My fascination with photography began at a young age, when we were visiting Delhi and Agra for the first time. I was around 6 and, while at yet another beautiful monument, someone handed me the family camera to hold for a while. It was a Yashica MF-2 – a regular retro film camera. (Fate it had to be that one of my closest friends now is Yashika, who was also apparently named after this make – but I digress). I remember looking through the viewfinder, the Camera obscura according to Roland Barthes, at a Mughal jali and pressing down on the button on top. A quick “click” later, I was hooked. I went around taking a few more snaps. Unsurprisingly, my family wasn’t too pleased that their precious film was being wasted this way. But when it was developed, I was equally surprised as they were to see that my snaps turned out quite fine.
From then on, it has been a journey. Progressing on to the digital age, I started taking my own photo shoots and videos in my siblings’ cell phones. I didn’t know I was doing then what today would be called as Vlogging. I talked to myself all the time, so talking to an imaginary audience through video came naturally to me. But after winning a photography competition at college once in my first year (I wasn’t expecting it at all. It was an accidental snap of some Buddhist prayer wheels), my dad felt compelled to buy me a small digital camera. I was thrilled. My very own camera! I promptly named her Lyla and went to town with it. I remember I had some of my best moments with that camera. She lasted all through college, during which she served me properly to annoy my friends to death with my constant candid captures.
Once the Instagram age settled in thoroughly in my circles though, I had changed – endless disappointments and life in general meant that I was no longer seeing the world with bubbly, enthusiastic eyes. I had instead settled into a brooding, jaded approach to everything and that included the new Instagram “fad”. For a long time, I resisted it. I would sneer at people who used it and prided myself (foolishly, I now see) that I still belonged to the class of people who didn’t believe in “filters” and instead advocated for original, “untouched” pictures. Little did I know the years had much unlearning in store for me. And I’m glad for it, as anyone who knows me now knows what a huge Instagram whore I am .
I never owned a DSLR though. I never wanted to. And that has held out, more because of financial reasons than because of some snobbish, elitist half-baked thought. But no matter how fancy things get, there is something about that old, nostalgic feel of taking pictures through a viewfinder and holding that thick, glossy paper in your hands. And especially when it came to Polaroids – what a dreamy, faraway feel to it! A camera that elicited pictures immediately? One didn’t have to wait for weeks for the film to be developed? What a novelty!
Barthes in Camera Lucida speaks of and defines photography as “writing with light”. When I first read it, it was an explosive revelation. Configuring a picture, an essence, of the person/object in front of you through their reflected light, or aura – that is what photography is. The fact that one can hold a physical copy in one’s hand as an artist of what one has ‘written out’ with light, that one can capture someone else’s “realness” in a tangible form that will remain long after one is gone is nothing short of magic. A photograph forces you to take in not only the subject of the picture, but also the memories it may conjure up from the darkroom of one’s mind. Photography then doesn’t remain as mere art, but transcends it.
It was something akin to reverence then, when I held the gift in my hands. An Instax Sq6, a square film Polaroid camera. It was something I’d been longing for since childhood. Even though it’s become something of a trend now, it doesn’t negate the pure joy of creating your own pictures and watching it develop in front of your eyes. A beautiful silver grey square frame; sturdy; a very retro feel to it. I named her Pearl. It felt right. I can’t wait to see what adventures we will embark upon.