Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Story of Light

Leonardo Da Vinci's 'The Last Supper' told one of the most important Biblical stories. For me the lighting (in the painting) was the sole narrator. If you look at the painting carefully- Jesus is lit up and Judas Iscariot is in darkness. The lighting on the apostles on the right side of the painting is the brightest as they were thinkers, whereas the lighting on the apostles on the left side is dimmer as they were skeptics.
Light for me has always been a major part of storytelling in every medium. Not just in visual reel medium such as photography, painting or film. But in real life as well. Without light there could be no vision or photography because it is light reflected from the world around us that makes things visible to both our eyes and the eye of the camera.

If you look at Rembrandt's self portraits painted throughout his life, you will see how he has used light to tell his life story. In earlier self portraits, the light is bright, to represent brightness and freshness if his youth. In the self portraits made later in his life, the lighting is so low as to imply that he was living in a cramped space. And the reality was that he was actually going through financial difficulties.

Photography wise no one can tell a story without discovering light. In my case here's one example. I was photographing this well preserved Hindu Temple in Rawalpindi which is 160 years old. It is located in the middle of the school for blind, hence it is further surrounded by noisy streets, vendors and busy life. So my job was to photograph the temple in such a way that I was in its original era and not in 2010. So I studied the architecture and noticed that they had made windows for light to go through and illuminate the frescoes which were all over the place- as there was obviously no source of artificial light 160 years ago.

My tendency to place scrutiny on lighting even in real life comes from my love of photography. And one of the literal definitions of photography is 'producing images of objects by the agency of light'. And so let there be light!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Night photography- Night from a nocturnal point of view

"I often think that the night is more alive and richly colored than the day"- Vincent Van Gogh

So I was recently trying to discover what is it that led me to specialising in night photography in the first place and why I find it fascinating- also why other photographers do.
I only recently remembered and realised why. When loadshedding became "mainstream" in Pakistan 3 years ago I used to go for a walk everytime lights would go out, occasionally with my camera and then later joined by a tripod. When there are no street or house lights, you can only then notice the unusual play of light that moonlight and star light have everywhere. Then you notice a color palette being created when you see lanterns, fireflies, candles and other sources of light coming into the scene. So I played with that on long exposure and open aperture. It made me see so much in a dark that it was a way of opening my mind.
While dark is often associated with danger and evil, because of the psychological connection of night's all encompassing darkness to the fear of unknown, the darkness of night also happens to be the magical time where ordinary images undergo strange and magical transformation. For me night photography brings out the ability to see the collision between the normal and paranormal and also the ability to pair beauty with fascination and the real with the surreal. This viewpoint was inspired by photographer Gregory Crewdson in his book 'Twilight'

Its not just the darkness of the dimly lit night but even low lights which make the human imagination play games and creates a fascination of seeing images which do not exist in the harshness of sunlight. Flaws get erased, ugly becomes plain and plain becomes beautiful.
Why I use the term 'nocturnal' (in all different shades and manifestations!) point of view is because metaphorically speaking, the owl, a night creature, teaches us to acknowledge the dark side of our personality, and in that darkness we may find food for growth and optimism.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Entering the world of comic books..

So I just made a mini comic strip for the first time.. It is based on Pakistan's Premier's visit to Washington to meet US President Barack Obama for bilateral ties- after the AfPak nuclear summit.

A powerful excerpt of a piece by Richard Lacayo- in the TIME Magazine

I was reading the Arts section in the Time magazine the other day and what really caught my attention was this article on a photographer and her subject.

Wish fulfillment is one of the prime purposes of pop culture, and magical transformations of the body are some of its most common manifestations. Weaklings morph into superheroes; the cripped ex-Marine in Avatar assumes a fleet-footed virtual body. Too bad the real world doesn't offer the same consolations. And it's the real world you see in Nida Berman's tender but unflinching photographs of Ty Ziegel, a former Marine sergeant so badly disfigured by a suicide bomb attack in Iraq that back home small children stare at him, even after 50 reconstructive surgrries. It would be obscene to aesthericize his situation, and Berman doesn't aim to. What she does is present it forthrightly, with compassion but without pathos- bravely, which is how he presents himself. We have to read a lot into Ziegel because his face sometimes seems to have a limited range of expression. Gently but firmly, Berman directs you to see the man behind the mask. Do these pictures belong in an art museum? Of course they do, because as long as one of the things art does is use images to teach, this is art.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Contemporary staged photographic work

So I came by some great contemporary photographers lately.. Thought I'd share some of those works and also discuss them.

Among those photographers are Philippe Ramette and Gregory Crewdson. They have their own very unique set of trademarks.

Ramette's theme is based on defying gravity and he himself models in the photographs. His positioning, angles and setup are so incredible that they look photoshopped, but they are actually not.

Gregory Crewdson's photographs are largely staged and his use of lighting is mysterious, unnatural and eerie at the same time. They portray scenes of American homes and neighborhoods- scenes which are normal scenes, but through subject and lighting he completely turns the tables.

