Wednesday, September 11, 2013

New and growing obsessions – age old impulses

For the last few years, I have found that I am hardly ever without a camera. Whether I am at home, dropping monkey off to school or fetching her from it, shopping for vegetables, paying bills, going out, working, or at an event, some form or another of photographic equipment is never far from my fingers.

I used to be, until comparatively recently, one of the “occasion”al photographers who make up about 90% of total camera sales around the world. When we travelled, and we did travel a lot, we took a lot of pictures, or when there was an occasion – like a birthday or a wedding – but that’s largely how it was.

Part of the reason, back then, for not being a totally obsessed shutterbug was cost. Film photography is expensive. Cameras were expensive too. Add to that the cost of film, as well as the cost of development and printing, and the recurring expense became almost prohibitive, especially for a student, or someone just starting out in life.

At this stage in life, photography was mostly event based, whether that event was a trip or an occasion, a party, wedding, or Durga Puja. Like with most people, the albums were filled mainly with the pictures of people and monuments. Although, as early as age 12, the odd still life had made its way into the shots I took, by necessity, most of the shots were of the relevant occasion.

Over the last 15 years or so, the frequency and type of shots have both changed. As I became more able to afford development and printing costs, I took more pictures, outside of the structure of events. As I took more non-event pictures, I clicked more of the everyday things – skyscapes, still life, interesting faces, anything that appealed on the spur of the moment. But still, it was not a constant activity. I didn’t walk around with a camera all the time.

Digital storage, and photography studios making CDs of the pics I took added another layer. Now I didn’t have to worry about printing costs, and I didn’t have to get shouted at, all the time, about how much space my negatives and pictures took up. I didn’t have to worry about damage to the negatives, I didn’t have to worry about fading quality, I didn’t have to stress about losing all my pictures every time we moved. I could just dump them all on to a hard disk, put all the CDs into one of my massive CD tins, and forget about it.

Then came digicams. What a boon! Now I didn’t have to worry about any development at all! Click and download! The small digicam became an almost regular companion, but for occasions or trips, things I particularly wanted to record photographically, I still reached for the big guns… the EOS, loaded with film. Until I could afford a Digital SLR (not the cheapest thing on the planet).

Today, there is the cell phone camera, that always travels everywhere with me (obviously), and can be whipped out at a moment’s notice to record anything that catches the eye… from an interesting cloud formation to a bird drinking out of a discarded tyre by the roadside. Then there is the little digicam, a much more advanced version compared to the first one I once owned, with numerous interesting settings, and much more chance to tinker. This sits in my purse, constantly. Wherever I go, it goes, and is reserved for those shots where I feel like I need a little more precision, resolution, or more pixels.

And, of course, there is the big gun. The digital SLR which travels on opur trips, participates in our occasions, and yes… gets whipped out of its case everytime something interesting catches my eye out of my bedroom or living room windows. From catching every nuance of expression on my little one’s face, to freezing the egret on the neighbouring rooftop for posterity, it serves all purposes.

Unsurprisingly, I find myself more and more behind a lens, at everything, almost to the point of actually experiencing discomfort, and vague distress, when I am without a camera. And I can trace that distress, maybe, to a theory advanced by one of my favourite thriller writers. Photography is a distancing mechanism, he says, a way of putting something between you and the world, of becoming the observer rather than a participant. It is also an exercise of ego, putting yourself in the position of commentator, albeit a silent one, of the beauties as well as the foibles and ugliness of the world.

As I have grown older, and progressively more cynical and disillusioned, my attraction to photography has increased exponentially, keeping perfect pace with the growth of this disillusion. As I find myself more and more withdrawn from the world, from the grating ugliness, selfishness, and sheer stupidity I see around me (there's the ego again, thinking I am any better), I also find myself more and more constantly behind a camera. My frequency of taking pictures has gone from one roll of film (36 shots) per trip to over 6000 shots on my recent US trip (not counting the ones from my cell phone cam). I am so much more comfortable now when I am just recording rather than reacting, making my silent comments – nasty or nice – rather than saying it all out loud.

Silence is becoming so much a larger part of my life, that words are no longer enough of an outlet. I engage too much when I write, put too much of myself into it, words are too from-the-gut. Photography is more my “meh”. The coment I toss out, the things I say not-so-emphatically. But it is also where I probably unwittingly and even unwillingly reveal more of my real personality, my soul, things even I don’t know about myself.

Maybe that is why I am comfortable sharing my words with the world so easily, through books, blogs, and more, while I cringe at sharing my photographs with people I don’t know and trust. 

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