Just A Rant

This is what started it off – a message on Facebook that said ‘hi… I’m looking for a photographer to shoot some stuff but I can’t pay. It’ll be a great learning experience for you and you can add this to your portfolio. If interested, please send me your work.’

Innocuous enough… But something snapped when I saw the last line.

There have been plenty such messages. And sly jokes against such people too.

But it continues to baffle me how people expect to get work done for free – for your benefit, of course! – but want to see your work before they hire you. Which translates to – I want really good work but I don’t think I should pay you because working for me is an honour?

Or does it mean – I get to judge you and insult you by not paying. Or I think there are morons out there who do really good work and I’m gonna cheat them by not paying, and using the mantra ‘but that guy said he would do it got free… So why should I pay you.’

I actually don’t get it.

There are several people who use this statement. They want everything free and judge you for it.

For these people I say, if you want quality, you pay. You can’t expect to have your cake and eat it too. you can’t not want to pay but still want to see the work. Someone wants to shoot to learn. Let them. Or do it yourself. Get a friends with a camera and have fun. You’ll learn why professionals charge as much as they do.you’ll learn how much work and love go into it.

And there are people who would give in to it this because they believe this is the way too drum up business and have a portfolio.

Do these photographers realise they are not just setting a bad standard for themselves but are also killing the market? And insulting themselves.

If you want to learn, shoot. Shoot everything. Play with light. Play with the subject. Get close to your camera. Assist others.

You don’t go on a professional shoot without having any knowledge, all by yourself. That isn’t learning.

If you think you are good enough, charge accordingly. Not do free shoots just so you can say you did that. You are insulting yourself and and other photographers when you do that.

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Legal-ese

The past week has been filled with legalese.

It comes from various ends but it has been there – legal documents, laws, little sub-laws, loopholes etc. It was definitely interesting to figure out all this, when I realised that the Indian part of the law was heavily one-sided. You just had to figure a way out to get to the side it was leaning towards. So here’s some of those fascinating issues which made me wanna tear my hair out.

The Copyrights

I read an article on Caravan about how a little photocopy shop in South Delhi is being sued by a popular publisher and a few other people. His crime? He used to photocopy, among other things, a few pages or more than half the book, for college students. He did not copy these and sell them, as some do. He ran a shop and he photocopied whatever people asked him to. But apparently, he is now a party in violating the copyright law in India.

India is a country where we routinely flout copyright laws. Starting from the menu you that is in front of you as you browse this blog on your smartphone, the little unbranded shoe shop outside the coffee shop, the printer, the website designer, the salon you like so much… it goes on.

That’s probably a cultural thing… we download everything and we want it free.

So I cannot expect special treatment for written words or images. But what do you do when a photograph you shot is being used in a menu in an obscure restaurant on the highway? You cannot sue them. They’ve never even heard of such things and will probably blame the guy who printed the menu, and hence dug out the images also. You would not dare take him to court. You cannot even talk to him about Creative Commons Licensing because, being a common man, he has no fricking clue about it.

I tried to discuss this very matter with the people who host my site. They are US-based, where the copyright laws and the judicial process accompanying it is much better and faster. They advised me to use CC Licensing.

I could not argue. How do I explain that there are people yet in the world who are not even aware of CC? That I would not be averse to people using the photographs I’ve shot if they give me credit for it and it is not violating my clients’ copyrights. But nobody even thinks of giving you the credit for the photo they are using. Definitely not the guy who has ripped off the photograph from Google because he didn’t want to contact a legit organization or the site from which he ripped it off.

This was an educational experience. I was taught how one can always rip off an image, no matter how many scripts you put on the page. The very people who claim to protect your privacy – the browsers – give you tools to read script, edit and copy.

Of course, control on the net is an illusion. But perhaps having the first line of defence gives us the impression that we are trying.

People are annoyed that the new copyright laws give the photographers more control over their images. They call it bad. They say it is draconian. Why? Because it means you might face worse action for using my image without my permission? Would that be draconian?

Draconian Internet Laws

India is on a spree of cleaning up and ‘updating’ its laws. All its eyes are on the internet, which they believe is the big bad wolf.

Internet is bad. It tells you things. It tells you wrong things. It incites people to riots. They cite examples of some recent incidents, though in all the cases the internet had a small role to play. The message in question was spread through SMS and other forms of media as well. Sure, things went viral, but why blame the net alone?

Does the government’s phobia of the internet stem from the fact that it forces them to be more answerable and makes it difficult to contain the group that asks the tough questions?

