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.

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?
I
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.

Purpose of Fashion Photography

So I began delving a little more deeper into the world of fashion photography. I guess I’m still trying to explore what exactly fashion photography means.  Some people I’ve discovered so far have such strong styles that I believe much of the Indian market would not even look at it. I find some of this work impressive.

But as a photographer still quite new to the professional field, which side should one choose? The traditional, commercial and sometimes predictable way to pay the bills or starve and follow what you believe is creativity?

When my bank account is a little flush, I believe in the latter. And then I realise I have no money for at least a cup of tea and figure sometimes, you have to sell a little bit of your soul.

The minute you attach ‘commercial’ to your photographer tag, you become a businessperson and an artist. In the 21st century, it is sort of possible for both to survive in the same person, though there is a lot of disgust, frustration and such things when you are wearing the business hat.

But back to the topic of Fashion Photographers, I found one woman among the names I scrounged from here and there.

Does a woman’s interpretation of fashion differ? Of course it does! Duh!

Then why aren’t there more women in fashion photography considering we understand and love fashion, what looks good on a woman, how to be sensual or sexy or funny or all those things. Or at least you will know it better when you start thinking about it. And as women, we constantly watch and judge other women as well, be it even in a cafe. We check out shoes, clothes, hair, makeup etc. But apparently such things do not translate more than a pasttime.

Regardless of gender, the viewpoint of photographers from Europe or NY seems to be vastly different from their Indian counterparts. I have barely even scratched the surface of these huge photographer fraternities, but among Indian names there are probably a couple that spring to mind. And I’ve never been too impressed with their work.

Is fashion way too influenced by the movie perspective? Or don’t people care enough about it to innovate and are happy to duplicate?

And is fashion photography, or just photography for that matter only about pretty people? Isn’t there more of a challenge in capturing an interesting face?

I took photo of a very pretty friend a couple of years ago. When I posted it on Facebook, I got a lot of oohs and aahs… but I’d stopped trusting FB as a source of proper judgement on photos. So on Flickr, I got truly beaten. “Pretty face but what’s interesting in the photo” was the common refrain.

There are people who I believe have truly traditional faces, faces that seem all angles and shadows that play beautifully in front of the camera. Of course, the model’s attitude is really important too… but when you are shooting candids, it isn’t about the person having a perfect skin tone, teeth or eyes. It is the story those things are saying.

And there I am, back to talking about candids instead of orchestrated photographs that tell a story. The challenge that lies there, working with all the elements, to tell the story you want to in a single shot. The shot that makes people want to be like the men and women in those shots. Dream and aspire. Is that the purpose of fashion photography?

Or is it merely… a tool for enchancing beauty? Work from the 50s would tell me it is the former… but more recent work I’ve seen makes me believe it is the latter.

Maybe it is time for innovation again.

(These are notes on my journey of photography. I’m still learning and there’s a long way to go. My perspectives will change everyday as I discover my style, likes & dislikes and art forms. This isn’t meant to insult anyone or anything… just an opinion that might change tomorrow, when I’m hopefully wiser.)

2 Good Photographs

“They take 1000s of photographs and then post some 2 good photographs from that on Facebook. All their friends like it and tell them they are an awesome photographer. Even my 8 year old can do that!” a fellow photographer said to me.

We were talking about the new trend of software engineers turning photographers. Or well, everyone turning into a photographer.

The reason I say software engineers is because I’ve met a ton of them in the past few months who have enough money to buy the latest equipment, shoot inanimate objects or some portraits and hence, are photographers.

But this isn’t restricted to only the engineers. More people are doing this… and the statement by my fellow photographer seemed to nail the problem.

It isn’t that there aren’t some awesome photographers out there. But 2 photos out of a 1000 does not make you one either, and that isn’t being bitchy.

4 days at a mega event, hobnobbing with some truly amazing photographers –  both professional and amateurs and even hobbyists – got me thinking about why exactly we do this.

We had to shoot  fashion shows… elaborate ones over the course of 4 days. At some point, I got jaded… there are only so many ways that you can shoot a fashion show. Is that showing less creativity as a photographer?

I saw people trying to gatecrash the show, desperate to get passes to shoot the event. I was wondering why there was such a fuss… I go back and see the images from the event and mostly, they are similar. Perhaps there is that one photograph that is different… but on a ramp, the same poses, the same looks and clothes. The only difference being the distance and the angle at which we shoot it.

Some photographers said they just want to make money, some enjoyed shooting beautiful and leggy women, some were there because they just like photography.

Everyone has a facebook page. Everyone has a 100 likes on their page. They process the photographs, they photoshop it to beyond recognition. One cannot be blamed for the desire to make money.

