An angle of reflection

written by Pramod Viswanath on April 25, 2011 in blog and Nature Photography and Photography and thoughts and ruminations and wildlife photography with 4 comments

This is going to be a long post. Please bear with me.

When I started off with photography, it was sheer passion with which I walked the wild. It was like meditation – walking the wild with single minded focus and the goal was to make good images. Learning beyond boundaries gave a new high. Mastering the craft was the need of the hour. It was after a while when I realised the artistic aspect of photography. Thanks to my destiny and I could associate good degree of friendship with some of the experienced nature photographers across the globe.

It has been years since my early days of photography, there has been some fantastic learnings not only about photography or art of photography but also on other ‘departments’ that fringes around this form of art. I have been contemplating on lot of things that I have learnt oflate, personally, as well as contextually ever since the resurgence of Internet through web 2.0 and the beginning of so called social media marketing. This topic has been the most talked about by the photography community to a great extent and I prefer not to talk about nitty-gritty of it in this post.

I have been ‘making’ lesser images than I used to ‘click’ during my initial days of photography. Today, as I delve deep into my image archives, I still find some hidden images that I connect with, personally and many that I prefer not to look at them and just do shift + delete. But with those images that I connect, I always recognize patterns that emerge and hidden thoughts to ponder about. Thoughts about personal stories and moments. Compositions that I yearned to make and made it with a big smile on the face and those compositions where I utterly failed. Amidst the failure were great teachings and learnings. And more than the learnings, there was satisfaction and contentment ( ofcourse not complacency!). Glad that it continues to remain so.

So, what is that one thing that has changed since the yester years? Perception. Perception about everything that involves art and photography including the business of photography. Considering the Indian scenario, photography as an art is in its infancy as against elsewhere where it is a saturated market. Yet, I believe the forces involving and revolving around the term competition is the same everywhere barring one element and that is the negative face of competition.

What hasn’t changed a thing since I started photography? Hunger to make more images. Meaningful images. And am still scratching the surface as well as my head to realise the dream.

Below are some of my personal learnings ever since I started photography and my interactions with photographer’s community:

Don’t do what you love, for money

The most important lesson that I have learnt looking around the ecosystem of photography and nature photography is, the problem starts when passion turns into profession. When one earns daily bread through photography, the priority is first to make money for the living than the very purpose of making a composition that you intended. Pure essence of art gets diluted. The composition you wanted to make changes to composition that you make that gets you your daily bread.

Occasional buying request gives a passionate photographer more joy as against the usual day to day order requests since you turned a professional. Freedom of making art like you wanted to, changes. Perception changes. Hunger dies and the yearning inside is bedazzled. Every image you make, everything you speak, every move you do and every step you take will be based on the M factor. The compounding effect is – you disrespect other’s work. ‘I’ precedes everything. You begin to take advantage of every person you come across in one way or other. Value of relationship with your people and most importantly the art itself gets valued against monetary benefits.

Learning without boundaries & vested interests

I believe, when I make images out of pure passion, without any strings attached, the real essence of art pervades all over.

Let me take a small example – a personal story. Considering my own example of visiting one of the most visited Tiger reserve in India, the stakes were high.Why? Because I have travelled a long distance, have spent exhorbitant amount of money on my trip and the “I” expects to get what it wants. And I forgot the fact that I spent because I am passionate about being there.

I have two other friends who are photographers too with me during the trip. All the while there were so much of nature and possibilities around us for making images, yet we were all focussed on making some superb tiger images. We all know we visit national parks where RAW wildlife thrives and not a circus. At the end of 4 safaris, we managed one good sighting of the King of the jungle. When stakes are high as well as when we think about the after effects of hard luck, it can be disappointing. But in the hindsight it was a great learning for all of us. After all it is nature and we have to take it has to offer.  Well, at least from a nature photographer’s point of view!

Most important lesson was to have an open mind, not to give up our passion because of hard luck and most imporantly keep making images without strings attached. Humility is an important element for any artist to persist art.

Be Right-handed, first!

Well with the emergence of Internet and social media, marketing has become every creative artists’ “must-do” strategic path. But what is intriguing is whether you are a professional,  serious amateur, amateur or an aspiring beginner, marketing first, craft next is what is becoming of second nature for these people!

Never forget that the real good Work speaks for itself. If your work is good,  it really gets noticed. Someday. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk about all the hard work you have done. What I intend to argue repeatedly with people around me is – do the work first and then half the work of marketing is done. Ofcourse the remaining 50% should be done with all the pomp and show :).  Latter half of work is as important as that of making the craft itself. Lest you don’t talk about your own work, who else will?

Respecting good work, acknowledging it and sharing it with others is what humans have always done since the origin of art. If you don’t do it for me, someone else will. This is not a yokelish rant by me but the law of social media marketing!

So what is it about right hand, then?? Well, it must and should complete all the tasks that it is assigned to do and that is  making good art first before it begins to operate the trumpet. Never the other way round.

Breaking the usual pattern

Passion for photography is ultimate for any photographer. Remember, it shouldn’t blind you from the obvious truths. Truths about [not] breaking the pattern and predictability. At times I am so immersed in my own way of making images that I tend to forget the fact that I am shooting blind. Taking a step back, looking at my own work that I have done in last few visits to the wild would yield me a definite pattern.

As humans, we are always confined to our own comfort levels. Remember the last time you made something new that is totally original? Well I do but I can count them and those moments are truly blissful. Now me getting into unchartered territories makes me extremely uncomfortable and vulnerable. But the challenge of getting to what I envisioned and actually getting there is equally gratifying. Deaf ears to negative criticisms and cynics, I did what I wanted is what drives me to walk the dusty path and get down and dirty the next morning to make the images I want to.

The next morning, I presume I should think about breaking the ‘usual’ pattern.

No one will pay for it.

So what? Asking myself this question every time I go out on a shoot keeps me motivated. Everytime I ask myself – “Did I start this for making money?”, the answer is always – No. I ask my friends and well wishers  the same question – Should I ? The answer is a mixed bag, but, never a solid Yes. Partly because, they are either skeptical or never been in the field for long or never. Well, nothing wrong in trying out and reaching out to someone who will pay for my work – not as courtesy but as a mark of respect to my work. Not to ask things for free is what people should realise. It has been some real hard work and I definitely would expect respect for my work. Respecting one’s work need not boil down to money alone. This would make another blog post altogether.  For this post, I would say – respect in someway.

As it stands now, no one will pay for it.  Some day,  someone should. But, there is one thing that really gets paid and it is the hunger and passion. Artists pay for it. The rage inside fuels and sculpts the emotions that brings out the real character through an image. Artists put in their soul to make images though it doesn’t pay for them. They do it because they have to. It is their ‘karma’.

Famous American sculptor and printmaker Stephen DeStaeble once said – “Artists don’t get down to work until the pain of working is exceeded by the pain of not working.

Remember, photography is an art. Never say it isn’t! Perception matters.

Hence this turns out to be a  photographer’s angle of reflection and resultant are these emerging thoughts.

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