People protest widely when a cop makes a stupid statement. People stand up and say they are against corruption. Freedom marches and meets, which were probably attended only by a devout handful, now see middle-class, sedan-owning people turning up in their swanky cars.

The government’s answer, like they reply to all things they do not like, is to shut it down. They want to shut down websites, shut down cartoonists who make fun of them shutting down sites, shut down people mentioning politicians names irreverently…

Does this work?

We have ridiculous laws in every single aspect of life. The government’s feeble justifications are beginning to piss most people off. There has been a deluge of scams… so many that I don’t give a damn who is involved anymore. Let’s can them all.

Flashy New FDI

The scam behind this will probably come out in a decade. Sooner, if the good people have their way.

The government claims this will bring more jobs. As much as I love my brands, I’m not really sure why we need a Walmart in our country. We have the Reliance(s), Lifestyles, Centrals, Shopper Stops, More, Total, Smart… there have been enough worries about them putting the small guy out of business.

Hell.. it is happening right now. I’m forced to step into a More or a Spar or a Food World if I want something as basic as toothpaste. And I’m forced to settle for the brand they carry because they don’t interact with the ‘small time players’.

How exactly will this create jobs?

Right now, India seems to be in a twisted ping pong game… with too many balls and a splintered bat, which is being tossed to people who have no idea about the game.

The Wedding Photographer

We choose photography out of a deep love for photography. To create something new. Of course, there is something glam about it as well. Sometimes. Most people don’t realise the amount of work that goes in behind the scenes. But that’s okay. The hard work Jeeps the weaklings from becoming photographers.

It is easy to put up a Facebook page, get 50 of your friends to like it, post a few images and call yourself a photographer. But that’s okay too. This is the world where we coexist with Justin Beiber.

But as a photographer, why do we look down upon done forms of photography. It is cool to be a fashion photographer. You are Arty and maybe a little dry if you do interior photography. You are fun if you do food photography.

But if you do weddings, ummm… It is not spoken so much in polite company of other photographers. Why is this divide?

Hell, I shoot weddings and I sometimes distance myself from it. I’ve my reasons but I never classify myself as only a wedding photographer. Because I do a lot more.

It struck home today when someone said wedding photography didn’t count. They had a better opinion of me when I said I do other stuff too.

Weddings are tough. Sure, you know your money shots and then you have a few extras. But unlike a studio set up, you very one chance and a few seconds to get it right. A wedding photographer works as hard as any other photographer. Then why are we snobbish about this?

Is it because you have so many people doing it? Or the money? Or because it has been around forever? I like to shoot people… And though I can’t give my clients photos of their uncle sozzled and doing an imitation of John Travolta at their wedding, it is fun. And I can take photos of the uncle dancing for my amusement.

True, people are obsessed with perfection on this day to the point of inanity sometimes. But every client wants perfect photos.

Why are we dismissive towards wedding photoshoot?

Art

The word has been buzzing around in my head for the past few days.

Questions like ‘what is its purpose’ or ‘what would you call art’ and ‘what would you called art that is being sold’ etc.

We used to debate about these things in college, over cups of tepid tea and samosas. Teas and samosas would get over and we’d never reach any conclusion but ‘each to their own’. Some of our  opinions were art was its own reason to exist; art, once it left the artist, did not belong to him/her anymore and was open to interpretation; art should not be commercialized.

I sat over a discussion today where I tried to explain that I had given up trying to ‘pitch’ my photography skills to clients. Sure, it is still a business but I realised that I lost the creative edge somewhere when I tried to look at it as a business. When I tried to think about terms like ‘invest’ and ‘growth returns’ my mind simply stopped functioning.

Sure, I keep balance sheets and try to figure out what I needed to earn every month to keep going and who had to pay up yet. But I never made it beyond vague ideas for marketing and cold calls.

My friend insists that if I need to stay ahead of the competition, I need to start thinking of those things. But I seem to have reverted to what I initially thought – “I Like to Shoot and so I Shall.”

Can one really be a ‘professional’ photographer with such an attitude?

A professional photographer not only knows how to shoot in today’s world but knows to deliver what the client expects. He also knows how to price and pitch to the client and I don’t know either.

I generally quote a figure I deem reasonable for the amount of work put in, which is always a tough task. As I shoot more, I get a better idea of what a shoot will require. And I impose terms and conditions. And somehow, most clients seem to appreciate it. Perhaps it makes me seem more professional.

One photographer said that when we throw around a little attitude with the price, clients think we are better. Sadly, that often seems to be the case. When you claim you are busy with several projects, or tell funny anecdotes, they seem to respect your ‘talent’ more.

