You want to make your tranquil morning scenes cloyingly beautiful ? I do not know if I want to make today’s pictures of a stagnant puddle, a marsh with some birds in it and several on the overhead electric wire a cloyingly beautiful picture, such as Monet would make in an impressionistic landscape painting. Perhaps I could try to make the photos painterly, approximating them to water-colors.
Supposing I make the sky vivid, the trees bursting, the lake sparkling. My consciousness sweeps the countryside, the temple in the distance, two trees hovering on them protectively. I throw in a few birds in different stages of fly. Some in the waters, some in their space, some just floating nowhere, some with wings grotesquely folded in the air, as though they were some balls flying. Some are mere “v’s in the sky disappearing into the clouds. The tree branches are blobs of green. The hills are a mere brown spilling to the plains. The men are ants moving about on a serious ant-like business. A man walks in a mud track with a water clay-pot balanced on his shoulders. The water is spilling on to his shirt making it indistinguishable from a sweat stain.
A bird parliament on electric wires. Huge boulders lit in morning sun. Fence wire cutting off sunlight and throwing thin shadows on water ripples. White birds hovering on water surface. Some calmly chewing buffaloes in the distance .
I wish I could paint a water color. I cannot achieve all this on a digital photograph by mere post-processing.But I try.
We are talking here of the Big Picture in photography, exactly as we tend to talk about it in our poetry:
This time I look down from my balcony
And see men ,women and dogs and trees
Pushcarts of knickknacks, bright sunshine,
Colored plastic bags flying , broken toys
And left out laughter of playing little girls
On the erased street art of watchman’s wife
I recall scraps of yesterday’s night-smells
That contained vaguely lying dog-forms
White tarpaulin veils of the sleeping cars
And a faint glimmer of a dark night’s stars
The street wore on a splendid night shirt.
I also see a bald pate of old man smoking
Bidi into a sun-shine world of shadows
Its smoke curls emerge from behind closed
Eye-holes , directly from hunger thoughts .
I recall other days of jasmine strings lying
Curled up in a basket on an old man’s head
Of white mustache , at two rupees an inch.
I smell smells of fried onion and bread crust
From houses that cooked in a world below.
I still feel sounds of trash van spluttering
From smoke from its tail, its stinking smell
Rising to the heavens, its driver laughing
At the remembered jokes of its trash man
Walking behind with plastic bins of smell.
I recall days of rain, pearl-drops from roof
Kids playing in wet roads, cars awash with sun
From behind white clouds, emptied of rain
Puddles of frogs that would turn carcasses
In next day’s morning’s walk, in rain-smells.
I recall the bonfires of watchmen and kids
In the road, their white smoke hitting the tree
That supplied twigs that were once the tree
Their fires slowly warming little winter palms.
This time round I look down from my balcony
That is where I manage to get my big picture.
Big picture here is in a metaphorical sense,but not in the way of a larger-than-life. Here we assume a position of vantage like the top management of a company which does not micro-manage but has an idea of how the company is going. A larger-than-life involves exaggeration ,a sense of heightening so as to get to the truth. In Big Picture here you see men, creatures and things as mere aggregates, only an idea that takes you forward in the achievement of beauty. Beauty, not truth.
I make a story, not of men, not of faces, nor of thoughts. I merely tell about a space in time, a shifting space in a moment of time. A spatial consciousness, an awareness of space that links the participants in the space to aggregate space. A paradigm.
A higher place where I stand , for example ,on a balcony to capture life’s underlying nuances in the street. A mountain top from where I see ants of men crawling about in the plains, among fields and rivers, buffaloes standing as tiny specs on hot river beds, crowds of people lying huddled in closed places like temples and mosques and squares and all of them sharing a space together. All of them saying something together. A window is my vantage from which I see the vast expanses of grass ,trees ,paddy fields ,birds, furloughing bullocks, endless mud tracks,blue mountains disappearing in the horizon. The house window is my vantage from behind its rusty iron bars. The train window is my vantage for creatures and things that will go up and down in a space of telephone wires. A furiously moving merry-go-round is my vantage for looking down on quickly disappearing people and objects.
Some times I reach the rocky wilderness that lay beyond the streets,
To see sun-smelling rocks, and shrubs that make the other world
That seemed to exist beyond the banality of our daily existence
I click for strange frames in which rocks, shrubs and men co-exist.
My eye-frame brings strange bed-fellows into a plane of existence.
I click to understand colors, to understand shapes, not for pictures,
Not totalities of a beauty vision formed by well-thought motifs.
I click for strange ways in which rock merges in light with dead trees,
For the shared consciousness of rocks, trees and people, machines
Caught in a single frame encompassing these and several elements.
I click for the chemistry that binds the sun, the rocks, and the shrubs
With bits of blue sky that exist with them, glued to them on the top.
