Toning Your Image

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Toning. A Critical Element of Your Image

Manalsu River. Selenium Tone

The last step in editing your image is color grading it or applying a tone. You color grade a color image and apply a tone to a black-and-white image. I’ve learned that toning is a critical element while deciding how I want to present an image. This step often arouses conflicting emotions in me, and I will explain why.

First, I decide on the overall look of the image. Once I make this decision, I process the image. A question I must answer is this: do I want the image to be low-key or high-key, or neutral? I avoid creating a neutral-looking image. Neutral images are boring and don’t possess any personality. This is my view, and I understand that there are many who like neutral images with perfect detail in highlights, mid-tones, and shadows.

However, I don’t mind shadow or dark areas of images with no detail. This is not my usual rule. If a dark area with no detail suits the purpose of the image, I will darken that part of the image. Deep shadows can, and sometimes do create strong moods. In contrast, a high-key image looks almost ethereal at times. However, I will not process an image with a blown-out highlights, especially in monochrome work. Shadows and highlights are critical elements of an image, so treat them with care.

Questions That Plague Me

Manalsu River. The Prometheus Color Grade. 33% Opacity

I mentioned at the start that I always leave toning till the end. Once I have made all the edits in an image, I plan the final visual presentation. This does not mean I leave this thought process until the end. Most of the time, this question plagues me through my edit. Once I reach the end, I pause and smack myself on the head.

The tone is such a critical element of the image, I often have conflicting emotions running through me. I ask myself several questions, and the list below is not exhaustive.

· Do I want the image to be cool or warm?

· Do I want it to appear ‘modern’, or antique?

· Do I want something dramatic, or subtle?

When you answer these and other such questions, and then you may find your solution.

How do you tone your image? There are many ways to tone your image, and I will write a detailed post on this the next time around.

One tool you can use is Nik Silver Efex Pro, which has some excellent options. If you own Joel Tjintjellar’s panel, you can use some options he offers.

If you own neither, you can add a color fill layer as the top layer, and then experiment with various blending modes. Take your pick.

This Image

Manalsu River. The Inception Color Grade. 33% Opacity.

I have posted three versions of the same image in this post. I made this image at the Manalsu River in Manali, Himachal Pradesh, India. It was cold, about minus 5 degrees Celsius. The exposure time is 13 seconds.

I made the initial black & white conversion in Nik Silver Efex Pro. Next, I made some adjustments in Photoshop. Apart from applying curves, I did a lot of dodging and burning. In the end, I applied the tone using Joel’s panel.

When you examine the images, you will notice some subtle differences in all three. Each creates its own mood, and therefore I am convinced toning is such a critical element of a black-and-white image.

In conclusion, I want to emphasize, once more, the centrality of this step in creating your visual story.


A Commercial Word!

You can explore the Nik Collection by clicking the link. You may explore DXOs offers by clicking this link or this one!  My affiliate links are embedded in the Nik collections, but it does not increase your cost.


Back to The Streets

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Photographing People Rebuilding Their Lives

Rheinhold and My Fuji

I am returning to the streets this year, and I have my reasons for this. For one, it has become expensive to travel. When I asked a hotelier about the escalating hotel prices, he shrugged and told me they must make up for their Covid losses. Life has become difficult for all of us, or many of us, in the last two years. Many people in India have become unemployed, and I feel an undercurrent of frustrated anger coursing through the country. Therefore, I intend to focus on people rebuilding their lives and trying to make a living.

I have an interim title for this project, which defines the underlying theme of the project. I got the title from the Australian band, “Men at Work”, though I assumed Kraftwerk had a song by the same name. So yes, the working title of the project is “Men at Work”.

India Today

People have lost jobs in India and, even before the pandemic, unemployment was running high. When this phenomenon propagates through society, anger fills the void. In fact, this is when politicians step in to fill the breach and rule. In India, our ruling party has fuelled this anger and steered it towards Muslims. There is little focus on people rebuilding their lives, and what the government can do to help.

A Digression. Nietzsche

As a result, our society has become divided and fragmented. I can write extensively on this topic, but I always one thing Nietzsche said.

Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.

Nietzsche

This could be a misquote, but I guess you understand what he means when he said that.

