Tag Archives: journal

The story behind my Embedded Eyes

Cambodia Indian migrants

Indian migrant Guddu Gupta at his shared accommodation in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Guddu hails from Ghorakpur town of India and works as a salesman in Cambodia. 2008. Photo: Nishant Ratnakar

(This is the article that I wrote for “Un(T)ravel,” the April-July 2011 edition of OffbeatThe Alternative’s quarterly ezine celebrating alternative living. The Un(T)ravel edition of Offbeat can be viewed here.)

There is a calling in everyone’s life, and you ought to answer it – I personally believe that. I answered mine when I was creating software products inside an IT giant’s plush office in Bangalore. I wanted to change the world through my camera. Will I succeed in my mission?, is a question that can be answered in retrospective. But I believe that our world is changing every second, and what we say, see or do is a catalyst in shaping our planet’s future. Therefore photography is a catalyst for change too.

So, I set about travelling with a camera as a photojournalist. I soon realised that the camera had been democratized in my era and everyone who was travelling had a camera in their hands. It was good to see so many catalysts.

I recollect an incident in the year 2008 when I was at Siem Reap, Cambodia, on a fellowship. As part of a documentary photography workshop held during the Angkor Photography Festival, I was documenting the lives of Indian migrants living and working across Siem Reap. Most of them were men from Gorakhpur making a living as travelling salesmen. Their families lived back in India.

I was taken by my source to an area where many of them lived as a group in rented rooms. They were glad to receive a visiting Indian. The hospitality however changed the moment I told them that I was documenting the lesser known portions of the Indian diaspora. One of them told me something in Hindi that roughly translated to, “Sir, you are from the media. And media shows only negative things about us. Your stories will finally appear according to the whims and fancies of the newspaper. We are sorry but we don’t want to be photographed.” I was taken aback but I obliged. We sat there for the rest of the afternoon drinking cola and discussing life and longing.

It was a watershed moment for me. The problem was not with my identity of being a photographer, but it was with my identity of being part of the mainstream media, a catalyst I had till then believed would bring positive influence to a changing world. It was no longer trusted by the oppressed. The media landscape had changed. Fresh journalists were often indoctrinated with the idea of ‘making the important sound interesting’. But, most of the time it turned out to be ‘making the silly sound as it were really important’.

Absolute truth (it never was) has become a battle between perspectives. And all too often, the perspective of the protagonists seems to be getting lost somewhere. As a visual story-teller I am committed to giving a voice to these perspectives. How do I do that? I found an answer in embedded journalism.

Embedded journalism is often thought of as a way to present wartime stories from the perspective of the government by embedding journalists in army units. But if used intelligently, it can do wonders to this world. One should look at the works of late Tim Hetherington (he was recently killed in Libya) – he brought out perspectives of soldiers fighting the battle till the last mile. These are voices lost in every war; all that we hear otherwise is a military spokesperson addressing the media at a press conference.

If you are a photographer visiting new places, I ask you to engage with the people you photograph. Communities, places and festivals in the developing world hold a lot more value than just being ‘exotic’ subjects. Photographers of the past, the tourism industry and colonial agendas have done harm by capturing stories with the aim of only making things sound attractive. Unfortunately this tradition is being followed by present day photographers without understanding its adverse effects.

Since 2008, I have been a part of the lives of people I document. And it has been an enriching experience. For the last one year, I have followed the life of a 5-year-old dark-skinned girl from the day she was adopted by a family comprising a single woman and another adopted daughter. I have spent little time shooting, and more time understanding their lives. I have spent time playing hide and seek, teaching “2+2=4”, wiping tears, laughing at jokes, listening to rhymes, getting breakfast, cutting apples and listening to serious discussions in the last one year. This has helped me become a better messenger of their story that I tell through my camera. I hope this can be a catalyst in the change that I hope for.

This article first appeared in Un(T)ravel, the April-July 2011 edition of Offbeat, The Alternative’s quarterly ezine celebrating alternative living. The Un(T)ravel edition can be viewed here.

(Note: If you like my work, then please do share the link to this website with others. Also, if you’d like to support me in my projects, then feel free to click the ‘flattr’ button at the bottom of the post. Flattr is a social micro-payment system. )


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Where do you see yourself 5 years from now

A little over five years after beginning my pursuit for happiness. At Regal Cinema, Colaba, Mumbai. October 2011.

