“But first, you need to have a bad camera” – Miroslav Tichy
There is an insatiable lust that brims over inside people today to capture their surroundings for posterity – a search for the perfect frame that will endure in mind and memory, time and space. The concept of “perfection” has been wound ever so deeply into our psyche that we construct ill-conceived notions of the “ideal”.
I have always believed that a photograph is like a passing thought – it is transient if not put into action. To support the utter fluidity of a photograph, cameras and other equipment are equally wily.
Having graduated from an old Motorola phone camera to a point-and-shoot and finally, to the apparent epitome of photographical fashion – a DSLR, I began to question the popular definition of “quality”. Through photography I began to scourge new interpretations of aesthetics and the components of ideally “good-looking” photographs. I found myself bang in the middle of my first and to-be perpetual muse – my city, Delhi.
Delhi is a city of contradictions. Vestiges of the past hark of days long gone while glass houses boast of a room with a view. English is flung from brocade-bound windows while Hindi rules the streets along with the harsh clash of metal against metal on roads that wind, twist and turn, hypnotizing all who dare to stare the city in the eye.
I strove to “define” Delhi myself and on my own terms. I would feel the rain stinging my face as I stuck hands out of moving cars to capture trees bent in storm, wet roads and metal slick with water, angry drivers and wet dogs.
These were years of absolute bliss and I saw flawlessness reflected in everything. It took patience, understanding and two visits to the service centre to finally enter into a long-term relationship with my camera. And I began to paint.
Delhi was an open book written in witty idiom and I was an unequivocal fan. I slid down narrow alleys, stood up on zipping motorcycles, squinted at dazzling sunsets, craned my neck at dizzying heights, caught reflections flitting from windows where noises turned to lights, people morphed into colourful blurs and activity became still-life on my display screen.
I loved capturing Delhi in monochrome. Blacks, whites and grays blew up, filling up forts, roads, cars, eyes and animals. There was something raw about imagining colour rather than offering it up to the viewer.
As a photographer, I began to pity those who leapt into the search for “something new” – with its vanishing starting point and an inconceivable end. The constant yearning for novelty kills the art – I am a staunch believer of refurbishing perspectives but the continuous urge to invent and create, blinds. Delhi taught me to “re”-invent, “re”-create and “re”-define – not just the city but also the way I saw myself.
The perfect picture lay in the eyes of the photographer and, as I once scribbled at the back of my DSLR Instruction Manual, “Every viewfinder has a story to tell.” I began to notice other photographers out in the city – I could differentiate between intentions and often experienced a mutual respect, glances shared in the confines of the same arena.
Contrary to what might be the perception of Delhi with regard to women, a camera is a singularly powerful weapon and I found myself being viewed in a very different light when armed with one. All this added to my journey over the years as someone unraveling the various threads of understanding the photographical arts and the concepts associated with it.
Delhi is a wilderness caught in an urban trap; its bewildering array of sights is enough to entirely disorient anyone with a camera.
In this ordered chaos, I have woven tale after tale and I know the city will always have a lot to say. Perfection is subjective; I see it in my every day routine. I feel it in the respite that a Tughluq arch offers, from the searing heat. Every day of mine spent in the city has led me to see in “frames” – possible photograph here, finger-tracing areas of contrast and exposure while every single moment captured has allowed me to take something away, back with me – something I can knit into my amateur tapestry of perspective and context.
I have gone back to reframe a landscape treating it as uncharted land and I find that in my retraced steps, I set the timer to go off – picture perfect.