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.


ram said...

Wow. Very inspirational. Miss the exhibition so much more now.

Banno said...

Really interesting process. Didn't know you had to put it all together in such a short time. Waiting to see the images. Well!

dipali said...

Sounds like an amazing experience.
Waiting to see the images. Your poor mom- I've been through that:(

km said...

Fantastic post. Lots to learn from your creative process. Can't wait to see the pics now.

//If you haven't already done so, you should read filmmaker Errol Morris's series in NYT on photography (and lies and truths...) Long articles but just fascinating.

Space Bar said...

Thanks all.

Banno: yes! it was probably the fastest I've ever worked. :-) I'm trying to figure what I'd have done differently if I had more time.

Dipali: It was very stressful - total panic situation.

km: I hadn't - thanks!

ajay noronha said...

hey dala,
sounds all quite incredible and very interesting. the 'documentary image' you talk of is something i grapple with all the time with my students who can only think of photoshop as a logical, most obvious next now!

dipali said...

The pictures are just beautiful. I loved them all.