But from an artist’s perspective, it seems that art for the sake of art is being lost to commercialism.

That Which is Personal

I was at a photography event over the weekend. One of those creative awards thing… except this time, it was a little more personal because I had submitted a few entires too. I wasn’t sure if I would win… and I wasn’t particularly bothered by it either. I wanted to look what were the entries that would be shortlisted and maybe even win.

I expected brilliance. Particularly in the age of edited photographs and extremely illusory brilliance. I see so many awesome photographs, which aren’t real. They perhaps do not even exist, even by the standards of illusion we sometimes measure photographs.

But the ones that won were… plain. Like the ones I perhaps shot on my phone for my blog on a day there were nothing. Some were similar to installations… juxtapositions or a way to portray the existence of something through something else. The shortlisted entries weren’t particularly impressive… maybe because I was expecting something ethereal. Perhaps as a story line, it made some sense.

But it still seemed… amateurish. True, the images had potential. The exploration of sexuality is a powerful tool in any medium. As are social issues or environmental issues. But I expected… quality. Simply because we are bombarded by photoshopped images constantly. Every magazine, every portal has these photos. So it was refreshing to see these images, with a message. But it did leave me a little confused about quality that was expected in the awards.

Not to mention, every time people say “we had some awesome entries and we found it so hard to decide” I feel like rolling my eyes and saying get to the point. That sort of diplomacy just rings fake.

The other entries, though, were quite interesting. Creative writing… poetry and prose. Short stories and more. If the awards had to be decided the way one read a poem, I’d probably give it to this beautifully dressed woman, who had a throaty voice and really knew how to read a poem. The one that won was someone who didn’t read it that well, so I wasn’t paying that much attention. (yeah that sucks but i’m only human!).

And then there was the Kannada creative writing section – newly introduced. I have grown up with poetry reading. I have heard some awesome poetry in my life. All my life, I have heard certain poems with lines being repeated… and that was the why poetry was to be read, least in Kannada, though everyone said such lines should not be repeated.

Sometimes, I think you have to let go of that rule. The problem here is the people did not know when to let go of that rule. The first guy was good… with almost the right amount of stress and a nice diction. The woman started off better than the guy and then completely ruined it by repeating every line of half the poem! Bah!

But it was beautiful to hear such clear diction and clean Kannada being spoken. If you are someone native to this land and understand the language, you realise how rare that is. Even I don’t speak that clean a language anymore. Slang does ruin a language sometimes.

It was an interesting evening… and I realised I have lost much patience for ceremony. The platitudes, the generalisms and all those words that are an important part of this business.

I feel older. Restless. Tired. Confused. And scared. Scared most of it all… I have a path and I am headed on it, but when I wake up in the morning, I feel tired. Of course, that could just be that I need to change my pillows and put clean sheets on the bed. But… the red tape of life is bogging me down.I wish I could find a pair of huge scissors to just go chop chop chop and clear away this debris to find that clear path to what I am supposed to be doing.

I remember those dreams of old… which have changed so much! A lot of old friends are swinging by… and they remember those conversations and ask “so how is that going” and I surprise myself by laughing and say “oh those dreams have been replaced and I’m looking at something else now.”

Some people are confused… because they couldn’t believe I would abandon something I spoke with passion about. Some are confused. And some, that small rare breed, understand that dreams do change… that’s the only way they survive. It isn’t defeat. It is simply the way we are… all those things we learnt continue to shape our dreams.

I’ll leave you tonight with a line I heard at the poetry reading that haunts my mind – “She dared to tread those lands where even the Gods had abandoned”

The Eccentricity of Art

Reposting from my old blog…

There have been various definitions for this three lettered word. My favorite being – anything that pleases the eye and other senses. By that definition, art could be anything – paintings, music, food, a hard trek in the mountains, sex, a drink and anything else that appeals to you. Maybe it is also by that definition people are creating macabre things in the name of art, or worse, meaningless pieces of… art (?)

There are a number of things below that I found in various places which were classified as art. Maybe I am a hick town girl but the meaning of several pieces of installations completely eluded me, including the artists’ interpretation of them. I also found it funny when I read words such as ‘such a strong presence’, ‘a wonderful eye’ and such things. Yes I remember, eye of the beholder.

Models present creations from Indian designer Narendra Kumar’s collection during the third day of Lakme Fashion Week in Mumbai October 22, 2008. REUTERS/Arko Datta

A model presents a creation by Kazakhstan’s Kenje house design during Kazakhstan fashion week in Almaty November 11, 2008. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov

Corn syrup and sugar on canvas — a new painting by Terence Koh.

Corn syrup and sugar on canvas — a new painting by Terence Koh.