Meditations of another kind on “All eyes” by Raviprakash S.S.

A dear friend, great photographer Raviprakash S S whose work we have been enjoying at is conferred with prestigious Category winner award in Amphibians & reptiles category (Natural History Museum) for the featured image (below) 

Srinilaya-May12_4485 (1)

Space exists as  gapingly vacuous void, ever so forlorn without a seed, ferment or fervor.
Who walks there?
Who beholds that penurious infinity, a whole lot of cosmos where nothing stirs?


..a rustle. Blades of grass, green snake passing through; green in green. There is a see’er (read seer) whose eye focuses on this indecipherable materiality called life and sleepy dimensions come alive. The flourish of focus in space is like a child in the womb; the most exquisite manifestation of co-dependence of the temporal and the spatial. The act of focusing transforms the spatial into mental by identifying matter with breathing, moving life.

So arrives a snake in Raviprakash’s garden (or eden?). I would prefer to call it eden because of the trust between the the photographer who is a visitor to his native place, and the snake-the resident native. The intimacy allows him to come as close as an earshot of the snake. I recall my birder friend Sujan Chatterjee narrating how to tell whether a place is perceived as safe by birds. “It is very safe  if we are allowed to approach them within an earshot, not very safe if we are allowed no closer than a slingshot distance and  unsafe if they stay a gunshot distance away.” Thus it emerges from “All eyes” and his earlier images of vine snakes taken at his native place that neither the photographer nor the snake are suspicious of each other’s presence.

In words of Raviprakash “Green vine snake is very attractive subject for me.. we have grown up seeing those friendly snakes in our neighbourhood. Though its a snake it really doesn’t scare us much ” and “CNP influence made me to look for different angles/compositions and hence i went behind the snake to see any opportunity. Popping eyes were just too good and i captured the snake with only eye in focus. I was capturing from about 15-18 inches from the eyes.. so even f/8 was giving DOF just to keep eyes in focus. The curvy snake added its own drama. I was extremely happy with the result. Since the snake was just about 6-8 feets from our house, i coud track its movements till noon..i ended up clicking mostly this snake in first half of the day. It gave me many opportunities with different angles (including top view).”

Ravi has been able to click from many possible perspectives; the present one being unique where a vine snake leaps into the frame looking as a vine with its head resembling a flower bud. The snake is presented as a dimorph switching appearance between a plant and a snake. The most interesting part is that it avoids all stereotypes of a snake image. We don’t see venomous intent. Nor does it arouse  “proverbial desire” due to which snake, adam and eve have been reviled since the dawn of civilization. Instead it looks to be a friendly and genteel creature busy looking into its eden throwing back his eye once in a while, watching its own back.

For the snake it is a very liberating image because it does not echo any of our received knowledge about them. Far from making it look fatally fearful it brings to us an intimate creature. It often happens through cultural practices that things no longer remain things as they are. They acquire other meanings (venomous intent for one) which get foregrounded  in our dealing with them. Actual subject stays hidden behind the mist of meanings. It requires a trusting habitat as this in order to clear the mist and know the true being of the other.

A photographer friend Dr. Parihar never  titles  his pictures. When asked about the reason he calmly replied “ I click visuals not meanings. A visual with obvious meaning is like a caged bird.”
“All eyes” in spite of having a title preserves sanctity of the visual. It clicks a snake and sets it free.
Adam, Eve and the proverbial reptile can safely book their return passage to Eden.

WPY (1)-2


Meditations of another kind on Nirvair’s image “Twinkle twinkle…”

Meditations of another kind

on Nirvair’s image

Twinkle twinkle little stars..

(Image of the month for january 2012 at )

Twinkle twinkle..

                                                                                        Twinkle twinkle little stars.. image by Nirvair Singh

I have often wondered if the moment of clicking a photograph could be called a compendium of our mental state. The choice of visual elements, their placement, the way various elements relate with each other can be said to express  deeply felt thoughts or emotions. Our mental state is stamped with  visual codes comprising many in-expressibles. In a sense every photograph may be told as a story;  (I just stopped short of saying epic) visibly of the outside world but essentially photographers’ own. A progression of events leading to the final outcome; the picture.

Paraphrasing Rolland Barthes “In short, all these “imitative” arts comprise two messages: a denoted message, which is the analogon itself, and a connoted message, which is the manner in which the society to a certain extent communicates what it thinks of it. ……”                                                                                             Image Music Text; The photographic message                    

In this background an attempt has been made to locate the message in one of the shots taken by Nirvair’s “Twinkle Twinkle little stars…” The shot appeared as Image of the month at CNP( for the month of January’2012. I’ll try to be as objective as possible but the fact that he is my son may bring in subjective play in the analysis. In doing so we might have to step outside the picture.

