Friday, June 18, 2010

What the Hell is the West teaching these kids about India?

So I came across this critique request at an online photography website's forum from a gentleman who recently visited India for 5 weeks, and was seeking general comments on how well he captured the essence of India.

Guess what: not a single one of his about 100 pictures showed a high rise, the new Delhi Metro, the new malls, the Akshar Dham, the world's largest public transit system (the railways), the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the brilliant kids who can count faster than a DSLR can take pictures, the rising middle class feminine section thanks to growing tech jobs, etc, etc.

Every single one of his pictures show either a poor kid with no clothes on, a village girl carrying water in torn clothes, a cow, a goat, an over crowded rickshaw, a mother breast feeding her kid in public with not enough cloth to cover herself, etc., etc.

I am now sick and tired of the so called adventure photographers making a 2 week trip to India, taking pictures of the dirtiest neighborhoods and poorest people they can find, and posting their portfolio for helpful critique titled "India Part 1, 2, 3".

What the hell is the western world teaching them about India? Is that all they can see and find?

How about the Taj, the Red Fort, the biggest public rail transit system, the Akshar Dham, the desert, the folk dances, the festivals, the templesmosques, the entrepreneurs, the IITs, the Art Academies, the musicians, the neighbors watching out for each other's kids, the middle school geniuses who can count faster than a DSLR can snap pictures, as photography subjects? 

Give me a f$#$$*%g break!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

That Thin Line Between Moving Art & Exploitation

I took three candidate pictures to a colleague who does film photography exclusively, for hobby. I wanted to know his opinion on which one to submit. He did pick one. But not without stirring me up a little by questioning my motives when I clicked an old person's portrait in the street without his knowledge. Here is that picture:

He asked me if it would really make a good picture if I just clicked a street shot without 'connecting' with the subject. His argument was that my motivation is not to try to understand what a subject is feeling (and then portray it on film/pictures), rather I just wanted to capture him/her as a third person, hoping to 'move' people, and get a good score in a challenge. 

And after a long debate, I did admit that my primary motivation was to take a picture that has mass appeal, and only a secondary goal was to become a better photographer 'as a side effect'.

However, I do want to be able to take more pictures like this... that grab your attention when you look at them, BUT be fair to the subject at the same time, so I am not exploiting their situation/presence in the scene. 

I found one great candid shot on a famous Indian photographer's Flickr page, that shows a physically handicapped person almost crawling across. My first reaction was: wow what a great street shot. But immediately it hit me: did the photographer ask the person's permission before clicking this shot? What and how much does he know about the subject? Could the photographer actually feel what it is to go through that disadvantage? I asked the photographer twice (once via email and again via a comment on the photo), and I just heard back from him as a comment: "I only ask permission for taking street portraits."

I found yet another such moving candid portrait right here, by an IndiBlogger member.

So, I am curious to know.

What motivates you when you attempt a good candid picture? Is it the desire to express what and how you see things? Or is it the desire to score mass appeal and sympathy? Or is it both? And if so, how do they relate to each other?

Most importantly: does it make you a good photographer if you just capture one moment out of a person who is suffering? Is it not important, as an artist, to first relate to the subject, his/her condition, even before we try to portray that 'something' that we want to come across in our artwork?

I do not know the exact answer. But I do know this:

I will NEVER again take a candid picture, if it is emotive, without first trying to relate to the subject (talking to them, getting a perspective to it, and then getting their permission) before I click that next 'awwww' shot.

Of course feel free to comment here below the post about what you think about it.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Mr. President...

... the lens caps are on!