Most people don’t realize the growing inequality in India. A gentleman, Gautam Adani, was worth $7 billion in 2014 and is worth $90 billion today. But most people want to get on with life and care for their families. Go analyze.

As I Continue With The Work

Therefore, I choose to focus on this: people rebuilding their lives, and just getting on with making a living. I am aware some people may label me as a sexist with a title like “Men at Work”, but this is not the case. Over time, I will find a more representative title. So, if someone has some bright ideas, let me know!

Years back, when I started my life in street photography, I delighted in photographing poor people, and calling my images “authentic”. As time passed, my attitude changed with it. Nowadays, when I analyse my earlier approach, I realize I am guilty of “poverty porn”. I acknowledge now, there is no harm in photographing poor people on the street. We have many poor people in India, and it is impossible to avoid them. However, if I glory in their poverty, then I am guilty of exploiting their situation.

Therefore, I always try, these days, to capture their laughter, their spirit, their dignity. I am not doing them a favor. In fact, the reverse may be true.

Back to the streets. This is where I started. This is where I resume my photography. As I work my way through this little project, I hope I do justice to my countrymen who are rebuilding their lives.

The Camera I Will Use

When I go back to the streets, I will use my new camera, the Fujifilm XT-4, and a 35mm f2 Fujinon lens. If you are an Indian, you can click the affiliate links I embedded, and explore the camera on Amazon India.

A gentleman told me I made a mistake when I bought the 35mm lens. In his opinion, the lens for street photography, if you are using a crop sensor, is the 23mm lens. I didn’t want to argue with him, because it is vital for you as a photographer to choose the lens which supports your approach to photography.

Too many people these days like to prescribe approaches to landscape, street, and other kinds of photography. The result: too many images look the same. A formulaic approach is the quickest way to kill any creative endeavor.

In conclusion, choose the gear which supports your needs, and not the other way around.


My Timberland

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Your Shoes and the Journeys You Undertake

My Timberland Shoes!

You may consider me to be crazy, and it’s possible I am quite mad. Why, you might ask, why I am writing a blog post about my Timberland shoes. However, I’d like you to stay with me, as I write about my Timberland shoes and the journeys you take.

Shoes are critical to the comfort of our walk and our gait. Do you disagree? I challenge you and encourage you to wear a pair of uncomfortable shoes and see how far you go. A week back, I discovered a pair of shoes I had put away because they pinched my toes. Since times are tough–financially–I tried them on one more time. I figured I was going to save some money, but no! When I tried to wear them, I transported myself into a world of agony.

Therefore, on the journeys you undertake, ensure you own a fabulous pair of shoes and a spare pair.

My Timberland

I bought my Timberland shoes many years ago in Bombay. Since that fateful day, I walked the streets of many Indian cities, traveled to the mountains, walked along the slippery tops of waterfalls, waded in rivers, and even walked in some sandy areas. Sometime in 2017, we did a solo car journey across the central heart of India.

Over this time, my Timberland shoes have stood me in good stead and become my faithful companion. They took some time to fashion themselves into the shape of my foot, but after we solved this initial teething problem, we became partners.

Your Packing List

The journeys you undertake are always better with a good pair of shoes. They make it easy for you to walk, yet I am sad to report, very few people mention the importance of a good pair of shoes on these trips. Most packing lists include cameras, lenses, filters, tripods, writing accessories, memory banks, memory cards, spare batteries and chargers, and a few other accessories.

Almost no one talks about shoes. When you consider this, it is incredible because the shoes you buy travel with you from place to place and become your companions for years. When their time is done, remember to gaze at them with affection, and look back at the journeys you undertook together and the stories you have shared.

Yes, my Timberland shoes experienced much with me, and for this, I am grateful.


In Nandgaon. Holi

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The Wet, Herbal Color of The Tesu Flower

Above and below. In Nandgaon

I hope all of you enjoyed the images of Holi in Barsana. And now, we must move on to Nandgaon, which is where I went the next day. Legends say that Krishna spent a few years of his childhood/adolescence in Nandgaon. The legends also say Krishna left Braj Bhoomi towards the end of his teens and never returned. At any rate, we were in Nandgaon the next day, where people play with wet, herbal colors. In contrast, as I mentioned in my last post, people use mainly dry color in Barsana.

