi had arrived to work for him. These men brought to Bangalore its biggest changemaker, Information Technology (IT).
Circa 1988: I walked into my friend Jayadeva’s studio. He was designing a brochure. “It’s for a company called Infosys,” he said. “The Managing Director is going abroad to market his company.”
As the IT revolution progressed, people migrated to Bangalore from other parts of India. Money poured into the pockets of a section of the society. From the pursuit of arts and humanities, the core value shifted to wealth creation. This led to crass commercialization, land grabbing, and worse, a gaudy display of this new wealth. An entire city went after a piece of the IT pie. This frenzy was not limited to Bangalore but the true growth of the city diminished. A city grows when people grow, when their minds grow; they become creative and the quality of life becomes better across the society. Sadly, the IT revolution didn’t achieve this. The arts that had such a great start withdrew into a dormant mode. The divide in the city was again apparent. Only this time it wasn’t geographic, it was monetary. On the one side, there was money pouring into Bangalore but events like the Jazz Yatra, Bangalore’s quadrennial Jazz festival couldn’t muster any sponsors after the mid-90s.
Our politicians forgot the arts too. Political and business leaders dreamed aloud of converting Bangalore into a Singapore. They said they would bring wide roads, flyovers, tech parks, air conditioned malls and more to Bangalore. And people applauded. No one seemed to understand that Bangalore needed to be Bangalore and not Singapore or Beijing.
Circa 1992: I was in the United States to attend photography workshops, meet photographers and broaden my horizons, so to say “Where are you from,” I’d be asked. “A city called Bangalore in India” I’d reply. It didn’t ring a bell. No one there had heard of Bangalore then. Mumbai and Delhi, yes…Calcutta…hmm…sounded familiar but Bangalore? Not at all! Six years later, I was back. This time, everyone seemed to know about it. “Bangalore,” they’d say, “that’s where the tech park is coming up.”
By the mid-90s Bangalore was already being touted as one of the fastest growing cities in Asia. But the growth was unplanned and exponential. For city authorities, it has been nothing short of a nightmare. A senior official of the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) once confided (unofficially) that the BWSSB is able to take only 30% of the sewage for treatment. The rest, he said, flows into Cauvery or sinks into the ground contaminating the ground water. Even today the city does not have a comprehensive plan to regenerate its water sources and a good waste management plan.
Circa 1999: I was in the office of S.Vishwanath at the Housing and Urban Development Corporation (HUDCO). Vishwanath is a pioneering water conservation expert and one of the fewpeople who has been speaking up on mandatory rainwater harvesting in Bangalore. When I met him, Bangalore was
already getting its water from the Cauvery about 120 km away. “We are sitting on a tinderbox” he rued. “This city will soon run out of water if we go on mindlessly spending this scarce resource.” We had two sources of water, two reservoirs, Hesaraghatta and Tippegondanahalli, both created by building check dams across two rivulets, the Arkavathy and Kumudvathy. Both reservoirs were almost dry.
The exponential growth of Bangalore placed an enormous pressure on the basic infrastructure. Roads were clogged. Public transportation was inadequate. Yet, malls and residential apartments mushroomed. People bought cars and motorbikes as if buying peanuts. The pressure was on authorities to widen roads leading to the IT corridors so that traffic would move smoothly. The rest of the city was neglected. The flip side was that neighborhoods and communities were forgotten. There was very little emphasis on the development of human capital. This uni-dimensional growth had other consequences. Many began to feel that their voice would not be heard by the powers that run the city. This perception prevented the emergence of a concerned, strong and caring civil society. The city seemed to belong to no one. There was no unified voice speaking for the city. It seemed as though the many divides in its history had finally become Bangalore’s undoing. Narendar Pani describes it in his essay ‘Imaginations of Bengaluru’
  “All through Bengaluru’s often tumultuous history, the emerging dominant groups have had little reason to celebrate the past. From the cantonment in the early nineteenth century to the public sector in the middle of the twentieth century to the information technology industry in the beginning of the twentyfirst century, the emerging growth centre have always been located outside the boundaries of what was then the city. As the emerging economic powers put their own stamp on the city, they had no reason to celebrate earlier traditions that they were trying to replace…….This absence of an adequate ongoing dialogue between the pastand the present has an overwhelming impact on the way theinhabitants of Bengaluru, and hence others imagine the city.”
Consequently, even before the 21st century set in, many creative people migrated to Mumbai, Delhi and even outside India. Bangalore began to lose its appeal and its vibrancy. Over coffee at Koshy’s, I am in conversation with Aliyeh Rizvi. She is the great grandniece of Sir Mirza Ismail who was the Dewan (Chief Minister) of Mysore State between 1926-1940. He is credited with laying the foundation of modern Bangalore. I ask Aliyeh what she thinks has changed and she says that grace and memories have been lost in the unplanned and sudden growth of the city. Many old Bangaloreans from across the city have echoed the same thought. Their memories are of an organically growing environment where culture had a place, and where the natural and the built could coexist. The loss of such an environment has created a sense of disconnect in an already fragmented city. Urban life has begun to lose its sheen. The debate is not about the old versus the new or art against technology. It is about the lack of creativity and the support system in the society for its growth. I am not the first to think and believe that the arts will provide the change that cities need. Across the globe, where commerce and politics have determined the path of a city, arts and creativity are increasingly stepping in. Artists, writers and architects will play a crucial role in shaping cities and urban environments in only a few more decades. Richards Florida, thought leader, author and urban studies theorist asserts that,
