A three and a half hours long discussion. About connecting Bollywood with India’s very own Pneumococcal Conjugate vaccine. Pneumosil. In its birthplace, Maharashtra. Over a few cups of Irani tea. On the ground floor of iconic Alfred talkie.
The septuagenarian became excited to listen to my intentions. He brought out his works from a simple plastic packet. Simple like him. Ongoing, unfinished and finished works. Describing the tedious process. I was amazed. I told, ‘La jawab, Chacha’.
He looked up. ‘La jawab? These works? Then you didn’t see my Ustaad’s works.’ I asked who is he? He paused for few seconds. Touched his right earlobe. And told, ‘M. F. Hussain. I am his shaagrid.’ The disciple who worked with his guru for nearly one and half decades. ‘Even my best of the works, those received accolades from others, didn’t even come closer to his worst works. He is the best cinema poster painter in the history of Bollywood.’
The night was dark. Thick dark. Immersive, intense, illusive. I was sitting in that amidst darkness. On a charpai. In a land of Māru, Meru, Meramañ – Desert, Ocean, Mountains. Years ago, people named it Kutch. Because it has a resemblance to the tortoise. The lifeless land exists in this earth between wet & dry seasons intermittently at the Rann (desert).
I was sitting there for a while. Since the dusk. On the same charpai. Marshy salt flats were all around me. Snow white, but not so bright, or glittering. Not as immersive and intense as the thick darkness. Because of absence of the sun. But definitely illusive. The whole day was overcast. Often cloudy. What I imagined in my mind to get a frame of vaccine transportation in this white salt land miserably failed today. Because of the light. We all were praying wholeheartedly, so that sun would come out in the dusk, even for few minutes. But the luck was not with me today. Then, everyone left slowly and gradually. One by one. Except me. I was looking towards the horizon. Mesmerised by the illusion. Created by the overcast sky and grim salt land. So dry and lifeless, it seemed that the land immersed under deep pathos for ages. So deep and raw that is not possible to express. With tears. The chilling breeze was blowing through the Rann from far northwest. But my mind was much occupied with the depressing failure. The somatic senses didn’t respond to it. I would like to cry. But couldn’t. Like this land.
In 1839, John Herschel coined the term Photography, parsed from its Greek origin “writing with light”, instead of the commonly used misnomer “drawing with light”. In this respect, photography closely resembles with writing. But with a stark difference.
How can I write, or more precisely, narrate the light? How the viewer can perceive (read) it? Simple. Nothing but the help with the darkness. With shadow. Shadow is my weapon. My armour for creating narratives written with light. Whether it’s natural or artificial, doesn’t matter. My goal is creating and capturing the shadows, the darkness, to narrate the light. That’s my story.
Reading a photograph is a mysterious process of complexity science, presented by the chaotic elements of time and space. Beyond the debate since its birth – whether photography is an art or not – it is the fact that with a camera, using as a tool, I am ‘recording’ the time and space, that no other visual art form can do.
As a commissioned health science photographer, I have encountered a few cases of vaccine hesitancy (reluctance or refusal to be vaccinated) which I have documented. Being a person of visual communication, I am always searching for a frame that is powerful yet positive enough to break the hesitancy. I have not succeeded yet, at least not very convincing to me. But 67 years ago an unknown photographer already did it, that popped up during my recent photo research on global vaccination. And it immediately became my all-time favorite image against vaccine hesitancy. Let me tell the background story and narrate the photograph in terms of composition and visual literacy.
When you are scanning through the viewfinder of your latest acquired sophisticated digital camera to achieve the best possible frame, have you ever wondered about another automated scanning system behind the viewfinder that is silently directing you to acquire that desired frame? Your eye, the HUMAN VISUAL SYSTEM (HVS), has been likened to a camera in many descriptions and indeed, superficially, this is true.