The Tesu Flower

They play with dry colors as well, but the one most used is the red color, extracted from the tesu flower. I have been told the plant also possesses medicinal properties, and people use the petals to make sherbets. In our Indian tradition, we use wet, herbal colors, extracted from plants.

However, times are changing. Our population has exploded, and people’s temperaments are changing as well. I was told Holi was a gentle festival, but in parts of urban India, tinges of violence and thuggish elements have entered the festivities. Sadly, goons take advantage of the occasion to molest women. Nowadays, the colors we get are often synthetic and stain your skin for several days. Plus, you have the possibility of getting a skin rash.

Before I move on, I must point out one crucial aspect of Holi. The date of the festival marks the end of spring and the start of summer. We base all our festivals on the lunar calendar, and they mark the change of seasons.

Back in Barsana

But let’s move on, else I will carry on lecturing everyone. The day after the men of Nandgaon visit Barsana, the Barsana men return the compliment. The two villages are about twenty kilometers apart, so it’s not an arduous trek either way.

The celebrations in Nandgaon center on the temple on the hill, unlike Barsana, where it spills onto the streets with extreme vigor. In both villages, a temple sits on the hilltop, but I didn’t enter Barsana’s temple.

Here, in Barsana, the dry colors soon give way to the wet, herbal color of the tesu flower. The red dye of the flower blends with the dry color and there is almost no hope of remaining dry. If you harbor such hopes, then everyone will know you are in the grip of some strange insanity!

I was using my Nikon D200 on this trip and had covered it with a plastic camera cover. In all honesty, I dislike using this cover, because it makes the experience awkward, and it is difficult to make a perfect image. If I had known how difficult this was going to be, I would have used a prime lens and continued to move back and forth amongst the crowd. If you don’t mind getting wet–and you will–the task is easier in Nandgaon than in Barsana. In Barsana, you get buffeted around anyway and must possess the build of a bull.

Towards the late afternoon, the men from Barsana enter the temple courtyard, to a shower of red tesu water. The men of the opposing villages sit opposite each other and then, as the red rain showers down on them, they sing to each other. Each side trumpets its superiority, and they sing with vigor. As a red haze fills the air, their songs soar to the heavens, playing out the ancient myth. The wet, herbal color drips rivers of red, and the men sing out in perfect harmony.

Then, in fifteen minutes, it is all over, and the brave hearts from Barsana walk the streets to receive their share of the pasting from the women of the village.

Your Clothes Die in the wet, herbal color!

At long last, the day is done, and everyone–locals and visitors–settle down for chai and pakora before heading back home.

When you arrive back at your hotel, you strip and get into the shower. While the colored water pours down your naked body, you realize your clothes are dead. But you know you will wear them again in Vrindavan the next day. At the end of the trip, your jeans and shoes make squelching sounds, akin to a death rattle. They have lived their life, and you return home and prepare another set of clothes in case you intend to return the following year.


A Commercial Break

I’d like to announce a commercial break! Since I edited many images, I used Luminar AI. This is an excellent software editing tool, and you may explore this, or Luminar Neo by clicking my affiliate link. You may choose to buy Luminar for a one-time fee or buy an annual license.


In Barsana. Holi

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The Madness of Holi

Crowding

It’s that time of the year when the madness of Holi grips the country. It’s also the time of the year when I retreat into my shell like a turtle. Or, like an ostrich, I bury my head in the sand. Personally, I prefer the turtle analogy because an ostrich exposes its rear end to the attack.

Some Old Myths

Dancing

We, and many people, call Holi “The Festival of Color”, and it is that. If you go down into the dusty vaults of history, you will come to know it was not called Holi, but Holika. And, if you dive deeper into the legend around Holi, then you may come to realize we burn Holika on Holi.

If you are wondering whether Holika was a real person, then you may be forgiven. First, I must mention this: Holi predates Christ, and it’s quite possible the Christian ministers who roamed in India in the 18th and 19th centuries frowned on our pagan practices. We are unashamedly pagan in our beliefs and, I know, the extreme variety in customs, festivals, and religious beliefs completely bemused the early Muslim travelers who came to India in the 9th and 10th centuries AD.

At any rate, the madness of Holi is ancient indeed.