Me? I just want my work to talk for me. I’d rather that you see my work and think you’d want to pay a certain amount for it.

I’d hate to sell my work to you by the number of photographs I can offer, freebies of coffee table books and albums and specialized portfolios. I’d hate to cut you a deal saying I’ll throw in this as an extra that the other photographer will not do. While I understand you are looking at the best possible deal for you in terms of money, I hope you’d also remember that this is art. It is your perspective that matches best to the artist.

There is a reason that something appeals to you and you want it… what is the point of bargaining?

Photography is perhaps one of most commonly seen forms of art that is not seen as art. There are so many visuals that we forget that it is a composition and a vision.

And when me, being a photographer, manages to forget that, it is a bleak day indeed. Perhaps I do not shoot as much but if I enjoy what I shoot when I shoot, if I manage to compose the picture that makes me happy, it is a good day. If that gets your appreciation too, that is a brilliant day because it means someone else can see my vision.

It seems banal to price such things but I need to buy my camera and pay my bills… and well, hell, it is a commercial world. So we ask you how much would you want to pay for such art that you love.

Perhaps we do whore ourselves out by asking that question… but I’m in the profession already. But I hope never to forget that I’m creating something special. That it is art. Not a product I’m mass producing. Investments, competition and growth returns pale in front of it.

It is art.

Why Do We Shoot?

Why do we shoot?

Why do shoot photo essays?

Why do we catalogue other people’s lives?

What significance does our photograph hold to others?

Why do we try to explain?

These are questions that have been plaguing me ever since I began shooting. I know the answers, in some part of me. But just when I think I’ve almost got the words for it, they fade away.

Today, I think the answer is ‘just because’.

As simple as that. Just because I like to shoot. Because I think there is a story and I want to tell that story. Just because I want to tell that story in my way. Just because I see something and it intrigues me.

Perhaps I will never find a ‘justifiable’ answer that people can comprehend. How do I explain this need to capture something on frame? That I see an image, a juxtaposition, an irony, a memory, a contrast, a sameness, a definition and I want to preserve that moment.

The images we shoot will perhaps lose relevance some day. That someday, someone will see the photograph of the pool I took today and shrug and move on.

Or maybe they will sit and wonder why someone took this photograph. They will wonder about the story behind the pool.

Was there a reason why the cavemen drew on walls of his cave? It was art, it was a message or perhaps he was just sharpening his stone axe and we interpreted as something more.

Art often lies in the art of the creator and explained through the voice of a viewer. And they can and often are radically different.

If we asked Picasso why he painted something, or Wordsworth about why he composed a poem about daffodils, they would probably give us very disillusioning answers.

Art serves its own purpose. It exists. It makes us think. If I drew a line today and called it art, someone, someday would think about it.

Is photography art? Yes, it is.

Even perhaps those over photoshopped pieces that we scorn. Maybe someday an anthropologist will talk about our need for vividity, for starkness.

What about photojournalism then?

Do the millions of photographs we take have any relevance? I know after so many years in journalism that they rarely make a difference. Our generation suffers from a sensory overload.

But I tell those stories to fulfill my desire. It is a purely selfish creation, as art often is. The need to purge something. Once it is done, you feel calmer, think clearer. Sometimes, once it is purged, it is also banished from your frame of thought. Perhaps that is why many photographers do not revisit their work.

I don’t think I’ll make a difference. That naive, idealistic girl is far gone, just a few months after journalism school. The photo essay I upload today and is shared a 100 times will be eclipsed tomorrow by a story about Aishwarya Rai’s dress at Cannes.

But maybe we are all closet optimists and we hope that somewhere, someone looks at that piece of art and starts a ripple of their own, their own story.

What else is there to do here but to tell those stories and make a tapestry and be smug bastards? Or depressed bastards. Perhaps it is just an attempt to subdue the futility of it all and a desperate attempt to leave a mark on the seashore.

See? So many answers. It all boils down to just this ‘because I want to take that photograph.’

Link of the Day: Steve McCurry’s Kabul

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?
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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.

Artist vs Camera

Someone posted on my page recently – Is the artist more important or the camera?

My answer was obvious – the artist.

But he argued that the camera is equally important. Without good equipment, it would not be possible to capture good images.

As an artist, I know I’ve captured some truly brilliant stuff on my phone. And some horrible ones on my camera. And I also am aware that a better camera gives me better control over what I want to capture.

How much importance do you give to your camera?