Suffering For Art

The evening was spent discussing photography and only photography.

It was supposed to be a meeting, but as it happens when four photographers who are trying to make a living out of photography and hence are stuck between art and business meet, the conversation turned to various other things related to photography.

Such as my gripe with every person who owns an SLR camera seizing the right to be called a photographer. The loss of art, or rather perspective when you want to call something ‘art’.

Such as our gripe with negotiations when it comes to money, collecting payments and those business contracts that have several ‘terms’ now when we did not even have a vague idea of a contract when we began shooting.

The conversation moved on to inspiring photographers, or “Gods” as the senior photographer in the group put it. His idol is James Nachtwey, a photographer I had not heard of but would like to spend a lot more time observing.

His imagery, from what I have seen so far, is all in Black & White. And when the two mix, there must be a tinge of grey. Nachtwey dedicated his life to the art of photography. He did not take pretty pictures. He shot the scenes that happen behind life.

No, I do not know enough about him or his work to have an opinion yet.

My idols or memorable names were mostly Kevin Carter, Steve McCurry. I loved the vividity of their images, the sheer story in the image that you could not miss. Vivian Maier is another one. I’ve explored the world of other photographers so little.

They did not particularly shoot happy images. There was a poignancy even in their happiest images that seeped into you.

I always believed it is harder to capture happiness in any form than sadness. Perhaps the humankind is more oriented towards sadness generally. And strife. And warfare. And drama.

But then we shoot weddings and they are happy moments. They are bright, colourful and full of joy. But we scorn that form of photography as ‘serious’ photographers.

Perhaps it is an overabundance of joy… the excessiveness of today’s weddings make it garish. I remember some photographs of a small wedding in a village. There were no hot models with thalis, no glitterati and all that jazz. But that wedding conveyed joy and the simplicity that a marriage is supposed to be.

I guess you cannot and should not even compare these genre of photographs.

But I wonder does good art come only out of suffering? Is suffering for the sake of art the only way to capture it?
The senior photographer I was talking to mentioned that most photographer wait for violence. Because those images sell. Perhaps that is true. One would mostly click on the image of a man bleeding or being hacked to death rather than an angry mob.

Does a photographer suffer in getting these images? Yes. I believe somewhere it etches on their conscience, their soul.

It is important as a photographer to be a little distant from their subject, some people say. But then Robert Capa says “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you are not close enough.”

I never interpreted ‘close’ as being physically close. I thought it meant how connected you were to your surroundings, how aware you were of the emotions coursing through your camera.

Yes, it happens. Rarer these days to me as the work gets more commercial. But it happens when you look through your lens and you feel what is in front of you. You get that sheer satisfaction of a perfect shot. It does not have to be perfectly lit and composed and all those things. But you captured the essence of the moment… the smile, the tears, the anger whatever be it.

I find that most when I’m shooting children… when they are playing, ignoring the camera… they are so connected yet distant and absorbent. My mind recalls a shoot I did at a local government school. It was some art project day and I was to shoot the children drawing. It was close to lunch break and a group of girls were headed to the loo. They stopped to peek and they saw me with my camera. I turned towards them and they stood there in a group, laughing, shying away but generally delighted to be a part of that moment. That remains one of my favorite photographs. I do not care if it is technically right.

As the senior photographer said, perhaps it is time I stopped worrying and griping about the other people out there. There is enough space for everyone, as I once believed. And maybe my work will speak for me eventually. But it won’t if it actually becomes ‘work’.

You do what you do.

Perhaps it is time I get back to shooting more for the sheer joy of it. For capturing things that I’ve always wanted to portray my perspective in, regardless of who agrees with it.

Maybe it is time to get closer.

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