The Most Common Myth

Sitting in Color

The most common myth surrounding Holi revolves around a demon king called Hiranyakashyap. Despite his deepest desire that everyone worship him, he found, to his dismay, that his son Prahalad worshiped Lord Narayana (one of Vishnu’s avtaars). Hiranyakashyap’s sister, Holika, had one power: fire could not burn her. So, after spending months or years tearing his hair out in frustration, the wonderful king ordered his sister to enter a burning fire, with Prahalad on her lap. To his utter dismay, Lord Narayana stepped in, saved Prahalad, and burned Holika instead.

Therefore, in one sense, the festival, like many others, celebrates the victory of good over evil. Yet, if you attempt to answer Christ’s question to Pilate during his trial (What is truth?), you may scratch your head while defining evil. After all, Krishna commanded Arjuna to fight his cousins and uncles at the Battle of Kurukshetra.

Krishna & Holi

People closely associate Krishna with Holi, and they say that, when he threw color on Radha, the love of his life, on the day of Holi, we associated the festival with color.

“Braj Bhoomi” is the region in India associated with Krishna and his legends. I will not go into this now, but I may do so another time.

In Barsana

Several years back, I had gone to Braj Bhoomi to photograph the way the people there celebrate Holi. Every town or village in that area has some legend associated with Krishna and Radha. Or, shall I say, Radha and Krishna.

People say Radha spent a few years in a village called Barsana. One year, on Holi, Krishna–a naughty fellow that he is–stole her clothes while she and her friends were bathing in the river. The women whacked him with lathis, and I believe he returned to his village–Nandgaon–with a few welts.

Folks in Barsana and NandGaon celebrate “Lath-Maar Holi” as it is called and play out an ancient myth. They told me that on the first day, men from NandGaon visit Barsana, taunt the women who then smack them with lathis. The men crouch down and protect themselves with leather shields. On the second day, the men from Barsana visit NandGaon to complete their end of the ritual.

A lathi is a six-foot-long bamboo pole and is lethal. If you assume the women, tap the men gently, and plan to insinuate yourself into the action, then you may return home with a cracked skull. The people told me the men spend a month training and perfecting their taunts, and the women likewise, are fattened up for a month before the festival.

Barsana is also a place where you will experience the full madness of Holi. They use dry color, so it washes off easily. Crowds fill the streets, and it’s advisable not to carry your wallet or credit card around.

Riding The Waves

I remember that day well because I was standing at the edge of the crowd, straddling a gutter at about 4 pm. The crowds stood there, waiting for the men from Nandgaon. Then, someone at the far end of the crowd must have signaled their imminent arrival, because ripples of energy and motion ran through the crowd.

Most of the people there seemed to move with the wave, except for one idiot: me. It is possible the crowd sensed me standing there with my mouth foolishly open. I say this because I was picked up in the wave’s crest and being deposited in the gutter in the trough. A few men tumbled over me, and I don’t know who smelled more, them or me.

At any rate, I struggled to get to my feet and made a few images.

“Lath-Maar Holi”, which literally translates as “Hit with a Lathi” has become something of a commercial event, and the state government had helicopters showering flowers on us. No one has showered flowers on me ever since, and I am saddened by this.

That was Barsana–the madness of Holi, in dry color!


A Commercial Break

I’d like to announce a commercial break! Since I edited many images, I used Luminar AI. This is an excellent software editing tool, and you may explore this, or Luminar Neo by clicking my affiliate link. You may choose to buy Luminar for a one-time fee or buy an annual license.


My Fellow Indian

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The Choices We Make

My Fellow Indian. The Young Boy

Life is full of twists and turns, and we always must choose. The choices we make are critical, and determine the way we live our lives, our approach to projects, and how we present ourselves. I know this sounds philosophical and grand, but when you weigh my words, you will agree (please do!) that there is a grain of truth in the words.

I don’t recall if I mentioned this when I wrote my blog called “My Beloved Olympus-2”, but for years after I found myself on the wrong side of the corporate door, I spent considerable energy trying to get back in. Then, a tube light exploded inside me, and I realized I was wasting my energy chasing the wrong horse. So, I made a choice: follow my heart and soul and chase the photography/storytelling horse.