I love these guys' works and they are among my list of favourite photographers. I just have one question mark on my head.. and wanted to hear what everyone had to say on this.

Both these photographers have a team of 10 to 20 people working on their shots- but they do not hold the camera or press the shutter. I do understand both their sides of the story- for example, Ramette himself is the model in the photographs and is taking the risk of doing his anti-gravitational poses- and Gregory is running around because the amount of effort that his shots takes equals that of a film. There's another renowned photographer- Renee Cox, whose photographs are simple but they have a very powerful context and she tries to add a shock value and tries to be controversial- and she models in the photos- but she also does not hold the camera.
So the question I have is- are these photographers not missing out the whole enjoyment/relation to their work by not holding the camera to take the actual photograph?
Yes, the vision, the artistry and idea is theirs- and one cannot imagine the amount of effort put in to bring their vision into these photographs.
It is just that personally, if I was photographing something, I'd like to see it through the viewfinder myself.. I'd like to select my own aperture and shutter speed.. For me, if I have
someone else press the shutter for me, all the joy and fun of holding the camera would be gone!
Anyone want to say anything on this?
P.S. Please don't misunderstand me for accusing these artists, its just a personal question I had!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Spontaneity- or a scene crying to be shot?

One way or the other, all photographers have these spontaneous moments where they get a lucky shot and there's an entire story behind it. I will TRY not to bore you with mine- but rather talk about its fascination.

The photograph of Imran Khan I've put up- I took it when I was at a fundraiser Iftari of his for his hospital (Shaukat Khanum memorial hospital). Basically he was in the same table as me and I happened to have my camera. They were showing a documentary on Shaukat Khanum while he looked at the crowd and carefully looked at who was paying attention and who was not. I caught this interesting expression on his face and captured it.

There are all kinds of photographers.. Fashion photographers, wedding photographers, food photographers, and the list goes on.

And then there are street and documentary photographers. I like to think of myself as one.. Street and documentary photographer is an art of its own.. In fashion photography, everything is set for you.. you can control the light.. you know where to place the strobes and the model and you've got a theme.

When it comes to documentary/street photography, you have no control at all.. everything's played out from the beginning and its your choice however you want to tell the story- through light and placement. This way, I also have a feeling that viewers can somewhat relate to the photograph as it is closer to realism- and it is open to interpretation. That's what I really like about this genre of photography and I hope to do justice to it.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Adventures of the mind- pilot

When I went for my NCA (National College of arts) admission interview back in 2006- I was showing my portfolio during the interview (which mostly consisted of my photography). Mr. Hamid Durrani (a professor at the college) who was a part of the interview panel, asked me if photography can be considered art. Before I could respond, a debate broke out between the panelists. I had a bemused expression on my face but was grateful that somebody else was doing the answering!
In the last few months, I have begun to appreciate not to present a topic or a subject in too literal a manner, but to stimulate the thinking of the observer.

A few years ago, during my visit to the US, an interesting discussion took place on NPR (National public radio). Basically the topic of discussion was that radio was a dying art in place of animation and television. There were three debaters. One of them talked about the powerful message that animation can give; another talked about the fantastic programmes that people enjoy on television; while the third one, a famous radio actor, kept quiet. When they finished talking, the radio actor asked everybody- including the audience and the panelists, to close their eyes and to listen to only what he has to say.

In a very dramatic voice, he described a pleasant scene at Lake Michigan. He described that it was a sunny and a happy day and families were spending time together. He described the sun reflecting on the water- and described every little detail. He then proceeded to narrate the following:
" Suddenly some helicopters started hovering over the lake. Everyone looked up with curious and worried expressions on their faces. The helicopters came down on the lake and sucked the water out of the lake. You could see the weed as the lake emptied up. Everyone panicked and started screaming. There were chaos. Police cars came and the police made arrests. Moments later, the very same helicopters returned- this time they had big tubes. They lowered on the empty lake and started filling it up with whipped cream. The chaos calmed down. Children became overjoyed and started running to the whipped cream amidst cries of their mothers telling them to stay back. The helicopters then started sprinkling chocolate and other flavours on the whipped cream. The children tasted the cream and exclaimed that it was delicious."

The radio actor asked everyone to open their eyes. He said that he does not know what exactly everyone had in mind when picturing whatever he said- but he guaranteed that everyone had a different picture in mind. Their thoughts and imaginations were formed by their own life experiences- who knows some might even had a 'sour' image of the whipped cream?

He then proceeded to ask the two debaters talking about animation and television- that whatever he described- wouldn't it take millions of dollars to produce and formulate all this? Would everyone's imaginations be satisfied? He said that when people see television, films or animations- they are looking at someone else's imagination.

The last trigger came from a friend who commented on the picture of a young boy that I photographed a long time ago. He said, "I wonder what this child must be thinking? Was he fascinated by your camera? Or the car you came in? Or was he curious about the clothes you were wearing? Or was he thinking that you will give him some money? ... Hmm...

How wondrous is the mind. And in this blog, I want you to walk with me and explore and celebrate the adventures of the mind.