Every other day, when I open the vernacular newspapers, they are full of stories about young people who, losing their footing, slipped into the Ganges and drowned while taking a selfie. Closer to home, below Jharipani, the police had to put up no photography signs above Chunakhala. This was after two middle schoolers fell over the precipice and perished.
I suppose it used to be safer to take self-portraits with a mirror; or with a bellows camera and hear the angry cobra-hiss of the timer as we press the shutter making a last minute dash to fit ourselves into the frame.
Every kid in the neighborhood these days is armed with a smartphone, selfie stick, selfie brush, or selfie apps. They create images that are instantly uploaded to social media. It seems to make their day. Unable to understand why people purse their lips and pout for a selfie, I search for answers by turning to my youthful friends to find that confusion reigns here too.
“Celebs do it all the time!”
” It’s the fashion !
‘That’s sexy! Like a flying kiss!
“It has a more sensual meaning!”
‘Forget! When in doubt — pout! laughs my pragmatic friend Nishu, adding: “He hides my double chin.
Click on! To download! To celebrate! You are one of millions of others doing it on the net every day. On the other side of the coin, smartphones have revived, as if by the kiss of life, the endangered world of photography.
Stay with me for a while and come to the Stone Age Twilight Zone. We had to load the film and expose the images to process them later. “To survive, you must maintain a ratio of six to one!” advised my mentor, Australian photography guru, Raymond Louis Steiner. He meant that unless you sold one of the six photos, the expenses would cause you to lose.
I once sent some rolls on display to the dhobi-ghat (as we used to call the processing lab) at 483 Veer Savarkar Marg, Mumbai. It bounced into the mail ‘Return to sender: address unknown!’ The Kodak laboratory had lowered the shutters.
Around this time, I met Elwyn Chamberlain, Landour’s author-in-residence, with books like Gates of Fire and Then Spoke the Thunder under her belt. Wintering in Greece, he returned home a few weeks later, so I put the film back. He came back with the envelope, intact.
“They closed their lab!” he smiled. “But don’t look so sullen, Ganesh! Sam, our son is going to Rochester next month, he’ll take them to the lab there. Sam did, and this time, luckily, the slides made it home.
Knowing that I was not from the same matrix as Scott from Antarctica, I gave up, vowing never to touch Kodachrome film again. Sure, it had the most vibrant reds, but in the end, that caused too much trouble.
“So it’s over for the big brands? I asked Manu Bahuguna, a fellow photographer and founder of photoindia.com. ‘Precisely!’ he says. And he seemed to mean it, adding, “It’s just fashion statements now.”
Take it or leave it, the advent of digital photography has leveled the rules of the game. The Happy Days of Photography are here!
Author, photographer, illustrator whose works have been translated into two dozen languages