Metropolitan regions with high concentrations of technology workers, artists, musicians, lesbians and gay men—“high bohemians”, exhibit a higher level of economic development. Collectively called as the “creative class” they foster an open, dynamic, personal and professional urban environment. This
environment, in turn, attracts more creative people, as well as businesses and capital. Attracting and retaining highquality talent versus a singular focus on projects such as sports stadiums, iconic buildings, and shopping centers, would be a better primary use of a city’s regeneration of resources for longterm prosperity.
Even as chaos thrived and troubled the old Bangalorean, a lady named Arundhati Nag was quietly laying the foundation for another cultural renaissance. It was the year 2003-04. I remember it as a time when people around me were bored. The IT revolution of the previous decade was no longer a novelty. It had brought money to the city but did not spawn innovation. Our professionals were restless. The question “What do we do on the weekend?” hung in the air, reminding me of the classic “Where shall we eat?” in Douglas Adam’s The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. At this juncture Arundhati Nag set upon building a theatre in the memory of her husband, the actor Shankar Nag. It was evidently a labour of intense love and passion. Almost single-handedly she managed to build a world-class theatre in south Bangalore’s JP Nagar. Arundhati’s Ranga Shankara promised the city a play every evening. Performers could afford its costs and audiences, its tickets. Across the city, several parallel movements began. Suresh Jayaram’s 1 Shanti Road became an artist’s hub. Prakash Belawadi established the Centre for Film and Drama. Archana Prasad’s Jaaga, Creative Common Ground broke new ground as a place for new media and arts. Arundhati and Jagdish Raja built their theatre, Jagriti in Whitefield. Vivek Shanbhag and his friends took up the publication of a Kannada literary journal, Desha Kala. Painters and sculptors prevailed upon the government and brought the National Gallery of Modern Art to Bangalore, and housed it in the beautiful old building, the Manikyavelu Mansion. Almost as though they were emerging from a stupor, dancers, musicians, photographers, painters, sculptors and writers began to make their presence felt. For them to innovate and create, the city needs more, much more, by way of infrastructure. Performance spaces, and spaces to exhibit art are desperately required.
In today’s post-industrial society, however, it is highly qualified and creative people who are the most crucial resource for economic development. To attract and retain such people, cities must offer high quality of life. This includes comfortable, fast and accessible public transportation; wide tree-lined sidewalks; protected bicycle lanes; abundant parks, sports facilities and libraries; and a rich cultural life.” So thought Enrique Peñalosa, former mayor of Bogota. He was one of two mayors who, using unorthodox methods and in less than 10 years turned one of the world’s most dangerous, violent and corrupt capitals into a peaceful model city populated by caring citizens.
 As Jayachandran Palazhi, founder and artistic director of the Attakalari Centre for Movement Arts says, “Culture is as essential as water or air. The need for cultural spaces should sink into our consciousness. They are as important as schools and hospitals.” Centres of higher learning too have the potential to make major contributions to the development of human capital of a city as well. Though Bangalore has several, these centres have remained as self contained islands, rarely interacting with the society at large. The National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Indian Institute of Management (IIM) and International Institute of Information Technology (IIIT) have made small inroads in dialogue with the city but does the city encourage this exchange? As Vijaya Raghavan, Director, NCBS puts it, “the city needs a common watering hole”.
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 Cantt., 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. Jane Jacobs called them squelchers – people who divert and derail human creative energy, posing roadblocks, acting as gatekeepers and saying ‘No’ to new ideas, regardless of the merit. It will be interesting to see if through these obstacles we can still create a new urban memory, one that connects the natural, the built and the cultural environments. A memory that can be a guide to the future. An hopeful note, all is not lost yet. The arrival of people from across the country and even the world is a positive development. Historically too, it was this ability of Bangalore to invite everyone and allow them to feel at home, that enabled creativity. In fact, one of the city’s founding fathers, Sir Mirza Ismail was of Persian descent. Some of the best-known Kannada writers did not speak Kannada at home. The Alliance Francaise and Goethe Institute have always supported the arts and culture. Today’s youth carry enormous goodwill towards this city, far from the discontent of the previous generation. The IT revolution did open Bangalore’s doors to the entire world, bringing varied exposures and experiences. There can be a resurgence of creativity. But that can happen only when the various divides within the city are bridged. Bangalore can become a melting pot of cultures. And only then will the citizens find their space within the city and a unified voice rise in support of it. And only then can we hope for an open culture to be created once more. But if we don’t act now, the city might just go South.

