Because it’s there!

Stonehenge| Wiltshire | England

There has been a sad shift from art being created to it being questioned. The photographs were meant to be created as visual delights. A new process, technique, or aesthetic appeal. Words were for writers as they didn’t paint. They explained in thousand words what a photographer could in one frame. 

Then came the period of mass-manufacturing of cameras and photographers – the wave of ‘every person is a photographer’. 

They were. 

Are.

So if everyone is photographing the Stonehenge, then someone who is making a big deal out of photography will now need to concoct some cock-and-bull to somehow convince the world that only their photograph of the monument is worth hanging on the museum and living room walls over the millions of other photographers’ images of the same scene.

That’s all it takes.

People are attracted to the poorly lit/composed image because they are made to believe it’s created that way on purpose, for a reason. It’s deliberately pixelated, and not because the amateur forgot to adjust the camera settings…. The Mosaicy Feel – first ever. Even a bad day of photography got sold.

This not only compromises the effort of a real genius, but also encourages mediocrity as those who shout the loudest get heard, get sold. Mediocrity rules. 

Though, a few geniuses have learnt to shout too. The professionals are having to adapt. 

If my photographs are good enough, then why am I not considered close enough? How did Capa get away with it then?

I’m far from being a genius, but also far from being a mediocre. So, if an image I create evokes awe, then why do I need to explain it? 

Should my answer to why something was photographed be not as straightforward as Mallory’s reason for wanting to summit Mount Everest? 

“Because it’s there”?!

…..Sapna Dhandh-Sharma

On My Jack Jones

Ramillies Street, Soho, London

I am pretty much bored of taking photos. There is no challenge around, nil creativity, internet deluged with mediocre work, everybody falsely praising everybody else, sycophantic and sugar-coated comments becoming the norm, and art critics dead.

Just when I thought I was done, I am able to envision images before shooting, and also getting the results. Oh, no, I am still far from being labelled an expert. Karma is playing a role here. Photography is not letting me go. It loves me. It misses me when I ignore it. It pushes itself in my face, in my psyche, my heart, my hands, and my dreams. It is entrapping me with fluke shots.

Last couple of days I have walked aimlessly on London streets. Like any other metropolis, this too is busy. Too busy to pause, look, or care. The anonymity it lends to individuals is sort of nice. I can sit, think for hours. It won’t impose on me its speed. I won’t be pushed or shoved if I didn’t allow. I am part of a slowly exposed still.

I stop noticing people. They are like a motion blur. My camera is restless. I spend money and time to be there. One good shot would be a bonus. I have shot almost everything on those streets. I start to create ‘odd’ images in my head, and then fire the camera. God damn it! I am starting to get exactly what I pre-see in my head. I have the camera on full manual settings, including the lens. I don’t want perfect results. I want blurs, poor compositions, over-or-under exposed shots, and other such results that will convince me enough that I am not cut out to be a photographer. It is not happening. Something out there is not letting me give up just yet. I want to travel. Have adventure. Spend my days walking and observing life, and nights in dimly-lit rooms in near silence. No camera to distract me.

It won’t happen yet. My camera is intelligent. It programmes itself to my visualisation. It is giving me the results with very little effort on my part except the part where I am being a fantasist. Canon baby is making my fantasies come true. This will last until I fall in love again. I have to pretend to ‘neglect’ it.

Seated on a bench, I watched the pigeon. It won’t leave my feet, hopeful for some crumbs. It then flies. I wait again. I will photograph it in flight, between those buildings, almost silhouette-y, but not entirely, as I want the lamp to have some light from underneath the white globe, and also slightly exposed buildings to give some context to the bird’s position.

Wishful thinking with an all-manual camera and an unpredictable bird.

It comes in the view, and I wait again until it is there where I want it. Will it? Maybe not! It just might!

And, it did.

One shot only. I didn’t want to do a second ‘for luck’s sake’. I wanted a ruined image. I wanted to return home frustrated, angry.

Can anyone ever get a image exactly how they imagined against such odds?

Divine intervention, perhaps.

On a separate note — I feel like the bird. Free. On my Jack Jones amidst urban chaos.

Dalai Lama, The Ultimate Show-stopper

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

The opportunity to photograph His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama was one I had waited all my life. I am not sure if his arrival has always been such a closely guarded secret as it was at this particular event in Rajasthan, India! People got to find out only half hour or so before about the arrival of their much-loved spiritual leader. The moment the news broke, so did the rest. The uncontainable darting, galloping, hurtling, flurry of humanity with lost sense of direction, all wanting to take position for the best view.

Having good connections within the event’s committee meant I learnt about the his arrival the night before. Landing at the venue slightly early, I glued myself to the front, slightly lower, of the stage, without giving into the the pushing and shoving, where I thought he would be seated. I wanted to photograph him up close. Full stop.

There he walked in, the humble superstar, followed by hundreds of Buddhist monks. His mesmerising presence induced a brief state of hypnosis and I forgot all about firing my camera’s shutter. Once ‘awake’, I fired a couple of shots, determined to capture his captivating and infectious laughter. He delivered, like always, in the famed Dalai-Lama-style, leaving me entranced by his charm and magnetism.