A little over five years after beginning my pursuit for happiness. At Regal Cinema, Colaba, Mumbai. October 2011.

I take a moment and look back into my last years at engineering college. During those days, Campus placements/recruitment was the hot topic among my friends. We were to soon graduate from one of the finest colleges in the country (R.V.C.E), and it was inevitable that most of us had a job in our hand even before we graduated. So the questions was not whether one would get a job. Instead, it was whether one would get a job in the sought after IT company.

And in this quest for the dream job, we would go through an ordeal of written tests, group discussions and personal interviews. The most common question during the interviews would be “Where do you see yourself five years from now?” I wonder why that was so important to have a definite answer to that question. I don’t even remember what my answer to that question was. And I guess the panelists who interviewed me wouldn’t remember it either.

Many people answered with clarity of their future positions in the IT industry. Team leader, Project Manager, Software Architect, etc were some of those answers. I don’t know if that was really their thought or an answer to impress the panelist to get a job. After graduation, almost everybody faces this question in nearly every job interview they face. When it comes to this question, there is very little room for innovation among panelists. But, one question asked to me was slightly modified, and it did question one important aspect about my work.

“Do you see yourself shooting at the age of eighty years?” asked Krishnaprasad (called KP among media circles), the former editor of Vijay Times (now defunct English daily), when I was showing to him my portfolio for a photographer job. “Yes,” I replied honestly. This was nearly five years back.

The point that KP tried to investigate was, if I was passionate enough to spend a lifetime doing photography. And this emphasis for passion is important in my honest opinion. One has to be passionate about the work he/she does. A smart-phone advertisement says “Do what you Love. Love what you do.” This is true. I wasn’t in love with my first job as a software professional. There was something else calling me out.

It has been little more than five years since Friday, 13th October 2006. It was my last day at a software company. I left the job to lead the life of a photographer. By the way, I didn’t even have a professional camera then.

In the last five years, I have held jobs as a photographer in newspapers, got few scholarships and fellowships to travel abroad and study photojournalism, won couple of awards for photography and film-making, made a documentary on a subject  that I was passionate about, published a book, left the job of a chief Photographer at a publication to go completely independent with my work, fell in love, broke my heart many times, laughed, cried, laughed again, finally met the woman I’d spend my life with, and eventually fell in love with her. As this year comes to an end, I will soon be getting engaged to her.

Five years back if somebody asked me the question on where I saw myself 5 years later, I wouldn’t have answered with the exact above details. I wouldn’t know how the five years would unfold. Nobody would know about their next five years in detail. And I think life would’ve been boring if we knew exactly how our future would be.

But, one thing I was always sure of five years back. I saw myself doing things I loved, things that I had my heart in, and things I was passionate about. I saw myself make decisions that I believed in, irrespective of their outcomes, and have no regrets. I saw myself listening to my heart and pursuing my dreams. That’s what I have done in the last five years.

Where do I see myself five years from now?

Five years from now, I still see myself continuing to do things that I love. Life, I love you.

(Note: If you like my work, then please do share the link to this website with others. Also, if you’d like to support me in my projects, then feel free to click the ‘flattr’ button at the bottom of the post. Flattr is a social micro-payment system. )

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Photographs, Autographs and Memories

My mom's College photo from the year 1970

My mom’s College photo from the year 1970

One of the things that I will thank my Engineering College for, is a circle of friends. Most of my friends have gone abroad to work, or to study, or have followed their spouses, and I stay in touch with them via social networks and emails. But, some of us, a ‘leftover’ group of around 5 to 6, are still here in India. In the world of IT era kids, we are a strange ‘leftover’ to many people in the society.

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Notes from the field:Politics & Media

 

Chief Minister of Karnataka B S Yedyurappa and Governor of Karnataka H R Bhardwaj at the KPSC premises for the diamond jubilee inauguration event of KPSC. Wednesday, 18th May 2011. - Nishant Ratnakar/DNA

Wednesday morning coverage of the Diamond Jubilee inauguration of Karnataka Public Service Commission(KPSC) could have been just another event if not for the events chief guests – Governor HR Bharadwaj, and Chief Minister B S Yedyurappa – the two people, at loggerheads in the current political drama in the state. Them sharing the same podium, was medias’ ‘orgasmic’ moment.