Please click the link to buy a signed copy of my book Bengaluru/Bangalore – In First Person Singular (2012)
Bengaluru/Bangalore In First Person Singular | Mahesh Bhat is a documentary and corporate photographer based in Bangalore

Copyright : Mahesh Bhat

Re Imagining the People of India

We reached Sadar Bazar in Old Delhi by around 3 pm. My student-assistant Shivya and I took a cycle-rickshaw ride from Chandni Chowk. I called Prem Chand Sonar (a goldsmith) from the entrance of Galli Bharna. “Aap ki dukaan kahaan hai?” (Where is your shop?) I asked. A lady who picked up the call said, “Kalu Ram halwai ke samne hi hai.”  (Right in front of the shop of  Kalu Ram, the halwah maker) “Kalu Ram halwai kahan hai?” (Where is Kalu Ram?)  I asked again. “Arre…chaiwale ke paas main”, ( Right next to the tea stall) came the answer. It was mid-March and I was doing portraits Re-imaging The People of India (1850-2013), a photography exhibition, under the aegis of Neel Dongre Awards/Grants for Excellence in Photography by India Photo Archive Foundation.

A few minutes later, we were in Prem Chand’s shop. It was a village square in the heart of a megapolis. Even as a motley crowd started gathering, a ‘talkative man’ appeared. Clad in a suit jacket, he wanted me to have chai first before initiating my work. I told him I would shoot first and then drink chai. He would have none of it. He bombarded me with questions, asking about the details of my work —why, how, where and when. He was genuinely interested in knowing why I was there shooting pictures. He introduced me to his friends and even they enquired everything about the project. Itwas a truly beautiful village experience, I must say.