Seven Cities

When I did my “Seven Cities of Delhi” project, I made the correct photographic decision of presenting the images as digital simulations of 19th-century image-making techniques. However, I made the wrong choice in book size and paper type when I self-published my work. Further, I did not give myself sufficient time to craft the text. Therefore, when I look back at it now, I consider the prose turgid and stiff. The choices we make are critical because they affect the way we use our time.

Now, I am at another critical phase in a project, and I have not yet arrived at a definite direction. However, let me first explain my project. I have two, but I will only talk of one, the one occupying my thoughts nowadays.

I haven’t picked up a camera to do photography in the last two years, but this will change within March. However, I have been editing many old images, and I am happy with this. A few months back, I decided to edit a bunch of images I made of people over the last fifteen years.

My Fellow Indian

I call this mini-project “My Fellow Indian”, and I am aware this mini-project does not represent Indians from all the regions of the country. However, I possess these images, and I am editing them.

My Choices

At the moment, I am going through the Lightroom edits, but I am in a quagmire. Do I do the final edits in color, or in black & white? Or shall I split them into color and monochrome? Within the world of monochrome, I will need to consider the final toning options I have–a cool selenium, or a warmer coffee, or ambrotype.

If I go for the color option, shall I stay within the realm of ‘normal color’, or do I opt for a stylized cinematic kind of approach?

The choices we make determine the path we tread, and I fear time will compel me to decide soon.

Two Years & Inequality Has Written

Young Boy. Bombay

Now that I have reached this point, I must ask you if you are wondering why I am doing all this. If I may assume you are bursting with curiosity, then I will answer the unspoken question.

We’ve all lost money over the last two years, apart from the rich and powerful. They are accumulating more power, money, and prestige. We witness it in India, and you see it in the way the ‘tech titans’ are acting on the global stage.

Yet, there are many of us who are going to be left behind in the geopolitical drama being played out on the national and international stage. These ‘humble folk’ will be the first to be affected by public health disasters, pandemics, or climate change disasters.

So, when I edit these images, I think of them, and the way their life stories are playing out. Unfortunately, they face a paucity of choice, and may be compelled to confront a scary future.

The choices we make affect them as much as they affect us.

A Parting Note

I made the image of the young boy many years back, when I was living in Bombay. One evening, I went across to the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, and photographed him as he sat in the dying sun. He looked at me with a direct look, something I didn’t always see during my corporate career. Soon after the policeman chased me off, saying I had no business photographing the bridge. Evidently, he has, or had, no idea of satellite imagery. I wonder what he will think of Elon Musk and Starlink.

What do you see in the boy’s eyes? And, what do you think of Starlink? Think deep.


My Beloved Olympus (3)

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Journey Along The Learning Curve

My Olympus. Lesson 3

When I started walking the tortuous path of becoming a half-decent photographer, I did not realize I was to journey along the learning curve all my life. I dislike the phrase. It is a cliché, but I will use it for this little confession because it is apt.

But the phrase fits the purpose of this blog post, so I will use it!

The first lesson I learned was how to compose an image. This should be obvious to anyone, but not to me. When you read this, you may conclude I am quite stupid and, if so, you are correct. I took my camera, shot images, ran off to the lab, and when the results came back, I filled buckets with my tears. You may think I am joking, but I am not. Often, I bathed in my own tears and saved the world a lot of water.

Since then, my tear glands dried up, and nowadays, a teardrop falls with extreme reluctance. “Enough,” my glands seem to say. “You have completed your life’s quota of tears.”

Through The Years

It was to be years before I discovered arcane phrases like color and size contrast, the rule of thirds, Fibonacci’s something or the other, balanced compositions, etc. Keep these phrases in your belt, because you can trot them out and sound knowledgeable.

I learned a few lessons:

· A cluttered image is awful. Simplicity is vital, and you must keep distracting elements out of your image. It could be a metaphor for life.

· There are some things I enjoyed photographing, and others, not. This is a second metaphor for life.

· I love black & white photography. While this is not a metaphor for life, I know my brain works better in monochrome than in color.

· I love photographing people on the street, and nature.

Take Care Of Your Equipment

The Learning Curve

I learned those things; this is true. But the day dawned on me I must take care of my equipment. My initial attitude was careless, despite the price my father paid for my Olympus. When the monsoons arrived, I discovered the beautiful world of mold and fungi. My initial response to fungi was altogether negative because, one day, I discovered thin filament-like fingers of fungus covering my lens.