October 2011.

Nirvair has been in Dhaka for barely a month. It’s an alien place; food, language, customs, landscape everything is different. Till now nature photography has been his passion. He has grown up in places which abound in nature and open spaces. Here in a crowded city  nature and open space exist only in imagination. He is putting up in a rented room which is to be his home for next three years. He has Hasan, his senior at Pathshala and the landlord, Salaudin his classmate and Sazzad his teacher as his neighbours, friends and family.

Nirvair appears to be settled and reassures his parents through his missives. Experimenting with a new genre he is clicking a lot of self-portraits. These are dark, delible and quiet, hauntingly quiet. It seems he is trying to populate his world with the most likely familiarity; his own face.

Here’s one picture.

soul mate

                                                                                                Soulmate; image by Nirvair Singh

Come Diwali and Nirvair is surprised by Hasan who comes over with a pack of candles. Nirvair puts them up in his room and corridor. This heart-warming gesture helps him bond with the place. He shares the images of candle lit room and corridor with his family. These are also the first images of light from Dhaka. Images of hope one may say. Here are the images.

diwali lights-I

                                                                                       Diwali lights-I; image by Nirvair Singh


Diwali lights-II

                                                                Diwali lights-II; image by Nirvair Singh

Time goes by. Nirvair is invited to Hasan’s house to celebrate Independence Day of Bangladesh. Fire-works remind him of Diwali. He misses home. After some straight shots in the courtyard he scales a wall, as if looking over, for a glimpse of home. Standing there, he spots these faintly visible leaf-twins. Holding on to that moment he lets it seep within. He sees nature, or more appropriately, its imprint. The shot he frames may be read as a pictorial map of his longing. There are two leaves in the foreground. The background is a receding sprinkle of faintly visible, out of focus lights.

The image titled “Twinkle Twinkle little stars…” sounding like the nursery rhyme, resounds with happy wonderment. Could it be  something more than just lights strung in bokeh’ed shimmer? Is there another way of looking at the picture? Arati Rao, another CNP member and a accomplished photographer & travel writer   commented that the leaves in the image looked like a “venetian mask”. So what lies hidden behind the mask.

Out of focus lights stake their claim to the title obviously. What about the faintly visible leaves ? Their claim to space may be a modest one but we can be sure that that they have a major part to play in making the picture. It is possible that the title is an inverted reference, albeit unconsciously, to leaves which represent suppressed longing of the photographer.

Did he have a choice to go closer to the leaves? If he did then why did he take the picture the way he did? Is the picture a portrayal of nature on the fringe? Or it is  photographers own state where he sees himself surfacing slowly amidst a whole lot of unknowns.

Two leaves drowned in the darkness are lit up by distant lights. They symbolise hope in the form of nature; Nirvair’s alter ego. Resuscitating himself in an act of self-preservation

he’s got a glimpse of his ownself, nature, home.

All is well.

@my other blog;


“Belonging” by Munem Wasif

Meditations of another kind


 “belonging”-Image by Munem Wasif

Munem Wasif is an eminent documentary photographer in Bangladesh. He has been represented by Agence Vu since 2008,  and is now teaching documentary photography at Pathshala South Asian Media Academy.

belonging by Munem Wasif

The picture is from Munem Wasif’s eagerly awaited book “Belonging”

By the waterside a barber leans over his customer. The barber looks focused. His way of handling the ustra and the way he positions the face of his customer testifies to his expertise. Customer’s head is leaning on a side. His eyes are closed, restfully. An insubstantial sign of strain on his forehead at the junction of eyes and nose punctuates an otherwise blissful expression. He could be a passenger or another boatman. But his face doesn’t show passenger’s anxiety. The coarseness of barber’s shirt, his tangled bristly hair, the crop of their beards helps in situating the photograph. Moving up from there we are lead into the cluster of boats. Each boat looks like a flower petal, their assemblage a flower, moored with thin rope lines to a ragged pole. Moored to their boats with equal lightness,  boat men contemplate on the next journey. Gently lapping water could be the first note of a bhatiali. Moving further up we are in deeper waters now. There are boats, large and small with passengers aboard. Gentle concave forms of small boats run into solid checkered lines of large vessels. Behind them, a city rises, immobilized with anchor in its gut; and strangely though, the vortex of all activity in the foreground. The gaze then reflects from the imperviousness of city’s unheeding white.  Breaking sideways into the chaotic middle with boats in their mid-journeys it folds into the “flower” of boats, finding order and anchor. Finally we return to land where the barber and his customer are still there. One wonders what are they doing here? What’s the connect?