Today in the morning walk, as I turned towards another street I came upon two women in bright red sarees against the morning sun. Their figures etched against a bright orange light presented a most inviting photo-opportunity. In people photography it is the colors, shapes and textures of random people that make for beauty.
More particularly it is the dominant splash of color emerging out of one or two figures that becomes the chief motif of the picture .Here it is the color that plays the main part in the drama of human actions as though the color explains everything and is the motive spring for the subsequent human actions.
In people photography I look at people as mere extensions of nature ,a part of the soul of nature contributing to it and merging into its ambience. To me their faces do not matter because they do not exist in my photo-space independently as themselves but exist as part of nature.They form part of the spatial consciousness and in their movements further the dynamics of nature .They merge effortlessly into nature reacting to it like any other objects in nature through the ambient light that falls on them . Groups of people sitting in corners or huddled together in closed spaces contribute to the spirit as though they are an integral part of the surrounding environment. We look at their shadows ,their silhouettes ,the way they sit huddled in groups,their body languages complementing each other. They become part of the history of the time-space ,a cosmic event chronicled in a photograph.
Especially people on the river banks.as they become part of the river,bathing ,waddling,boating in groups,washing clothes,washing buffaloes etc. People sitting before the temples , pilgrims walking in groups in the orange hues of sunrise.
Henri Cartier-Bresson’s portraits of the famous personalities of the time are remarkable for a certain quality in the depiction of their personalities which almost makes them closer to paintings. I am talking about the capture of what he calls the “inner silence” of the personalities.I have read recently somewhere that about 80 of his portraits are currently on display all of which reveal ,with a few exceptions,a duel between the photographer out to bring out the inner silence and the subject who is reluctant to reveal himself.
Cartier-Bresson’s wife who happened to be with him when he had this photography session with Ezra Pound has remarked about the heavy” external silence ” that prevailed during the session .The portrait was of Pound who had a disturbed appearance,hair in disorder and eyes reflecting wildness as though the depression which he had recently gone through had still left some marks on his mental health.
Apparently the photographer could capture the essence of the poet’s life quickly although his session with him lasted barely an hour or so,and most of it was spent on arranging things and getting the props ready.A painter spends a long long time with the subject and has interactions with him over prolonged sesions and is in better position to understand the subject .The greatness of Cartier-Bresson lies in the way he has tried to capture the “soul” of the subject despite the difficulty in getting him to reveal himself.
Some times a photograph can be used effectively to define the character of a place or ethos.Obviously such a picture will have disparate elements somehow fusing together to convey the overall character of a place or scene.We come back to the old premise-a picture manages to integrate several elements that share a common spatial consciousness which is tied to a particular chunk of time. The character of the scene is defined by the way the elements fuse together to convey a single unified impression.
In the abovephotograph ,taken from the timesonline.uk.com archives,one can experience the defining character of the coalmines premises on a wet afternoon .The defining character is of course the mind-numbing dreariness of the place which can be experienced easily although the scene is from a place far removed from us in space and time.
Photography can be effectively used to make stylized representations of the human condition in much the same way as poetry .Here the photograph ceases to be a mere document depicting the current reality and assumes a much larger profile -that of an artistic representation of a universal truth.In several of these representations you can see the human drama unfolding and the characters playing out their part on much larger canvas ,their immediate concerns losing their significance and their role and scope enlarged beyond the immediate context.
We may talk of exploring the beauty of the human form in photography through a study of archetypal postures observed in anonymous humans.This we can do by looking at their fascinating possibilities by positioning their bodies in different postures in silhouettes.But there is another aspect to it. Instead of in a silhouette we may look at the individual as a speck of light in the darkness of the universe.The light is of course controlled and is guided by what we would like to do with the manner in which light falls on their bodies. By controlling the light that bounces off their bodies we can create subtle textures in their exteriors and luminous halos around their presences. This we can do at the composition stage but,more particularly,at the editing stage which puts in your hands an array of tools for manipulating light and shadow ,hues and tones.
There is a bit of thinking in photography ,especially in bringing about just that much light which will show things in a different perspective than what they appear usually in.Apparently the effort is towards running away from reality. How do we run away from reality ? Probably by thinking that the reality is much deeper than appears on the face of it. What if the perspective falsifies the reality and the art presents things in a perspective which only exists in the mind .Of course the obvious answer is that it does not make any difference and what you eventually see is the reality. We are not duty-bound to concern ourselves with reality as it exists and secondly having found the reality what do we do with it ? Thirdly we do not know that the reality as we see is in fact the reality that we are concerned with.
Having thought this way, I begin to think if I can find some approximations to truth while copying reality in its normal existence .For instance my figures become blurred and my background a different texture .Why do we relate to paintings more than we relate to photographs ? Probably we all believe that the figures in art should represent only the Idea and not copies of the reality .Of course at the back of our mind is the Platonic theory that art is twice removed from Reality in that it imitates reality which itself is an imitation of the Idea.