The People of India was an 8-volume publication compiled by John Forbes Watson and John William Kaye between 1868 and 1875. Originally conceived by Lord and Lady Canning, it was an early experiment with photography as a documentary medium. The original prints were made using a process called Albumen printing and the good news is that they are still around, very well preserved. The original People of India project was very significant as it was the first photography project combining street and studio.

India Photo Archive Foundation, set up by photographer and photo historian Aditya Arya, asked four photographers, Dileep Prakash, Dinesh Khanna, Sandeep Biswas and yours truly to revisit People of India in modern context. The geographical area was confined to the National Capital Region. We had the freedom to interpret the subject in our own way. I spent five days in New Delhi photographing 10 people. My thought was just to observe and photograph without making a comment. I love doing portraits; it’s like conversing with the subject‘s soul. It was a wonderful project to do some slow photography and formal environmental portraiture.

My first assignment was Shadipur Depot in East Dehi. I went to photograph Sangita, a peformer. Her manager, Prakash Bhatt aka Lakshman master, a performer himself, met us at the metro station and took us to his house. From Rajasthan, they lived in a slum. We had to walk on open sewer that served as a path to reach his house. I learnt that he and his troupe had performed at various festivals of India in Washington DC, Dubai, Kuala Lumpur, etc. The living conditions were really bad. After the shoot, I wondered how could we collectively allow our fellow citizens and that too someone who had represented India internationally to live in such miserable conditions.

Dinesh Khanna had a different outlook. “I have had rather confusing thoughts about the caste system. The fact that it defines people as per their professions and vocations seems fine, but that these became shackles, which didn’t just imprison people but also caused social discrimination, is abhorrent. Caste should not dictate a person’s destiny and I wanted to make portraits of my subjects that showed them as individuals, recorded their professions and, most importantly, gave them respect and dignity,” he said. Dileep Prakash used an old wooden field camera, B&W sheet film and slow shutter speed to give an aesthetic treatment similar to the 19th century photographers. “Transposing them from their own reality would be to give them a forced identity. For me, they are not characters or models or ‘types’ – they are people who have their own identity. Their castes are not relevant to me,” said Dileep Prakash. Sandeep Biswas photographed with a small element of humour thrown in. He feels that the project gave him a new dimension towards his work.

The exhibition opened on Wednesday at the India International Centre in New Delhi. It will run till April 26 and showcase the rare Albumen prints of the pictures from the 1850s with the contemporary work. Curator Aditya Arya says the project was inspired by his passion for studying and collecting the images from the early years of photography, especially in the context of Indian subcontinent. It was a deeply fulfilling project for me, where I just observed and made the pictures.

First Published in Bangalore Mirror on 18th April, 2013

Archival picture of street performers

Archival picture of street performers

Sangita, a performer in Lakshman Master’s troupe, photographed at his house in Shadipur Depot

Sangita, a performer in Lakshman Master’s troupe, photographed at his house in Shadipur Depot

The exhibition at India International Centre, New Delhi

The exhibition at India International Centre, New Delhi

The exhibition at India International Centre, New Delhi

The exhibition at India International Centre, New Delhi

The exhibition at India International Centre, New Delhi

The exhibition at India International Centre, New Delhi


I) It was a surreal evening, many years ago. Patrick Wilson and I were sitting in my car waiting for the sheets of rain to subside, somewhere in Cooke town, Bangalore. Few meters from the road was the house of Mr.Tom D’Aiguar, an elderly gentleman who Patrick insisted that I meet. He was an amateur portrait photographer who practiced his craft in the 40s as an amateur.

If I remember right, he was a tall man very genial.  He used to The portraits of his friends and relatives he showed me that evening were outstanding. Mr.  D’Aiguar  practiced portrait photography in the 40s and due to WW II, everything was in short supply. He used headlights of motor vehicles to light his subjects and had to make do with whatever was available in terms of film, paper and chemicals.  I did not see him again.  His pictures were fabulous, lighting style was that of George Hurrel, the master glamour photographer of Hollywood of those times. Recently when I was working on my recent book on Bangalore, I asked Patrick about D’Aiguar and he told me that the gentleman had passed on and that no one knew the whereabouts of his negatives or prints.

