The Portrait of a Photographer

Early January of 2015.

It had been a good day. A meeting with a friend had helped clear out a lot of things in my head. The way forward from there on, seemed a bit clearer to me. The Starbucks where we had met was a new one, located not very far the chowk. I wandered back to the bus stop to catch the 266 back to the station. But the sun had not set and it had been a while since I had visited the lake.

The lake, for most, simply cannot exist. For Lokhandwala can't have a lake. A lake in Lokhandwala? Lol. Just too many cross roads and shopping streets they say. But walk down on the Backroad as it is known, towards the jogger's park but don't enter it. Keep walking straight and within a few meters, look to your right. A small clearing opens up into what looks like a small pond but a healthy one. The Lokhandwala lake has over 70 species of birds, 50 % of which are winter migrants. It was a late January evening and I was very happy to see many ducks, a few raptors and also what seemed to be the little Grebe but I couldn't be sure.

Now the little grebe, true to its name is a small bird and without binoculars, I could not have confirmed it. I wondered why not many birders or even locals visit the lake and right then, a senior person in thick frame glasses and a small pair of binoculars walked upto me. He smiled at me and said that he always visited every evening in the winters. I asked him if it could be the little Grebe, there in the corner. He offered his binoculars to me and yes, indeed! It was the Grebe. We even looked at the ducks properly now and turned out they were the Lesser Whistling Ducks, visiting Lokhandwala for the winters.

He told me how the numbers, predictably, had dwindled. Since late 90s to now, Lokhandwala - Oshiwara area has seen unprecedented rise in construction activity - leading to destruction and degradation of habitats of not just the birds but also of the mangrove forests. He said that even then he was content at seeing at least these few visitors. He added that he was also interested in Photography and had documented the bird life around the lake. From his accent, it was not difficult to tell that he was from Kerala but he told me that he had spent only his youth there. Rest of the time, he had been with an oil corporation working in the oil fields of North East India and had travelled extensively in the region, even going right upto the historic Stillwell Road.

He said that he had a lot of photos which he had taken on his vintage camera as a young man and then later on his SX-series. He told me that he didn't live far from the lake, just down a few blocks, on the third cross lane. And invited me over. I was hesitant, I asked him if his family would mind.  'don't worry about them, come' he said. so we crossed the busy junction and walked. His gait was a bit unsteady and he blamed his age for it and added that he had to make it home before it got dark, lest he missed a pothole and fell down.

As we walked slowly, I realised how senior citizens, people with reduced mobility are vulnerable - given the number of open drains, potholes, manholes and just loose paver blocks that one finds even on a small stretch of road. We soon reached his house. His son welcomed us in and asked me if I wanted tea. I politely declined and my new friend lost no time in pulling out his work from the cupboard. But as he sorted out his 'best' work, the photo frames on the walls caught my attention. To my left was the Qutub Minar, but taken from behind of an arch - a very unusual angle. To my right was a street scene from Southern India (Kerala, perhaps), it was strikingly beautiful. I stood there looking at it, and it wasn't until he pointed out that I realised that dwarfed by the streetscape, standing in the centre were two children. His two sons.

He explained as we sat down on the sofa, that the idea was to focus on the street and not let the two humans dominate the scene. It was clicked on his Bessamatic way back in the 70s. He had developed the prints on his own, in a dingy dark room. He had wasted many prints and 'so-much' chemical in learning the technique but he was entirely self taught. Over the next one hour or so, I found myself reliving my recent trips to places across India which he had captured on print many decades ago.

There were temples of Badami, Aihole and Pattadakal, there was even the ruins of Hampi and Mammalapuram (Mahabalipuram), while his trip with his family to Delhi captured the architectural grandeur of the medieval times to the many emotions and moments of his family. And then, there were photos of a foggy morning by a lake in Calcutta (70s), for which he visited the lake every morning for a week to get the best angle. While seeing certain frames, he asked me to shut one of my eyes to notice the 3-Dimensional effect that his angle created on the image.

There were also many photos of birds - including the common Kingfisher, white throated kingfisher, coppersmith barbet, the ducks and plenty of other water boards that used to be spotted quite commonly at Lokhandwala Lake. He was delighted to show them to me. I asked him how had he managed to nurture the hobby for so many years. And he said that he really liked clicking photos. That's all kept him going.

However, it wasn't just point and shoot for him, he was a strict disciplinarian and thus irked his family on many trips! He explained why. His routine when arriving at a new place was simple. He would simply walk around for a few hours, studying the place and composing his shots or waiting for the sun to move more to the west and then just at the right minute - take the shots. Photography is for the patient he added.

It made me think of my impulses to instantly capture a structure on my phone without paying any thought for better composition, influence of natural light, leaving all that upto the filters on Instagram. There were photos of Bombay, of the Marine Drive, of lakes in Calcutta and many more that were stored away or were lost. We didn't realise how fast time had flown. It was a fascinating journey, virtually into the past, into the world of Photography and the serious disciplined work that went into capturing the moment right. I thanked him for his time, promised to meet again and said my goodbyes to Mr. G - the man who liked to click photographs.


Karen C said…
Brilliant read! Now I want a propah camera too!

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