The Camera, My Teacher

Monitor Lizard

Ignoring warnings from my parents I clamber on to the steep precipice. I am deafened by my desire to get the perfect perspective of the peacock that is about to unfurl its feathers and begin its ‘dance’ as the light drizzle of early evening rain turns into a downpour. My mind runs through the drill: kneel, adjust aperture, fine tune shutter speed and click! I take several photos in rapid succession and climb down before the rain begins to damage my camera.

I have been taking pictures since I first got my hands on a hand me down point and shoot in middle school. Through much experimentation at the age of 10, I realized the potential of photography, growing accustomed to its power to ‘show’ and not ‘tell’ people. My parents noted my ceaseless enthusiasm for the art bought me a digital single-lens reflex camera in 9th grade. In a few days, my Canon 550D became an extension of my body and mind.

I began to live by Robert Frank’s words ‘The eye should learn to listen before it looks’. One humid July afternoon, standing in the middle of a forested creek I was completely aware as I heard the rustle of leaves behind me, felt the direction of the wind on my face and turned forty-five degrees to see a monitor lizard crawling through the undergrowth. I observed the ghastly creature as it serenely made its way through dense tropical vegetation, slimy saliva dripping from its mouth. Throughout my life, I had been mortally afraid of reptiles and as the adrenaline coursed through my body I heard my mind screaming out ‘Flight! Flight! Flight!’ But protected by the shield of my camera, I stood and stared from the safety of the distance endowed by my zoom lens. Looking at the entity through the filter of my camera allowed me to screen out the noise and solely focus on the relation that existed between us. When I pressed down on the shutter button I wasn’t just capturing a moment in time for posterity to observe, I was also interacting with the lizard in the present moment: adjusting my movements so as to not alarm it, hearing out for any approaching kin (of the lizard) and watching its every move, from the turn of a head to the lift of leg. I soon understood that it wasn’t an animal to be afraid of; it was as worthy of love and affection as fluffy puppies whose posters adorned my walls back home.

In the eight years since I started taking pictures, photography has helped me grow as a person. By observing the happenings of daily life through my lens I have learnt to see the extraordinary in the mundane. It has helped me gain a deeper understanding of the relation that exists between me and my world, enabling me to see each object simultaneously as an individual entity and as a member of a much larger ecosystem. As Dorothea Lange once said ‘The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.’ Life exists in the form of a multitude of layers; my camera has taught me how to unravel each one and to have the patience to understand everyone.

DP
Author: Surbhi Bharadwaj

 

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