The story begins; each boat must have its own. If I were writing fiction I would love following each one to its story but this being a photo document, subtle and real, I stop here and ponder “what does it mean to belong?” Does one belong to something? Does it have a direction or is it a deeply ingrained sense wherein we just co-habit; the space as much in our pores as our breath in it.  Belonging; does Munem Wasif present a problematic, or its resolution?  To my mind, belonging would be  a sense of homing; an emotional, psychological state which rejects alienation, anxiety or uncertainty.

What possible deduction of belonging can we arrive at by scanning the picture? One obvious thing is the absence of any sign of proclamation or anthem, the characteristic stereotypes of “belonging” so loudly exemplified by “born in the USA” sung by  Bruce Springsteen. Instead we move into a dignified silence of life lived daily, and a deep sense of familiarity & comfort with the surrounding. The boats belong to these waters; most definitely. They are all similar; small, indigenous, functional & unpretentious. Men with casual, nonchalant gaits seem to know their boats. The man on the right is busy conversing with another boatman while he prepares to anchor the boat. His posture as he leans on his rowing pole is one of trust. He seems to know the bamboo pole in an intimate, personal way. In adjacent boat a man walks towards two men sitting with their backs to us. Just look at the way he holds up his dhoti with left hand, again characteristic of the people being portrayed. One doesn’t wear something the way he/she does, just like that. To be able to wear, carry off, and hold it the way he does requires a lifetime of living with a certain sense of clothing.Written in reference to tailored clothes the words of John berger make a lot of sense “The clothes convey the same message as the faces as the history of the bodies they hide…” –The suit and the photograph, About looking.

All around the boat-flower boatmen are seen doing minor mending jobs, preparing for their turn to ferry passengers or simply standing with assured gaits give us a feeling that we are looking at a space which these people know in a “homing sense”.

Between the near and the far end boats set off in all directions ferrying passengers to and from the big vessels seems to be the business here. Big boats carry passengers from far away islands. Small boats ferry them to their personal destinations. Together they move the economy of a nascent nation. Except on the farther side where we see something of a mass everything else is in a flux of arriving and departing. The mood of the scene is definitely itinerant but not in a touristy sense. Geographic location of the place has ensured that the people of Bangladesh are always in sight of water. Well a lot of water. In spite of their water woes from flooding, hurricanes, to rising sea levels the people here have found way to deal with it. What we see in the picture is a water highway on which every kind of business is transacted. People move about in great numbers. There’s a boat for every stop. Every stop has a tale to tell.

Returning in the end to the foreground the barber and his customer so emblematic of the mood set off the viewer to  exploring a slice of life present before the photographer. The barber has no shop to do business just as we don’t find a “ticket window” for the passengers boarding the boats! He arrives on the scene with his implements/equipment and departs after he is done with his day’s work.  The effortlessness and focus  with which he does his job makes us believe that he has known this routine for a long long time. He is equally comfortable with the land he sits on as the shirt he wears. There’s no sign of weariness in his demeanor. In fact he looks rather poised; his  hands  working the customer’s beard with  certainty and deftness. The background which looked rather subdued when we first look at the photograph has now assumed broader proportion. Rather than looking at the barber and his customer as the foreground it would now be appropriate to locate them in reference to the background. The background of the scene is the reason for the two men to appear where they do. Though appearing  in the foreground they belong deeply in  the hinterland.

During my first iteration across the photograph I missed the point that there’s no onlooker. Not even the photographer. The lense man too must belong here. Otherwise what would explain the two men being so oblivious to his presence, even though the photograph is taken from up-close. It seems the photographer descended softly as a cloud and imbibed the scene. The entire picture appears engrossed in itself. There are no outsiders here. Everything and everyone belongs.

By not cropping out parts of half-boats on the left side the photographer has saved a document from becoming a picture. This non-intervention lets him capture the even flow of an average day in un-spectacular, un-obtrusive way.