The photographers of the 40s-50s were master craftsmen. One look at their negatives tells us how deeply were they engaged with their craft. Over time I have come across many a film stills shot in India in the 40s and 50s. All in B&W, all superbly crafted images. The prints of those times, still haven’t yellowed or degenerated in spite of being stored improperly. Photographers of those times lay a great emphasis on their craft. As I interact with a lot of students of photography, I see this aspect missing now.

II) In mid 90s, I came across some stunning B&W street photographs at a printing press. Later I came to know that they were part of a project called Picture Mumbai and photographed by (then) children . Sometime in 1996 the Getty Conservation Institute commissioned a project in which nine young people of Mumbai were given point and shoot cameras, B&W film, and were asked to shoot landmarks of their city as perceived by them. Under the guidance of photographer David Desouza, they photographed Mumbai over three months, on weekends. The pictures emerged were truly extraordinary. Haunting. And daunting. Daunting because it caused quite a few of our generation to reexamine our perspectives, and our commitment. So strong was its quality.  Well know advertising photographer Ashok Salian had commented “When I saw the pictures I thought they were shot by some renowned photojournalists. Their work is better than whatever I have done. It’s a great achievement, fabulous concept, brilliant and wonderful. Not many (adult) photographers could do better. Their work has great depth”. An exhibition was put up and a book produced.

III) A couple of weeks ago, I found myself in a photography seminar at the end of the day’s session, totally by chance. The last presentation of the day was going on. The photographer defined success. “What is success?” he asked. “Decent number of assignments that pay, few interviews in the media and invitations to events such as this” he explained. Simple! For a long time I have been thinking about the definition of success, more so for a photographer.  Does it solely depend on the money you make or is it the impact your work or is it a combination of both? I think we must deeply introspect the meaning of success and develop our own definitions rather than going with the flow rather mindlessly.

First Published in Bangalore Mirror on 5th April, 2013

An Interview with Eric Meola

In 1998, I had interviewed the legendary advertising photographer Eric Meola for my magazine LIGHT.  It was the first interview that I had done over internet from the sole net cafe on Brigade Road. I would send him questions and go there after a few days to check his answers and then again send some more, so on and so forth!  I was going through the interview and thought that it is relevant even today. So here are some excerpts.

MB: Let us start with your early years – in school and college – and how you became interested in photography?
EM: My father was a doctor, and one of his patients was an engineer whose hobby was photography – he got me interested in B&W printing. I began saving money and reading and looking at all the photo books I could get my hands on. As photography was not yet an established in terms of college curriculum, I majored in English literature, but continued shooting and took a few college courses in colour and design. In my junior (thirs) year of college I went to New York as I was drawn to Pete Turner’s work. I interviewed with him, and he told me to come back in a year – fortunately when I came back he was in need of a new assistant, and I got the job.

MB: There has been a change in your style of photography over the last few years, from ultra rich colour graphic images to warm, intense story telling images. A planned progression or an unconscious move?
EM: I was fortunate to have a long run with my commercial work, which continues to this day, but I have now forced myself to re-examine my own work – to throw away concepts and precepts. When I first went to Burma tow years ago, my entire life changes – it is, for me, the most incredible place to photograph, and I went wil, literally running after people shooting, not caring if I was in focus or the exposure was right, but still filled with incredible energy. It was as if I had landed on another planet  – it was that unusual. And many of these images are the best I have ever taken.

