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


Amit Mehra’s KASHMIR

A reference to Kashmir evokes two kinds of imagery in our minds – guns, barricades, wailing women, trauma etc — in general, it’s all about unrest and chaos. The other, of course, comes from Hindi films of the 70s – post-card pretty landscapes. In the last few years as it simmered and tried to give peace a chance, there were few commentaries that gave us – the outsiders – a real glimpse of the land and the life. One was Basharat Peer’s Curfewed Nights and now a new body of work titled Kashmir by photographer Amit Mehra. An exhibition was opened recently in New Delhi’s Photoink gallery and a book will be released soon.

It is difficult to work in a conflict zone; it is even more difficult to find a narrative which is not about the conflict, but about the people who live there. Conflict zones tend to get very dark and layered and it’s next to impossible to find an anchor, let alone the serenity of life there. Working in Kashmir poses another problem – the inherent beauty of the land. It’s easy to succumb to the temptation of making it picture post-card pretty. Amit has traversed this photographically- treacherous zone well and come up with a poignant visual commentary.

This project took him 25 visits over a period of five-and-a-half years. Talking about the work, senior photographer Dinesh Khanna said “This is what a photography exhibition ought to be, years of concerted engagement with a subject, place and its people.”

Amit’s images reminded me of the great photographer André Kertész’s work. Many of them are quiet, snowscapes are stark. Some photographs show a hint of hope for peace though an underlying tension is palpable. The portraits of people such as aspiring footballers, business people in their homes etc are wonderful not only because of their photographic quality but also because they show a side of Kashmir that one has rarely seen. However, I felt that the exhibition could have done with a tighter edit. Amit’s work is a must-see for everyone. For people interested in Kashmir, it is a refreshingly new point of view. For the connoisseurs of photography, it’s a visual treat. Young photographers and students will get a peek into what goes into making a long term-photo project. It’s a great starting point for emerging photographers to understand the process of finding one’s voice. I hope that soon this body of work becomes available for a larger audience through his website or even a dedicated website for the project.

Talking about his work, Amit says that it was hard to ignore the complex political narratives of the separatist movement and the insurgency that followed. This was both a dilemma and a trap, he adds. Was it possible to make a different kind of photograph, which was introspective and not illustrative? Could the anguish and pain of two decades, and perhaps more, be expressed without repeating what had been seen before? Was it possible to represent Kashmir without photographing the presence of the security forces and yet be able to suggest what it was like to live under constant surveillance? These were some of the questions which preoccupied Amit during his travels in Kashmir. I feel that he has been able to do all this in this body of work. Kashmir is one of the finest bodies of colour photography I have seen in the recent times. I eagerly await the arrival of the book.

Amit’s previous book India a Timeless Celebration is a lyrical commentary on faith. His next project is Sufis: Messengers of Peace. He has also done a wonderful photo-essay on Javed Ahmed Tak of Anantnag for the second volume of my UNSUNG project. Javed, who became a paraplegic after being hit by terrorists’ bullets, now teaches computer skills to children with special needs.

Note: Delhi-based Amit Mehra has been photographing for over 20 years. In addition to editorial and advertising work, he has specialised in architectural photography as well.

First published in Bangalore Mirror on Nov 8th, 2012

Jama Masjid, Srinagar, 2010. Copyright : Amit Mehra