Sunday, November 29, 2009

Catch [insert new number]

Last night at a party, I met a newly-wed couple. They did the sensible thing and had a registered wedding, and this is apparently what happened:

Before they got their certificate, they had to put up photographs of the wedding up on a board in the Registrar's office.

"Why the photgraphs?" I asked.

"For proof."

"So you guys got married in some other way and also got a registered wedding?"

"No no - it was only a registered wedding."

"But the registrar presided, right?"


"Wait. So you had to prove to the registrar that he married you off?"

"Um... yes."


Of course, it would have been much better if the building in which they'd got married was one in which photography wasn't allowed but I'm guessing they haven't thought of that one yet.

Friday, November 27, 2009

old hollywood

Watched The Petrified Forest last night on TCM. What a lovely film it is. So matter-of-fact yet shining with innocence. Leslie Howard, already prefiguring Ashley Wilkes' nostalgia for a more beautiful past but with less weariness and more charm; Bogey not yet Bogey, exchanging gratefulness with Howard (if Howard is grateful to be shot in the film, Bogey was eternally grateful to Howard for getting him the career-making role in the first place); and Bette Davis luminous (in those days they had faces).

Someone should show Johar et al the film. On second thoughts, better not. They'd make a Kurbaan out of it, one way or another.

I think I should now go watch Revolutionary Road once again.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


The new issue of Phalanx is out and I only just found out via Aditi (for some reason I seem to have dropped off their mailing list).

Lots to read: M K Raghavendra's editorial on why the Anglophone Indian wants to be a novelist; his essay on Bresson; Hans V Mathews on Jancsó's The Red and the White [pdf].

Oh, and a review of Inglorious Basterds as well, but since I'm on the film I may as well point you to this fantastic essay about it.

That should pretty much take care of the weekend, yes?

Monday, November 23, 2009

another AIR recording

has come and gone and I wasn't there to listen mostly because I forgot and was doing other things. Just as well, I suppose, though I'm sorry to have missed listening to Aditi Machado read.

Not sure about repeats, but what I learnt from this round was, I need to write more! Some of those poems were ancient.


The rest is music

This post was supposed to be about the Beatles. It was also supposed to be about Andreas Otto and the way he plays his cello, about his antic face, performance, all the things I know nothing about was going to hold forth upon anyway.

It was also going to quote from Alex Ross' book.

Instead I give you Klaus Voormann:

Monday, November 16, 2009



And some image of text(tho taken out of context they make no sense whatsoever, I realise. This may disappear tomorrow):

A talisman for the week

Everybody needs a way in to where they're going. Mine was John le Carré's A Most Wanted Man. I'd read it before, but I re-read small bits of it again to remind myself that all cities have a shadow self that nobody official will show you. I may not have found it, or might have only caught glimpses of it, but at least I knew it was there.


Conferences are things beyond my experience - never attended them, never needed to. It was fascinating, as a consequence, to observe the conference birds in their habitat: they move at an eager angle, with a pack of cards in their hands. These cards are exchanged as if one hand must not know what the other one does. Quiet murmurs accompany this exchange.

Needless to say, I do not have a card and don't intend to get one. What will people want to know - how to get in touch? I can always scribble my email on the back of some else's card, no?


I was, strangely enough, not bored at all during these conferences. Since I was not a journalist, I didn't really need to take notes or network or anything, but I took (some) notes anyway, because I figured that in the normal course of my life no one would invite me to observe a seminar on how ports work, or take me to high-security container terminals (no photography allowed), or give me a close-up tour of the harbour and even offer to slow the boat if I needed take specific photographs.

More importantly for me, these official interactions really did help me understand some things about the way government works, and the pride people working for it take in their work. It also gave me the license to be nosy and ask any question I wanted and there were people who would answer. One young gentleman knew everything about this city he had made his own.


That's another thing: the number of people who live in Hamburg who are from elsewhere. Not that it's a huge city or anything, but given the nature of my trip you'd think I'd meet at least a few people who were born there. I met two: one was a second generation Chinese woman, whose eyes flickered slightly in annoyance when I asked (as I routinely asked everyone) where she was from; and the other was one of the people in Hamburg Marketing. Like the average Bombayite, the average person from Hamburg is fiercely loyal to their city.


I just couldn't get why everyone kept asking if we found the place too cold. It wasn't. It was just fine. Two sunny days out of six is pretty damn good.


Yes, yes, okay. You want to know what I packed and what I couldn't. That's a whole other post, right?

Coming up tomorrow.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Opening the Light

Update: Images here.

Okay, that's over now!

And I don't even know how to begin.

This has to be the fastest I've ever worked: I left Hyderabad on the 24 Oct with nothing except a camera, and had an exhibition of 50 photographs and some text ready to view on 12 Nov. That's six shooting days in Hamburg, three days in Bombay to make prints and 4-5 days in Hyderabad to have framed 50 photographs and think about and create text.

