On Cloud Nine

This image was taken one evening on the way to the Royal Festival Hall where my younger daughter, Steffi, was performing.

I don’t want to write too much about it, except that I loved the scene as I looked up. I had my camera, and knew exactly what I wanted. It makes me very happy to have achieved that.

A sweet poem by Ruby Archer fits the scene..

A little cloud stood lonely
Amid the evening sky;
Doubting and fearful waiting there,—
No other cloudlet nigh.

Sapna Dhandh-Sharma

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

We Forget How Good The Beatles Were

Waterloo Station, London

Waterloo Station, London. Time: 22 hrs GMT.

Thousands of people pouring in and out of London. Escalators, like conveyor belts, transporting people in all directions. Men, women, transgenders, children, all looking only ahead. Some carry coffee/tea mugs in one hand and Metro in the other. The modelling continues throughout the journey. There is absolutely no eye contact but every person is aware of their surrounding and the presence of others as they glide, wriggle, dodge, walk past without knocking into anyone. The whole scene looks like an alien experiment designed to study human behaviour after being injected with a soul-sucking drug. We seem to be all alone together. I am dispassionately humming Abba and switching to The Kinks’ eponymous number.

A piano busker comes into my view. He is playing and singing The Long and Winding Road that echoes in the tunnel. And as if the alien drug injected in me wore off just then….I feel a stabbing pain in my heart. My soul wakes up and moistens my eyes. Tears roll down my cheeks like broken string of pearls. McCartney wrote every single word for me, it seems. I walk past the pianist, mouthing the song as it peters out…

Many times I’ve been alone, and many times I’ve cried.

Anyway, you’ll never know the many ways I’ve tried.

You left me standing here…..

La la la, lalla laaaa…ta ta taaaah…hmmmmm..hmmm

– Sapna Dhandh-Sharma

Spiritual Encounter

Stonehenge, Wiltshire, England

Car journeys usually start at the break of dawn. London to Wiltshire was one such. Food, music, conversations, family – a potent mix of jollity. Few hours went by in a jiffy.

Stonehenge, a disappointment at first sight, but mesmerising on closer experience.

There is nothing instantly obvious to admire. Couple of very large stones erected in an English countryside. But you stand still for a while. Stare straight at the stones. You suddenly begin to feel them transcending their physical outfit to provide a spiritual encounter.

For thousands of years, Stonehenge has remained an enigma.

According to folklore, Merlin, wizard of the Arthurian legend, created the site with the help of giants who transported the stones from Ireland. There are some fascinating modern-day interpretations of the structure, from it being a site built by aliens, probably as their landing site, to it being a place of Druid worship. Some see the stones laid in the shape of female genitalia – as a giant symbol of fertility.

“Stonehenge” — whatever the reality, however it came into existence, wherever it came from, whoever built it – the less we can substantiate its origin, the more we will be drawn to its mysteriousness.

If stared at long enough, the spirits start to communicate. They possesses you.

– Sapna Dhandh-Sharma

The Messiah Must Reside In Such Quietude

Sarkhej Roza, Makarba, Gujarat.

It was an early start. Ahmedabad has changed to an unrecognisable extent. I drove from there through S.G. Highway to Makarba one July morning in 2018 as per the directions given by Bubbles in a cutely sincere manner – two lefts,  then right,  then straight for 2 kms,  then three rights, and so on. It must have been the combination of her accuracy and my ability to grasp that I reached the masjid with sheer ease. The light from the golden torch was making its way to the earth before bribing its way into the roza’s courtyard.

Bhavna Ramrakhiani – Convenor of Ahmedabad Community Foundation

Bhavna stood there to greet me. Oh, what a beautiful face she had. Those eyes!! She instantly came across as a warm person willing to share her knowledge of the place. She spoke a welcome mix of educated English and raw Hindi. We entered the monument, removed our shoes, covered our heads.

Morning scene
Man reading the morning papers

A typical morning scene. Touchingly serene. A few men, unperturbed by my presence, read the morning papers. I felt at home. I kept taking photographs as Bhavna’s soft voice kept singing in my ears. We Indians are spoilt. Our history dates so far back that we casually declare a six centuries old structure as recent. We even neglect it. 

Morning arrivals
Sarkhej Roza

This was Sarkhej Roza, once the home of sufi saint, Ganj Baksh. To one side stood a stone pavilion in a sad state of disrepair and to the other, a courtyard with a masjid and quietly guarded tombs. Several mausoleums, an old well, hundreds of wide steps leading down to a dried tank and the infinite expanse. One part of the mosque, with its tall pillars reminded me of the Acropolis of Athens. It was too much for me to take in on a short morning tour. 

Stone pavilion in state of disrepair
Pillars of the mosque
Path to the mosque

Once in a while a person will walk the white-painted path, that led to the masjid, to speak in private to the supreme being. This path was also taken by the Sun to kiss the cheek of the messiah who must most definitely reside in such quietude.

Prayers
Connecting with the messiah
Girl playing
Well-wheel spoke shaped like a bird
Spoke on the wheel of the well resembling a bird

A small girl jumped and skipped on the steps oblivious to all. A spoke of the well-wheel pulley made to resemble an exotic visitor to the Sabarmati River. A cormorant or a spoonbill perhaps. The little bookshop opened early. A few men sat selling to no customers at all. Bhavna enjoyed a nice chat with them. A silvery bearded man in immaculate white clothes and matching taqiyah takes over the shop. “Maybe he’ll sell only one book today,” I thought. I buy one. But he will remain all day no matter what. Dedication. Service. We all can learn.

Men in the book shop, Sarkhej Roza, Gujarat.
The Old Man with silvery beard and immaculate clothes. Sarkhej Roza, Gujarat.

The cleaner, with her younger grandson in her arms, complained about her useless son-in-law. From Bhavna’s story to this – it felt like I had changed the radio station. 

The cleaner with her younger grandson and running commentary

Her elder grandson played near the main gate. His angelic face captivated me so much that I took several photos of him. He kept changing poses. A young man sat on the chair. 
Maybe, that was the accused.

The elder grandson
Angelic face
The accused. Maybe. Maybe not.

My gaze locked on a woman sitting outside the room that housed the tombs. She was not present there. She appeared to be talking to someone. But there was no one. She then laughed, and continued to laugh. Her ankles were swollen. She was a regular I was told. She walked out as aimlessly as she had walked in.

She spoke to the spirits
Woman selling balloons

Outside the mosque, another lady sold balloons. “She’s my friend,” announced Bhavna. Where did these people buy such delightful smiles from when they could not even afford a decent meal? How can they afford such precious attributes?

On my drive back to Ahmedabad, and before I hit the highway, I saw the lady who spoke to the spirits. She was on her way to… nowhere.

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.

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)