MB: Was there an instant that made you to look at your work differently?
EM : Mahesh, you are right! The most significant moment in my life was when I was at the sacred Shwedegon pagoda in Rangoon. I had stumbled upon a “coming of age” ceremony for a young boy – he was seven years old and was about to become a monk. He was dressed in all material beauty of his “worldly clothing” – bright colours, sparkling in the  sun, carried aloft in the hands of his family and relatives. It was indeed a very moving ceremony, and as he was carried aloft in a circle, I began to cry. Suddenly I found myself caught up in the ceremony and I began running in the circle, taking pictures. And then I learned that he would go to his family’s house for his last feast, and then be brought before a monk to have his head shaved, and dressed in robes- he would become Budha. I realised in an instant that I had to photograph this, but did not know the protocol. When I found out that it was perfectly alright to photograph the ceremony, I was astounded – and our car followed the procession through the winding streets. When the time came, my hands were trembling; I made one last photograph of the boy – side lit by the final rays of sunlight. The as he knelt before the monk, I made the most important single image of my life – the moment where the monk begins to shave his head.  It was shot at 1/10th of second with a 200mm f2.8 lens wide open. Somehow, it came out incredibly sharp. Until that moment, I had been thinking about a book project that shows the diverse beauty of this planet’s cultures – especially its rituals and mysticism – but that moment it became real, and I realised that I had to pursue the making of the book with all my spare time. The idea first came when I was at the peak of doing my advertising work – I was up night and day, absorbed completely in the intensity and demands of my work. There were always so many details – details of production that sometimes were in my control, and other times, when the client would change his or her mind at the last second, not im my control.

I realised that this could not go on forever, and that there was a reason I had become photographer, and it was simply, that I was in love with light, with the forms and shapes and colours of photography. I began looking at my personal work, and realised that I had begun to photograph a lot of wildlife, and alos that there was a thematic thread to some of my work. I began thinking about the end of the 20th century, and started planning more personal trips. And little by little, I realised that what I wanted to record was the beauty of hose parts of humanity that are slowly disappearing – culture, ceremony, mysticism. And one day, I thought of the title “The Last Places on Earth”. I sat down and simply started making a list of all the places I wanted to visit, and realised that what I wanted to document was the incredible diversity of this planet, and the fact that we are all the same, in many ways. But it was that moment in Burma, the image of the young boy becoming a monk, that changed my life forever.

To view Eric Meola work, please visit – www.ericmeola.com



Dig Deeper

Most Bangaloreans are aware of the eviction of Ejipura slum in the city. For the uninitiated, it occupied 15 odd acres near Koramangala, one of the poshest areas in Bangalore. And one fine day, it was razed to the ground to make way for a mall (in the future). Photographers, both professional and amateurs, rushed to the spot. Some spent days documenting the collapse and its aftermath. They were posted on social networking sites and people rushed to help with food, water, blankets and medicines. So far so good. I was watching a photographic presentation on this in the recent Open Show in Bangalore. Several other such bodies of work on protests and photography as ‘protest’ came to my mind. They are all important pieces of work, no doubt. But as I looked closely, I realised that we look only at the surface and don’t really go under the hood.

Today, many photographers embrace the dramatic with the aim of eliciting a gasp from the viewer. Kumbh Mela is dramatic and awe-inspiring. But the emotional undercurrents that run through our society are far more important. I was talking to fellow photographer and film-maker Ryan Lobo and he shared about the rage that he sees in people as he travels around the country and what it can manifest itself as.

We never ask fundamental questions. In the case of Ejipura, we did not ask why did the slum come there in the first place? I feel that photographers should ask fundamental questions on the state of the society, reasons of polarisation of wealth and make images that help us think about the possible answers, irrespective of the genre of photography we choose. “We need to change this world of ours – not just accept it. Question it, take our own directions – that is, not just merely in our own interest…” were the words of the great choreographer Chandralekha. That’s what we must do now. A very good example of work that digs deep and goes beyond the obvious is Sochi Project (www.thesochiproject.org) by photographer Rob Hornstra and writer/filmmaker Arnold van Bruggen. Sochi in Russia is just 20 kms away from the conflict zone, Abkhazia. To the east, the Caucasus Mountains stretch into impoverished breakaway Republics such as Cherkessia, North Ossetia and Chechnya. In 2014, the Winter Olympics will be held there and the physical and emotional landscape of the area is changing fast. Hornstra and Bruggen have been documenting this for the last three years.