Despite my I engineering qualification, I did not apply science to maintaining my camera. But I overcame my initial feelings of shame and mortification and went down to South Bombay to get the lens cleaned. After speaking with the technician, I hoofed across to Crawford Market and bought a pair of huge class containers, half a truck of grease, and half a truck of desiccant.

I cheered myself, but I still had a few more steps to go along this specific learning curve. The monsoon humidity always saturated the desiccant gel with a vengeance, and they ceased to perform their miracles. After some time, the fungus returned, and the technician looked at me with pity, then reminded me I had to heat the crystals periodically to ensure they continued to keep my equipment dry.

Once again, as I slapped myself, I realized I did not apply my science training to life!

As time passed, I improved, and my Olympus is still in good working condition. Yet, when I look back over the years, I am reminded of a few things.

One, never assume your journey along the learning curve ever ends. If you decide you are an expert, you will stumble and fall. Your journey will end, and you will wind up feeling unhappy, frustrated, and with a bloody nose.

Enjoy the path, with all its twists and turns. Keep traveling with humility until the end of your time on earth. This, at least, is what I am trying to do.

I am often unsuccessful, fall down, curse, mope and then get up and walk on.


A SMALL COMMERCIAL BREAK

I used Envato for one of the images, and Canva to design the graphic. You will find my affiliate links embedded in the text.


If You want to Go Back

The first Olympus post is here, and the second one is here. And, my alternative biography is here.



My Beloved Olympus (2)

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Your First True Love

Lesson 2 and My Olympus

Do you remember your first love? I am not speaking of your first fling, but of your first true love. While studying engineering, I fell in love with corrosion engineering and wanted to do my PhD in corrosion. If everything had gone my way, then I would have flown to the USA, studied, and become a professor or joined a company to continue my research in this field. I can speculate but, maybe my life’s path would have diverged from the world of photography.

A few years back, when I made this comment on Merilee Mitchel’s site, she replied and said photography would have found me. She is an excellent photographer, and you will find her at The Gravel Ghost.

I stumbled upon photography quite by accident. While I loved corrosion engineering and did everything possible to maximize the possibility of achieving my ambition, I didn’t go all the way. Yes: I could have, I should have, and I would have. But I didn’t. That’s why I ended up in the industry, and that’s why I set off a chain of events leading me to photography.

Photography & Storytelling

First Love

I didn’t realize it, but photography is my first true love. My roots lie in black & white photography and street photography. If I am going to be truly honest with myself, then I must realize my primary skills in photography lie in street and travel photography, then in landscape work. When I combine this with the narrative I enjoy writing, I create something I feel happy to put out into the world.

An Intermission

As I type this, I discovered I hadn’t saved it earlier, so I am crafting this post again.

Yes, I remember now where I left off earlier.

The Boot on My Bum

When my corporate bosses decided they were tired of me, they booted me out of their halls. I remember my anger at their behavior, and this stayed with me for a long time. However, when I informed a few partners of my imminent departure, one of them congratulated me, saying I was too independent and creative for the corporate world.

I confess I didn’t appreciate what he said that day because I seethed from the manner of my abrupt departure. My achievements did not matter. All that mattered was my boss’s impression and his incompetence.

The Maze of Confusion

The Maze

Therefore, when I left, I was determined to become a consultant and didn’t focus on photography and storytelling. However, I also did not see my growing irrelevance to my previous world, where your business card determines your worth. During the next period of my life, I read many motivational, inspirational, and entrepreneur-focused literature. Even though I perused literature advising me to focus on ‘the one thing’ and applauded the Russian proverb which advised me that the man who chases two rabbits catches none.

All this time, my first true love seemed buried underneath a mass of confusion. In addition, as I chased two impossible dreams, I was conscious of my past status as a senior corporate executive. This is an impossible burden for anyone to carry and one day, I threw it off.

Freedom

During the lockdown imposed on us two years ago, I started writing a journal. Over the last two years, this has become a part of my daily routine. I also write, in longhand, every day and I find this helpful.