As I've said elsewhere, I should always work like this. I loved the pressure most especially because there was no pressure to do anything specific except create what I wanted to. Nobody was standing over me asking to see what I'd done so far, no one was wringing their hands about directions, or wanted to know in advance what they could expect.

This post is, of course, a rather off-the-cuff series of remarks about my experiences.

What really had me anxious before I left was the question of how to photograph a city in six days. What is a city anyway? Most often it is its public spaces - buildings of note, cliches about what makes it 'special'. What about people? How would I tell, looking at anybody, what made them belong to a city, and what their relationship with it was?

I used the text to explicate or think about some of these things. Being able to search for anything on the net and read up about it in advance is both a curse and a blessing: sometimes I felt I knew too much and knew nothing of any worth.

The other anxiety-inducing thing about the trip was that I had no second chances. Our days were packed, sometimes in a very press-junket-y way. There were conferences that chewed up half the day; we were taken from one place to the next and I knew I could never photograph the harbour again, or the marine training centre.

I was also worried about shooting in the rain - the results were iffy at best, and unuseable at worse. What if it rained the morning we were on the harbour? (As it happened, it did, but not in some disastrous way, as the image on the poster will show).

The most interesting thing about the project was how I was constantly having to re-shape the intent of the project on an intellectual level, with what was happening every day around me. Let me explain:

I was working with only the barest sketch of what I wanted to do with the photographs, but the barest minimum included working with text, with the immigrant quarter, and the idea of taking images back to absent people. This last meant I already knew there were some arrangements of frame and composition I wanted in advance, though I didn't know how or where the opprtunity would offer itself to me. This meant I had to be intuitive and alert all the time. In practice, this meant that at the end of every day, as I uploaded the 100-150 odd photographs I had shot that day, that I had to view and select, shortlist and discard in the space of two or three hours, so that later I would not have to re-view 600 and more images and be overhwelmed. What I was, in effect, doing was making decisions that I was going to stand by, whether they were the right ones or not. I was going to choose even before I had time to abosrb and trust that what I had experienced suring the day was enough to guide my perceptions at night.

The other interesting thing was the inclusion of text in the images. I had decided in advance that I would do this twice: for one text, I would need empty roads; for the other, I would need a wall. The text would be used on the image, but made to look as it if had always been there, already beena part of the 'real' place. I did this because I wanted to think about what we mean when we say 'documentary' images - which is what one would commonly assume a project like this one would involve.

I wanted to think about this because even the most 'documentary' image, even before the age of Photoshop, used darkroom techniques to change the image: whether in the choice of paper used in printing, or exposure, or several other combinations of techniques. What if I made it obvious that I was intervening in the image, but made it hard for the viewer to see how? What if a road in the early morning outside the main bus station, had the most unlikely text painted on to the road? How long would the viewer stand in front of this image trying to puzzle it out and what would they make of it?

So there was that.

The other thing was how to combine the images, and what order and how much to control of where a viewer would stand first?

(One image from my very short trip to Bergen-Belsen, gives no indication of where it was taken. It was meant to be the last image viewed but that's not how the arrangement worked in the gallery. That should have been interesting also.)

Phew. Okay, I've gone on long enough. I knwo everyone wants to see the images. Some are supposed to be on the gallery website, but they're not up yet. Will link when they are.

It goes without saying that many of you who read this blog have images that had you in mind when I shot them or when I viewed them and realised they reminded me of you.

More about that soon.

Oh: on the day of the opening, the most dramatic moment was when my son's bus didn't turn up until an hour later than it usually does and my mother was frantic but I was in a press conference (to which nobody came because of the GHMC election rallies that were more newsworthy) so I didn't know she was calling and she was sobbing over the phone when I did return her call. The bus turned up, no harm done, but it was a nice few moments of total panic.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

mostly irrelevant thoughts-for-the-day

When you add (and save) enough blogs and posts on your feedreader, the numbers eventually begin to look like dates from history*.

Additions in the last two days include Tao Lin's blog (nice url, yes?) and zunguzungu.


In other news, I had a duplicate print of a photo I really liked, which I had made in Bombay and couriered to someone who hasn't got it yet. This depresses me immensely because it means either someone in the studio or the courier is responsible for its loss, but I'm now too far away to do anything (much) about it.


I'm using test prints like a pack of cards to decide how I want to arrange the images. I've more or less decided, but holding the uneven-sized prints makes me feel like I'm playing Patience - which, if you think about it, I am.

*Bloglines tells me it's 1925 today.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Posting the Light: Dispatches from Hamburg

So this is where I've been and what I've been doing.

If you're in Hyderabad, please come.

That's on the 12th of November, from 5pm to 6pm at Kalakriti Art Gallery, Road No. 10, Banjara Hills.

The exhibition will be on until the 18th. So if you're in town and can't make it to the opening, drop by on any other day.

(There will be more posts but only after the exhibition has opened.)

Thursday, November 05, 2009


Did ya'll miss me?

Updates from tomorrow. Now I need to sleep.