One of the reasons for the lack of true growth of photographers and photography in India is because of the lack of photo editors. Most publications designate the senior-most photographer as the photo editor and that is the worst thing to do. Photo editors are not photographers, but they like photography and understand the medium extremely well. I had interviewed Laurie Kratochavil, the legendary photo editor, for my magazine Light in 1997. She said, “Photographers can achieve a style by learning more and more about photography not in an intellectual way, but in an emotional way. Because when we look at photographs, it is such an emotional thing. Photographer should put a lot of emotions into their pictures. I don’t tell my photographers what to do, I can only inspire and nurture a photographer to do better photography, guide them towards what they want to do. Frankly, most photographers are the worst photo editors in world. I love and appreciate photography, but I can’t take photographs. I help them weed out what they don’t need in a picture by some constructive criticism. Photographers are magical people. They can capture moments some people saw and most didn’t see. I always think there is a lot of magic in photography and that reach people’s souls.” Her words are still relevant. However, we didn’t have any photo editors in India then, neither do we have any now. An interesting point is that finest photo editors in the world are women. Perhaps, they are more sensitive and better visual- thinkers.

I would urge photographers to dig deep within and frequently question their motive to photograph and to understand what they want to say and why. Photography for me is becoming a vehicle for an inward journey. To know myself and to understand life. In this journey, I hope to seek answers for why things are the way they are.

First published in Bangalore Mirror on 8th March, 2013

Between the pages

79 years ago, the renaissance man Kota Shivarama Karantha published one of the first photo books of this country. Titled Chitramaya Dakshina Kannada. The book about the undivided South Kanara district (In coastal Karnataka) of yesteryears gave the picture of the land and life of the district through the eyes of three children who go on a journey of discovery. The book featueres 96 black and white images reproduced exquisitely using photogravure technique in Germany. There are very few copies available today and the images are perhaps the only visual document of that era. The book was priced then at 75 paise only.

Not all photo books or photography-based books are coffee table books. Their purpose is not just to adorn one’s coffee table and to flip through or to use it as a conversation piece. Photo books are like time capsules, they have the ability to bring back to life those moments gone by or they are a compilation of deep personal thoughts of the artist. I sometimes feel that memories are the only reality in this completely ephemeral life and photo-books help the reader immerse in that reality.

Jaw dropping technologies of late 90s are not considered worth seeing now or in most cases cannot even be accessed on screen. I wonder if today’s technologies would suffer the same fate ten years from now. But photo books stand the test of time. A book produced eight decades ago can still be enjoyed, the photographs tell us so much more than words.

Prashant Panjiar, one of the senior most photographers of this country and co-founder of Nazar Foundation  says that it’s not just important but it is crucial that photographic bodies of personal, artistic, socially important issues and that of human condition get published and seen. While some photography-based books sell, hence get published but many others where the subject matter isn’t perceived as easily saleable, just don’t.

Photo books are expensive to produce hence are out of the reach for many book lovers. Prashant says that photo books need not be 11”X14”, they could be smaller in size and intimate. This will reduce production costs, subsequently cover price. If corporates are mandated by law to spend a part of their profits of CSR, why not publishers go of the beaten path and produce such photo books asks Prashant.

Editing, designing and printing a book is one issue, but reaching it to public is another herculean task, when you are not backed by a well-known publisher. Distributors do not touch independent publishers with a handful of titles. Just getting into an online store is not the solution, people should actually come to know your book exists and then loosen their purse strings and buy it.

I have independently published two books in the last six years, UNSUNG and Bengaluru/Bangalore – In First Person Singular. Both were made possible by no strings attached corporate support and pre-selling copies at special price. My third title, the second volume of UNSUNG will be out this year. It was made possible because of private grants by individual philanthropists and contribution of time and talent by several photographers and writers. I am now working hard at pre-selling a large number of copies to raise money to print. My publishing philosophy has always been to make the cover price as low as possible, so that it is affordable to many.

