On Writing with Light

Every other day, when I open the vernacular papers, they are full of news reports of youngsters, who losing their footing have slipped into the Ganga and drowned whilst taking a selfie.

Published: 10th April 2022 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 09th April 2022 03:23 PM   |  A+A-

Image for representational purposes only. ( Express Illustrations)

Image for representational purposes only. ( Express Illustrations)

Every other day, when I open the vernacular papers, they are full of news reports of youngsters, who losing their footing have slipped into the Ganga and drowned whilst taking a selfie. Closer to home, below Jharipani, the police have had to put up signboards banning photography above Chunakhala. This was after two college kids fell down the precipice and perished.

I guess it was safer in the old days to take self-portraits with a mirror; or with a bellow camera and hear the angry cobra-hiss of the timer as we pressed the shutter release making a last-minute dash to fit ourselves into the frame.

These days every kid on the block is armed with a smartphone, selfie stick, selfie brush or selfie apps. They make images that are instantly uploaded on social media. It seems to make their day. Not being able to figure out why folks puckered their lips pouting for a selfie, I look for answers by turning to my friends in the throes of extreme youth to find that here too, confusion reigns.

‘Celebrities do it all the time!’

‘It’s the fashion!’

‘It’s sexy! Like a flying kiss!’

‘It’s got a more sensual meaning!’

‘Forget it! When in doubt—pout!’ laughs my friend the pragmatic Nishu, adding: ‘It hides my double chin.’

Click! Upload! Celebrate! You are one of a million others doing it on the net every single day. The flip side is that smartphones have  revived as if by the Kiss of Life, the endangered world of photography.

Bear with me a while and come to the twilight zone of the Stone Age. We had to load film, and expose frames to process them later. ‘To survive you must keep a six-to-one ratio!’ advised my mentor, the Australian photo-guru, Raymond Louis Steiner. He meant that unless you sold one of six pictures, the expenses would do you in. 

One time I mailed a couple of exposed rolls to the dhobi-ghat (as we used to call the processing lab) on 483 Veer Savarkar Marg, Mumbai. It bounced back in the mail ‘Return to sender: Address Unknown!’ The Kodak lab had downed 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 his belt. Wintering in Greece, he was coming home a few weeks later, so I handed the film. He returned with the envelope, untouched.

‘They’ve closed their lab!’ he smiled. ‘But don’t look so glum, Ganesh! Sam, our son goes to Rochester next month, he’ll take them to the lab there.’ Sam did and this time around, thankfully, the slides came home.

Knowing I was not cut in from the same matrix as Scott of Antarctica, I gave up, swearing never to touch Kodachrome film again. Of course, it had the most vibrant reds, but at the end of the day, it caused too much trouble.

‘Is it all over then for the big brand names?’ I asked Manu Bahuguna, a fellow shutterbug and founder of ‘Precisely!’ he says. And he seemed to mean it, adding: ‘They are only fashion statements now.’

Take it or leave it, the advent of digital photography has levelled the playing field.  Happy Days for photography, are well and truly here!

Ganesh Saili

Author, photographer, illustrator whose works have been translated into two-dozen languages


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