Shutterbugs in hordes along with cameramen and correspondents who either tugged at their notepads or microphones, waiting impatiently for the guests to arrive. Rumour had it that the Governor would submit his resignation at the end of the day. And  everyone there wanted a reaction from the Governor to end the speculation.

The CM presenting Governor with a bouquet, started the ‘show’ and the cameras didn’t stop clicking after that. Every movement was captured, to be dissected in the newsroom later. There seemed to be no tension between the two as they sat next to each other exchanging words. For the next one hour, all cameras were glued on to the podium observing the body language and every single move made by the state actors. Every time the two spoke or shook hands, the camera flashguns fired rapidly. And this would be repeated even every time one of them raised a finger to wipe the sweat of their eyebrow.

Then came the moment the Governor addressed the gathering. His excellency spoke of the importance of public service commission, the constitution and the judiciary in this democracy. Every statement he made was analysed by our conspiracy theorists to squeeze any remote reference to his rumoured resignation or even to alleged differences with the Chief Minister. But it were not to be so. And it was ‘game-set-match’ for conspiracy theories when the Governor praised the Chief Minister as a hard working man who puts in nearly 20 hours everyday to his work.

The event came to an end as the Chief Minister made way for the Governor to leave the podium. This was probably one of those rare moments when the Chief Minister got to his car without any camera following him. It was his quickest exit ever as the entire media fraternity had surrounded the Governor to prevent him from leaving the venue without giving a sound byte.

There was a media frenzy  as journalists, security personnel, police, and Governor’s staff jostled around pushing each other in the line of their ‘respective duties’. Tensions soared high as everyone kept screaming at each other and falling over. The Governor finally answered a ‘No’ to the question, putting an end to the rumour as he left the KPSC premises.

Before everyone could come to terms with what had happened, somebody had lost a camera cable, few correspondents discovered their footwear had gone missing, and police officers had lost their badges. This collective sense of loss had united the people who were fighting each other moments earlier.  And it further reached a happy ending when all agreed that ‘our system’ was good, as in a neighboring state no cameras would be allowed within fifty meters radius of the Governor.

The Ice-candy seller outside KPSC had a great day as TV news crew kept going back for more while they went live to update the country with the political drama unfolding in the state. Somebody suggested to him that he should shift to Raj Bhavan Road by evening as Chief Minister was scheduled to visit the Governor then. I don’t know if he followed the advice as I stayed away from the action for rest of the evening.

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My Deepawali

 

 

Today, as I look back into my childhood years, Deepawali (Diwali) was always a fun affair. We used to head to grandpa’s place in Pangala every year, and celebrate Deepawali in the company of cousins and other relatives. It was a big thing from a child’s perspective. Grandpa’s verandah (and our cricket pitch) would be the location where we played with fireworks and crackers. It was a village setting: bustling with celebration in tiny areas, but yet peaceful. It was in contrast with the Diwali that I got to indulge in Bangalore as I grew older.  Too many people, too much of noise, and too much of pollution in the air. As I grew older, I began to dislike taking part in it.

Looking back, another realization hits me hard. I only have memories of Deepawali, but no photographs…

We were too busy and involved in the festivities and never bothered to record those events on a camera. After all, those days shooting in film and developing it was a costly affair. There were no digital cameras then. However, on one particular Deepawali (I don’t remember which year it was, but it was around a solar eclipse) dad’s close friend from United Kingdom was visiting us. He had something called as a Handycam - an analog video camera that recorded footage in small video cassettes. I was bowled over looking at it. He had record some celebrations held at our Bangalore home, but I have no clue where that tape is now. Anyways, bottom line is that there are no photographs from my hay days of celebrating the festival of lights.

Circa 2010 AD, Arnav (my nephew) is at our home and it is Deepawali again. At least, let his Deepawali be documented in frames for him to look back and cherish the memories from his growing-up years. With that thought, I picked up my camera on a holiday and went about photographing things that I loved. But, it was an anti climax!

Arnav didn’t seem to enjoy the noise on the streets. He retreated, with rest of the family, back into the safety of our apartment. I was left stranded amidst strangers and the noise that I have grown to dislike. Even I withdrew from the scene in few minutes. And I went  about searching for things that spoke to me about the festival and that I could relate with. In tranquil locations, not far from the epicenter of pollution, I did find elements that spoke of Deepawali in a language I could related to…

And then I said, Happy Deepawali everyone.

Hope you have a great year.

P.S: I love Deepawali, but not the way most of us celebrate it.

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