There are two other laudable efforts to make books available to those interested. Bangalore-based photographer Mahesh Shantaram and his wife, photo book designer Vidya Rao throw open their interesting and eclectic collection of photo books on weekends to those interested. In Delhi, young photographers Chandan Gomes and Vicky Roy run Open Library as part of their initiative Rang, which works towards creating an open and a democratic space for the study and practice of visual arts.

It’s important that all of us support photo book publishing and photographers by buying the books or pre-ordering whenever possible. And by supporting the efforts of organizations such as Nazar, people like Mahesh Shantaram, Vidya Rao, Chandan Gomes and Vicky Roy. These are significant efforts – for now and the future.

First Published in Bangalore Mirror on 15 Feb, 2013

Art is the answer

“How could you take pictures at a time like this?” screamed a young man at me. It was 1990 and I was photographing the cremation of the people who died in the Airbus crash in Bangalore. I stopped shooting. I still remember his face.

“I earn about Rs15 per day, my husband died in the super cyclone and I didn’t get any compensation, will your picture help me in
anyway?“asked Deepa Mondal, with great hope in a remote village in Orissa.

“For whom are you shooting these pictures for?“ asked a man whose shop was washed away by the tsunami waves in Galle, Sri Lanka and went on to ask if my images would bring in help from other countries.

Many years later in Colombo, Menake, a captured suicide bomber of LTTE, asked me if my pictures would help her escape the death penalty. “I don’t want to die, please help me,” said she, with tears rolling down.

For all these unrelated events and questions, I did not have an affirmative answer. All I could do was to mutter, “I don’t know.”

However, in these difficult situations, I have always told myself that I was there as a photo-journalist and I was only following my dharma to take photographs and then put it out to the world. I have refrained from getting involved in the situation and steadfastly remained an observer. Yet over all this time, I have wondered about the learnings from these experiences. I have asked these questions over and over to myself. At some point in time, I understood that they were asking me to turn the ‘lens’ inward and change the course of the journey into myself. I believe the experiences encountered over the last 25 years and the people I met have helped me in getting a better understanding of my life. However, I have not been able to adapt those learnings into my life, but I am aware of it and photography has played a big role in this process.

In the early stages of my career, I was influenced by literature and music. Now, it’s the human condition and the need to understand the human mind that drives me. Why do we do all that we do? Run after stories, awards, recognition? Many answers appear in the horizon and disappear. Sometimes, the answers stay with me for a while and go away.

Another question that has been bothering me for a while is understanding of success. When does an artist become successful? Is it when her photograph sells for a six-figure sum? Or when he wins a major award? Or when he makes enough to buy a fancy home? Or is it when our work really touches people’s heart? Or when it helps to build a kinder and gentler world? Shouldn’t our own pursuits become kind and gentle? Should we question the meaning of success or as philosopher Alain De Botton says, should the measure of success be that of our own?

I firmly believe that arts can help towards establishing a kinder and gentler world, which is needed more than ever before. But art and artists need support and patronage. I am the proponent of the thought that individuals of means must support artists financially. It is relatively easier to get someone to cut a check supporting a school in a village rather than supporting artists. Yes, it is so important to support education and healthcare, but it is equally important to support arts. Japanese designer Kenya Hara , talking about design, stressed on the quality of soil to be good for it to bear good fruits. This is the basic of agriculture but the truth holds good for all spheres of life. Our soil today is non-nourishing, we need to change that, make it fertile.

First Published in Bangalore Mirror on 31 Jan 2013

The tsunami waves shattered his life. Galle, Sri Lanka

The tsunami waves shattered his life. Galle, Sri Lanka

Deepa Mondal in Orissa

Deepa Mondal in Orissa