Nirlep Singh Rai

Meditations of another kind


“I hate geometry’ Image by Jayesh Joshi

I hate geometry

The proliferation of language and our hunger for meaning in every sphere of life has ensured that no photographic image will ever exist as representing objective truth alone. Every image will have meaning as its appurtenance signifying diversely to diverse minds. In that it becomes a signifier over and above its primary task of representing the truth, nothing else but the truth. Call it fate- the more we evolve in language the more we realize it is impossible to express. Photography the sole guardian of objective truth has also evolved into a similar predicament; that of denoting and connoting at the same time. Usually a picture denotes first. Connotative aspects follow close on heels.

I hate geometry” by Jayesh Joshi, Image of the month for October 2011 plucks away geometry and symmetry from reeds in their natural setting. Jayesh obviously is not depicting nature as is but captures an aspect of it through an unusual reflection; first by water then by mind. He begins with filtering out the noise of colors by converting it into black and white image. A slight increase in contrast sees the reflecting surface of water disappear giving a graphic feel to the shot. He sacrifices the pictorial for representational. A deft sleight of hand turns it 90 degree counter clock wise. A sleepy frame wakes up into one intense graphic of chaos, symmetry and reflection. The final image presented as “I hate geometry” stands as a mental map insinuating the viewer to come and explore the most unlikely of relationships between nature, geometry and chaos. A famous slogan by semanticist Alfred Korzybsky “The map is not the territory” lives out the strength of its meaning in the image as it is transported from nature-space to mind-space where it grows beyond the territory of the containing frame.


The image is held together by three triangles starting with one at the top. Top most  triangle  is the vortex from where everything falls into a cataract of confusion, order and revelation. Subsequent triangles become resting places for eye from where it iterates sideways to explore solid geometric forms. Eyes seems to gravitate towards these triangles for they have a warm quality about them. As signs they denote a home and sanctuary for life. No wonder then that they take the maximum eye share.

But does it end here leaving us in an abstract lurch? Do we see mental analogues of geometric patterns seen in the picture? Is there a possibility of moving from solid geometry to the liquid world of chaos and its manifestations in real world? Reflecting on these ponderables I relaxed for a while. Then something happened. Rushing to my book shelf I dug out Fritjof Capra’s “The tao of physics”. Tearing frantically at the pages I came across this plate showing traces of sub-atomic particles rushing through particle accelerators.

The tao of physics

His treatment of random patterns with deep reverence and equating them to ”The dance of Shiva” ascribes qualities of dynamism to otherwise absurd patterns. Further, spiritualizing scientific temper(ament) he goes on to say “The more one studies religious and philosophical texts of the Hindus, Budhists, and Taoists, the more it becomes apparent that in all of them the world os conceived in terms of movement, flow and change………………The dynamic aspect of matter arises in quantum theory as a consequence of wave-nature of sub-atomic particles……….The properties of sub-atomic particles can therefore be understood in a dynamic context; in terms of movement, interaction and transformation.” P-213, The Tao of Physics, Fritjof Kapra. With these mediations reeds had now undergone another transformation; from being reeds to lines of geometric forms to chaotic patterns to spirituality- the spirit of the matter. Talking about reeds as reeds, we know them to grow over time which is measurable, which we see passing. Their process of growth would seem to follow laws. But if we decide to switch frames of reference and run a time lapse the same reeds would look to grow as mutinous elements guided solely by their own free will. Kapra’s profound insights collimate disordered lines into rhythm of chaos; the underlying reality of all that appears outwardly calm. Now, we could look at Jayesh’s image without the feeling that we were looking at occult.

Jayesh’s decision to see things in “black and white” increased the metaphoric appeal of the image many folds. Layers of meaning sometimes stay hidden behind a façade. Jayesh, while processing the image did great thinking by sacrificing the denotata of the image which in this case would be reeds in a wetland surrounded by sleepy sepia environment. The moment he filtered that out he uncovered layers of meanings finding reflections in our minds. Placid reflections of straight lines of nature get transformed into streaks of activity. He took two shots at the same location. The first one which he decided to post was a tighter one.


 The second one which he kept and posted in illustration forum is a wider shot.

His decision to go with the former might have something to do with the viewable area on monitor because the wider shot feels somewhat cramped on monitor. It requires more space to show separation between random lines especially towards the bottom where there’s maximum activity. Otherwise wide angle shot is qualitatively above the tighter one for it shows randomness in its peaked form which the posted one misses. However this came to my mind only after comparing the two shots.

Exit notes: Staying with the picture for a week has been an intimate experience. End of this article makes me somewhat nostalgic. Walking away I see a sage look at me from the top triangle. He bares himself to show meditations hidden below the poise. Never again would I try straightening a blade of grass while taking a shot. I would let it be. Who knows it might stifle a sage.

Thanks Jayesh !