Homage To My Fisheye

Soho Square, London. Shot with a Pentax K20D + Pentax 17 mm fisheye lens
(Converted to BW, otherwise unedited)
Soho Square, London. Shot with a Pentax K20D + Pentax 17 mm fisheye lens
(Converted to BW + edited to create the fisheye effect )

I am now a full time Canonite but, over the years, I have tried very many different camera brands in film and digital both: Canon, Fuji, Pentax, Yashica, Minolta, Kodak, Polaroid, Hasselblad, and a few lesser known brands. Several models in each of these brands were tried by me, and each brand owned with several different lenses. At one point I worried I was becoming a collector.

Pentax made fine SLRs and supreme lenses. I had owned several of them, including a 17 mm fisheye. I had no idea when/how/why anyone would use it. For a photographer using a standard prime lens extensively, I found the fisheye too gimmicky for my needs. I was documenting life around me, and my eyes did not see the world like a fish’s eye.

Before I parted with the lens, I was curious to know how a fish would see London’s Soho Square. This shot was the result of my curiosity, but it failed to impress me. All the other fisheye photographers had splendid convexes, but mine was an image struggling to bloat from its belly. How can I present the mildly wide image to the world, I thought, and talk about the impressiveness of the lens? What was all that ado about when all it did was distort everything. and not do a good job at that either? What next? A Dogeye lens? Then a Coweye, a Pigeye, a Waspeye? Like the lens, the image never left my bag.

All this time I was familiar with the full frame equivalence and crop factor calculation, but it never struck the dense me that the 17 mm fisheye from the film days, now being used on my APS-C sensor Pentax DSLR, was not exempt from this. Don’t know why the calculations were restricted by me only to the ‘straightforward’ focal lengths! 😦

Now that I realise the reason behind the lacklustre result, I decided to recreate the image, pretending to be a fish wanting to correct the perspective. I used Photoshop to do this. Stretched, squashed, squeezed, pushed and pulled………..and voila! I ended up with this beautiful image. For a fish. Just kidding! I find it splendidly pleasing. There is so much more to absorb and admire. In short, it is akin to looking at the world from a different perspective, literally.

I regret cursing my lens and parting with it prematurely. Each time I see this picture, I imagine a gold fish with a curled lower lip, looking at me with annoyance and saying, “These humans and their obsession with the standard view!”

(The only reason some of us Pentax lovers moved away from the Pentax range of cameras was because it, sadly, delayed entering the full-frame market. Even now, their D-range DSLRs are highly underrated. In my opinion, they were capable of producing superior images that were on a par with those with the best Cannikons of the time)

Long Odds

Old Compton St. Soho, London.

When the end result of any endevour is gratifying, our attempt remains to replicate the result, only slightly better. Is it achievable though? Yes, and no. I have known photographers, including myself, trying to recreate an image by using an earlier image they have produced as a reference, because they believed the image was good, but could have been better. This kind of attachment with personal work and the want of reproducing the same can at times lead to disheartenment, but can also, miraculously, be rewarding. Despair comes from not being able to produce a ditto copy, and the pleasure, albeit deferred, is derived from producing something totally fresh, and equally as satisfying. The idea is to keep trying, with or without a motive, as long as it keeps you happily involved and does not feel like an ‘effort’.

This image here was my attempt to recreate my favourite image (Late Noughties). Impossible, it proved to be. The immovable building or the same posters of the long-running musical lent nothing to deter the long odds. So, was the result unsatisfactory? Far from it. The result was not a duplicate, but it was an excitingly fresh image. Did it make me happy? Absolutely, even if not immediately. It takes time for us to detach from a sweet ‘past’ to accept the ‘present’. It took a long time. What I now see is a fairly good image. The ‘protagonist’ (to the extreme left) of the image’s unfolding drama does brilliant justice to the static scene. The supporting ‘cast’ behind him adds that little extra to the scene. A few backs-turned-to-the-camera were the must haves for the mystery part. Is a photograph, after all, not all about story telling, visually?

Late Noughties

Old Compton St. Soho, London (Colour)

Photography, or the love of it, came early in my life. Very early, in fact. Street photography, as a genre, was unheard of in those days (at least in my part of the world), even though I shot streets, and people on it, majority of the time. My interest in photographing streets, specifically, developed in the late noughties, after having been treated for a life-threatening heart condition following my husband, Vic’s brain haemorrhage and later a brain surgery. The two frightening back-to-back experiences at first shook me, but later strengthened my will. With the new lease of life, I felt the need to connect more with people. This was done my way, the photographer’s way, the-determinedly-stepping-on-the-streets-with-the-camera way. The shot (above) was one of my earliest photographs as a street documentary photographer. I started with Soho in London. Since, officially, this was my ‘first’ street shoot, I didn’t take the images too seriously. My thought was to hone my skills further. After nearly a decade (thousands of images later), and this might purely be subjective, this image from my earliest street shoot is the best of all my street images. Forever torn between ‘colour’ and ‘black-and-white’, I paste both here and let the viewers have their pick. Comments are welcome.

Old Compton St., Soho, London (Black-and-white)