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objectification

As a photographer, i work towards being a good voyeur. photographs as true portraits of the story. i try not to edit the pic far too much. I hate it when some photographers increase the contrast indiscriminately. there should be a politics to your actions. taking an arbitrary photograph of a poor person and then with increased contrast and sly cropping, trying to make the image say things it does not. its not honest. i had lately begun to appreciate video for this more. video with the evidence of continuity makes it a little more difficult for manhandling the story of the images.

For the last 2 years since i started learning photography, I have categorically avoided taking portraits of people: picture of people posing, and picture of people voyeuristically.

The problem with the pose: Pose reeks with obscene pre occupation with oneself - or from a wider view - with self importance of the homo posers. With digital photography, now any person who is moderately well to do, will have thousands of pictures depicting the mundane conformity that is perpetuated through these selective snapshots of life. the same stupid smile, the same stupid pose for all place for all purposes. or those inane long-hand self portraits where you look elsewhere thoughtfully.. god!
it was ok and expectable when photography was a new invention and development of a single photo was a task by itself. that one shot was going to be that moment's prison. and only one moment could have had the good fortune of being the prisitine prisoner. so might as well bring out the best of clothes, the best of smiles and best of pose.
but when i see fashion photography, i feel like puking. i won't even go into the depravity of notion of beauty this static fashion visual has perpetuated. but what needs to be brought to focus is, through successive 'innovations' fashion photography more and more depicts the depravation and the utterly obscene. excesses, fragility, mundane... it started with being counter culture (which i always advocate :)) but now its the sole language of fashion photography.

(the other day at picadilly restaurant in colaba, amongst a group behind our table were some college kids. the girl does a puppy face and the boy clicks. i have thousands of similar stupid pics from MICA. if i delete them my friends will most probably kill me. )

and what about story photography.. depicting people as they are. caught caged unaware. meanings squeezed out non-judiciously. if the politics of the photographers is right, then its a wonderful tool. but often i see wannabe photographers taking pictures of 'hungry people. poor people'. its so fashionable. there is no sense of an attempt at empathy. or a sense of query. all that they care is quick 20 minutes of clicks and back to the AC van waiting by the road along the slums. i saw a student film posted by a team of singaporean students on facebook. the equipments obviously were high class, evident with clarity of images in low light areas and auto adjust contrast. the film depicted random moments on indian street. background was some folk song singing about a bird that flies away. post modernity is a misunderstood concept and a bad excuse. the movie was so mediocre and an insult to the excellent equipment at their disposal. it was as if they just wanted a look and feel of a National Geographic/Discovery documentary. this is disturbing.

I have often seen tourists in all their self righteousness and insensitivity turning people of the land into an object of temporary curiosity. they forget that its a human you are talking of and not some exhibit. nothing is more stark as it was in ladakh. I can even understand foreign folks who were alien to culture, but it gets disgusting when tourists stop people on road and ask for a picture while the poor local guy is confused or just amused. (imagine a full size indian enthu family holding lil tibetan kids hostage until all the smiles are caged right) often one sees resignation in the eyes.. oh these damn tourists.


well, to put the record straight, sometimes even I am tempted into taking pictures of people. but I only do so when i have -in my heart- the right politics of the photograph, or i had shared some moment or relationship with the person, however brief it may be.

(or in jaisalmer and ladakh, i turn tourists into an object. i am working on a series of photographs of firang tourists. lets see how they react, now they are being an object of amusement. i won't put up pictures amongst those here because, its more probable that a white guy reads my blog than ladakhi workers. and a white guy is more disposed towards suing. hm.. i suppose too much)

Here's an example.. I met this kid on the way from Thiksey to Leh. We were sitting on the same berth so we started chatting up. He was from Kargil. The school there was not good enough so he came to Leh to study. He travels often on these roads. He hates Pakistan. I think he proactively tells this all 'mainland Indians'.
Then after a few days, we met again in the Leh market accidentally. In this photograph he is containing his laughter because his friends are teasing him of being photographed. in other cases, where my act of photographing affects the photograph, i usually do not photograph at all. but here, i had built a friendship and merely communicating it here. (I love this photograph. he burst out with laughter right after this moment. his hand trying to control. his mouth barely keeping in the laughter. )

or here, where the lines between objectification and right story are a little hazy. I took this pic at around 6: 30 AM in Leh city. The kids' parents were working at the road. These kids were also in similar getup apparently helping their parents. I think the parents turned this into a game of sorts for the kids. Its beautiful in not necessarily a 'cute' way. It reminded me of 'Life is beautiful'. (another tenet i follow, don't photograph stuff if its merely 'cute' or 'nice'. never.)
maybe i have misread the situation. may be i am objectifying the kids. i hesitated before taking this picture.



at times like these, i just look at the person i am photographing and ask for permission. usually people are sport enough. but not always. i missed an awesome shot in nasik with a muslim trader with a very different and long head cap in a old motors and cars store. the pic would have been phenomenal, but for the fact that the person being photographed didnt want to be. :(
well, not all beauty need be captured. i have missed a glorious sunset in somnath. i have missed 2 photographs in MICA. waited for about a year and then when the time and lights were right, i wasnt there to take the pic. or at Gir where after taking many arbit pics, my battery ran out when we finally encountered a lion.
oh well, such is life. not every moment needs to be a prisoner of photograph.. or even memory. let it grow into a myth in your memory. now that would be something.

Comments

Clueless said…
Jixie, I love this post. Even though I might not totally agree with your reasoning, but those are your principles and they're good ones (even if a little weird :P ) I love those Ladakhi kids. Reminded me of hill kids of Tawang.
Clueless said…
Jixie, I love this post. Even though I might not totally agree with your reasoning, but those are your principles and they're good ones (even if a little weird :P ) I love those Ladakhi kids. Reminded me of hill kids of Tawang.
Ajinkya said…
thanx :D
wierd is my forte any ways.
ladakh is so beautiful and you know how hard it was to suppress impulse of taking pics when it didnt seem right to me to take pics?
to break away from this, i roamed around for a while without carrying my camera. imagine!
Strider said…
wow
coming all this from a guy who ones said "i hate long posts!"..
hardly coudnt stomach it..
how long did u take to punch it in?
Ajinkya said…
30-40 minutes :P
and dude, i have tried to not espouse on a few points for hte sake of the lenght of the post :P
Write2rhyrhm said…
love the thought process.

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Withdrawal symptoms

Ctrl-tab
Ctrl-tab...
Scroll Scroll Scoll..
Alt-tab
Alt-tab...
Catch yourself slipping away.

Deep  breath. 

Close the browser. silence the mobile and turn it away.

Open an offline-real-paper diary. Stop your thighs from lolling impatiently. Stay still. 

Pick up a pen awkwardly. ahh, the fingers are stiff. It will take a  while for them to get used to holding a pen. Quick finger exercise - open the palm, stretch finger outwards, close into a fist, dig the fingers in. Repeat.
Ok now.. about to pick up the pen again, but eyes dart towards the screen. Tempted to check email.

Shut up. The last consequential email came two months ago. Nothing of consequence is online.

Pick up the pen. Don't fetishize the object now. Get on with it. Put it on paper, write a word and start it already. If I get to a sentence, perhaps I will get into a flow and won't have to look up from the paper at all. 

One sentence later.

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