One day, a month ago, I slapped my head and asked me what I was doing with my life. All my past conversations with my family and a few good friends came back and hit me hard. I doubt Mike Tyson could punch me harder, and I rocked.

It was at this moment when I dumped all pretensions of becoming a consultant. I realized I had wandered through a foggy maze of my making and carried a weight no one asked me to lift.  

Whilst at lunch a few weeks back, I photographed a corporate tower, which looked like a prison from the outside. It looked like a panopticon, and I sent the image to my good friend and amazing photographer, Jenny Cameron. When I sent the image, I misquoted Edgar Allan Poe, with the line, “Quoth the Raven, Nevermore”.

Find your first true love, nourish it, and it will reward you. In conclusion, that’s all I can say.


Commercial Break

I used Envato for one of the images, and Canva to design the graphic. You will find my affiliate links embedded in the text.


If You Want To Go Back

The first Olympus post is here. And my alternative biography is here.

I don’t usually use pink in anything. But, my good friend and talented designer Michelle loves it, so I decided to make her happy!



My Beloved Olympus (1)

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Acknowledge your Debt

Lesson 1 from my Olympus

I bought my Olympus OM-2n camera almost forty years ago. It’s been a while and through the years I have spoken of how my father bought this camera for me. If not for him, I could not have embarked on this journey into the world of photography. It’s good form to acknowledge your debt, especially to your parents.

Over the years, I have seen many people who grow up cursing their parents and being critical of them. Yes, some parents deserve all criticism, and we cannot doubt this. Consider this: murderers, thieves, rapists, politicians, and priests–to name a few categories of criminals–spawn children. But mostly, our parents struggle to raise us, make sacrifices we take for granted, and hope we will be normal human beings.

Often, we never stop to think about their struggles, listen to their stories, or even have a conversation with them. If you don’t care to do this, then there is no way you will acknowledge your debt to them.

It is a shame that we don’t listen to them because we miss the chance to learn the history of their lives and their times. In fact, we often dismiss them as dinosaurs and ask them not to be boring. After this, we bury our heads in our mobile phones to catch up on the latest hip-swiveling ‘influencer’. This is the way of the modern world.

Conversations & Amends

When I was a teenager, pursuing an engineering degree, we’d often sit around an aluminium kettle, drink tea out of chipped cups, and talk for hours. Our conversations often went off at weird tangents, but we spoke to each other.

Yet, when I think back on my own life, I realize I began having proper conversations with my father only in the fourth decade of my life. This is a shame, because I cannot bring him back, or travel back in time to my teenage years (for instance) and hold a genuine conversation with him.

Maybe I am trying to make amends by giving as much time as possible to my mother. When you reflect, you may realize your parents will almost never ask you to acknowledge your debt to them, but they will be grateful if you give them time, companionship, and attention.

Therefore, when I look at my Olympus OM-2n, I always reflect on how the camera changed my life’s direction. I am always reminded of my father’s gift to me and it was more than just a camera.  


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An Alternative Biography

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What if?

My Story?

I write every day in response to a writing prompt, and I have a collection of them for the current year. Also, and I must emphasize this, I write in longhand, using a fountain pen. I have a small collection of such pens. Anyway, one prompt encouraged me to write an alternative autobiography. So, while writing this, I realized that this sort of writing prompts you to ask: ‘what if?’. However, I also encourage you to ask, “now what?”

While I understand that some of this can be self-indulgent, the exercise is excellent, because it helps, sometimes, to clear the cobwebs in your brain. So, having written all this, let’s start.

What if my life followed a different, and I was brave enough to follow my dreams earlier? What if I had the clarity to realize what I wanted to do in life? We can ask ourselves these questions and, ever since I read Viktor Frankl’s book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”, I have asked myself these questions from time to time.

Travel to the Past with me

Travel back in time with me, and picture me as a young, twenty-three-year-old metallurgical engineer. After my bout with jaundice, I gained weight and became very rotund. When my bossed put me in the steel plant, they also put me in the general shift (I started shift work a few months later) and worked six days a week. We’d party on Saturday nights and spend Sundays in a groggy haze. You could name Sunday as “The Day of Groggy Rest”.

There are moments in life when your life takes a different trajectory, and it just requires something to give you a hard kick on your behind.

