What surrounds us? Where do we go when we break out of one thing? Thinking about it while looking at my old photos, I saw a few themes. We are constantly surrounded by machinery. If we stop to look at it, most of it is beautiful. It is painful to stop to look at the beauty of a jackhammer as it pulverizes a pavement near us, but that’s a part environment that me, you, and the toddler down the road are immersed in. Why would I not take pleasure in it? A few generations ago people did routinely, as you can tell by the decorative curlicues of cast iron that 19th century machines were made of. But today’s sleek minimal lines, or the organization of bundles of wires are equally deeply thought out.
But looking at a record of my life over a period of a year, almost twenty years ago, what surprised me most was that it was a hodge podge, not at all like my memories. In my mind I had divided it into work and pleasure, travel and home, domestic or foreign travel, nature or artificial. But in the photos they run together: a bit of this, and later in the day something else. Somewhere one day in the week, elsewhere far away for another few days. I’m constantly shuffling between contexts. And I’m sure I’m not the only one. So all this talk of themes is just one way to make the story easier to tell.
But let’s continue with that. Another constant in our life is the commute that we do. No matter where we live, there are hubs where people gather to wait for trains, buses or airplanes. There are clusters of taxis, autos, or rickshaws waiting to be hired. There is the rattle and roar of traffic passing over bridges or down roads somewhere near us. When I have the time I like to take photos of this kind of social environment that we create around us, no matter where we live: Mumbai, Paris, Kolkata, or the village where I spent a month.
But maybe that’s not what we first think of when we think of the world that we are immersed in. Perhaps we think first of all of the life around us: creatures that enter our homes and our neighbourhoods, or those that we have to travel far to see. They are always a pleasure to photograph. But I didn’t remember then that a gecko hiding behind a curtain is as wild as a doe with her calf in a jungle.
Or perhaps we think of something even bigger when we hear the word environment. The world is large enough to contain everything that we do. It will endure even if (when?) we change it so that we, and our familiar environment, can no longer exist. That is something that I hold in my mind as we enter the week that ends with the World Environment Day.