Saturday subsurface

Kōhaku are the most popular variety of ornamental carps in Japan, instantly recognizable because of their bright red markings on a white body. As I stood over the pond, this one must have seen me, and surfaced to look for a feed. The slanting light on the surface of the pond caught it even before its body emerged. I thought I should cut away the distracting colour and just show you the play of light.

Saturday Snapshot

There are three rules I try to follow when photographing children. Make them understand that they have your complete attention. Choose a well-lit area large enough for them to move about and do anything they want. And be prepared to take as many photos of them as possible. This youngster had given me two hours before losing interest. That’s an incredibly long time for a shoot.

Somber Saturday

When you visit a national park you expect to see nature in all its aspects. We stopped to look at the remnants of a chital. I suppose it must have been prey to a tiger, and then smaller predators and scavengers would have had their share. The antlers are not of much use to animals. They lay in the open meadow, slowly being bleached in the sun.

Still Life

Some weeks back I tried to consciously take a few still life photos. Then I began to wonder how far back I can trace the style. As far as I can tell, still life emerged as a genre some time in 16th century CE in Europe. Food and flowers, little household objects, have appeared in paintings across the world in many ages. But it is interesting that they became primary subjects of paintings in the time and culture which created capitalism. In its early days, the genre showed off beautiful objects and the rich foods of the bourgeoisie. By the 19th century the genre had lost its original purpose and was remodelled by painters like Cezanne and Gauguin, the two Pauls, into a vehicle to showcase their unique visions of the world.

It’s amazing how much influence the early history of photography has on the subjects we choose even now. In the early days of photography a still life was the easiest thing to do, and Daguerre and Fox Talbot created a few. The early 20th century artists were fascinated by photography, and pioneers like Man Ray did amazing still life photography. Today the genre is wider than ever: the images used in advertising or cookbooks, shots of what one’s handbag or backpack holds, and other arranged scenes of everyday life. And there are the wonderful interpretations given by all the wonderful amateur lens artists of the day.

Here are some of my own small attempts at still life photography. There are a couple of things that I realized while taking these. Lighting is as important here as in any other kind of photography; all of these examples used indirect natural light. Direct sunlight gives completely different effects. Since the time of Dutch bourgeois still life, the background has always been as much of a statement as the ostensible subject. So, for example, in the last photo with modern mass produced personal objects, I laid them over a microfiber duster, and dropped an empty plastic wrapper into the mix. The vegetables in the header photo are laid out on a sheet of paper which would normally be used to wrap fish in a supermarket. And the condensation on the egg comes from the fact that it had been just taken out of a fridge. Modern images should have some modern content I think.

Saturday Scape

This is the center of India: a flat dry land with some trees. The grasslands of central India lie on soil that was joined to today’s Antarctica 200 million years ago in a continent called Gondwanaland. That beautiful spreading canopy is of the mahua tree (Madhuca longifolia). It was sprouting new leaves in April, and will give plenty of shade by May.

This post is for Earth Day 2023.

Saturday snapshot

The Gond lady in this photo has appeared before in a post. I decided to look again at that old photo, but now in monochrome. With a portrait of a person who is as expressive as that, it does not matter whether you see it in colour. I was fortunate though that the light was good enough to catch all the details in her face. It has been through a lot.

Saturday saplings

A flooded dip in the landscape became a temporary pond in which three trees stood. Since the trees were pretty healthy, I knew that the pond was temporary. The hot April day was relieved by a little breeze which set the reflections shivering. I thought I could not let this sight pass. It has taken me seventeen years to realize that this image would be best in black and white.

Nothing is real

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;

T. S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

The featured image is not a photo of a breakfast table being cleared. It is a portrait of one of my companions in an African safari in a coffee spoon. Why would you linger at a breakfast table while it is being cleared around you? Why would you do it when others are out hunting cheetah? Perhaps because you got back late from a dawn safari with four lions in the bag?

Let me take you down
‘Cause I’m going to strawberry fields
Nothing is real
And nothing to get hung about
Strawberry fields forever

John Lennon, Paul McCartney (1967)

Is that an aerial view of a lava field? A dead caldera leading down to a volcanic plug? No, just a close up of a felled tree.

That’s how the madness of the world tries to colonize you: from the outside in, forcing you to live in its reality.

Jeff Vandermeer, Annihilation

When a live tree begins to sprout mushrooms you know you are looking at deadwood. A dense mat of the fungus has already spread through the dead corpse of the tree and sending out spores to find and colonize other dead trees.

How agonized we are by how people die. How unconcerned we are by how they live.

P. Sainath, Everybody Loves a Good Drought

A photo of fractured rocks leading down to the sea? Not at all, this is a close up of the cracked mud outside a water deficient village in the Thar desert.

Saturday’s sunbather

The scaly look of this oriental garden lizard (Calotes versicolor) was surely going to look good in black and white. You can identify the male by the stripes on its back. I was lucky in another way, the changing colour of the lizard along its body helped it to stand out against the background when viewed in shades of gray. That surely says something about its predators; they are the kind which sees more colours than humans: birds.

Saturday’s sunrise

We’d woken up and climbed uphill in the dark and found our way to the cliff overlooking Arthur Lake to wait for the sun to come up. The slightly overcast, foggy morning was bound to give a whole range of grays in a monochrome treatment, I thought. I wasn’t quite prepared for this effect though: the three bands of different shades across the picture. I’m still feeling my way through monochrome images.