I used to live in company given quarters and, while it was not good, it gave us security. The chance of us being kicked out on to the street was minimal. A young person stayed with us, a freeloader from Kerala. On the one hand, he was a complete wastrel, and on the other, he was a good-natured chap, so no one kicked him out.

One night, however, he vomited all over me and, when I looked down at my puke-stained clothes, I asked myself if I had spent five years of my life in one of India’s top engineering colleges only to have a complete slacker vomit all over me. Life owed something better, and I owed life something better.

The problem that now faced me square in the face was what to do on Sundays. I love reading, but couldn’t afford books on my pittance of a salary. Sundays now became the “Day of Empty Rest”, and a day full of tedium. Two prostitutes (sisters) lived on my floor, and another prostitute lived two floors above me. Now that I stopped sleeping through my Sundays, I noticed all three of them gazing at me with considerable interest. My ego demanded that I view this as an expression of lust for my personal self, but realism punctured that self-made myth. They only wanted my money.

Forcing Myself Into Photography

When I decided to do something productive, I examined my family members to hunt for clues. My father, while a bit of a rake in his younger days, had become a hard-working Army man, one who received the highest award possible for a non-combat officer. During my childhood, living in Kenton, Harrow, he used to crawl into our bed on Sunday mornings and tell us a story. I didn’t realize he was an excellent storyteller, neither did I comprehend that storytelling is an art form.

For me, drawing, painting, sketching, sculpting, etc., were art forms, and my mother and sisters excelled at this. Compared with them, I possessed the artistic skills of a block of wood. Undeterred by this discovery, I took up photography.

In those days, camera manufacturers did not have offices and shops in India. Unless you were rich enough to travel overseas, you trooped down to South Bombay, to the Fort and Fountain areas, and buy a camera from the chaps sitting on the pavement. These chaps sold smuggled goods, and we didn’t get a warranty.

My Beloved Olympus

First, I bought a photography magazine, and the authors recommended Leica cameras. The price almost sent me into a cardiac shock, so I settled on the Olympus OM-2n, which the authors praised. When I found one, I my next cardiac event followed At half my annual salary, what else can you expect?

I convinced the ‘footpath retailer’ to hold on to the camera for me, after paying a small deposit, until I arranged the funds. Next, I convinced my father to shell up the funds and, a month later, was back at my friend’s spot on the pavement.

True to his word, he held the camera for me. This brings me to a slight tangential detour. In those days, a word given in honor represented a promise to be kept. Things have changed since then, and honor seems to be a word we use in a warped context.

I bought the camera and own it till this day. It is an Olympus OM-2n, with a 50 mm F1.4 lens. This is a fabulous configuration. I’d like to bore you all with the story of how I went into street photography, shot black & white, and learned how to care for the camera. But maybe I will keep that for another day.

But what if the young wastrel had not puked all over me? What would my life have been?

Cowardly Me

When I learned how to make acceptable images, I told my father I wanted to become a photographer. Without cursing me for wasting five years of my life studying to be an engineer, he found me a position as the apprentice to an established photographer. At that moment, panic coursed through me like the waves in a stormy sea. I would have to leave the security of my company flat and become a paying guest in some horrible place in Bombay.

So, like an ungrateful cretin, I cursed my father for his efforts, and turned my back on a career in photography. Years passed, and the corporate world finally tired of my rebellious and independent nature and booted me out.

My backside and ego hurt for many years, and I explored business consultancy. Yet, my heart kept pulling me back into photography and storytelling (shades of my father!).

In the end, I refused to accept the truth that, with each passing day, I was becoming outdated and irrelevant. Sometimes, we must be like the snake to live. We must molt, shed our old skins, and find life and purpose anew.

Unshackling. Molting

Shedding Old Skin

When I started on my photography journey, without realizing it, my Sundays became enjoyable. Not only did I have something to look forward to, I found meaning in life. Yes, I lost the way, but now, I am molting. As I shed the old skin, I unshackle from old, rusty chains.

Now is the time to ask—what if? What if I had taken my fate into my hands and become an apprentice? Would I have become a successful commercial photographer? Would I have lost my soul in the maze of technique and money-making? It’s good to make money, but it is also good to nourish the soul. Would I have walked the tightrope of artistic vision and commerce?


Commercial Break! Images from Envato.



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