Søren Kierkegaard once wrote, “the truth is a snare: you cannot have it, without being caught.”
In a day and age where photography occupies the place that blogging and writing-from-the-basement brand of journalism, the relevance of capturing time and freezing it in frames is often questioned. At any given time, everyone and everything is a subject. Every device with a capacity to capture is a tool in the hands of a “photographer” – novice, amateur or full-fledged pro. Every photograph is capable of enhancement in ways that the internet and the countless number of tools can help.
Photography will never reach a place of saturation, no matter what the numbers look like, no matter who goes behind the lens, and no matter who stands before it. If a picture is worth a thousand words, it is only because of the instant connect it evokes in the person viewing the image, and because of the most straightforward rendition of art – as it is closest to the realistic portrayal. Any other form of art would necessarily need some amount of discerning on part of the consumer of information.
Photography will never lose its relevance because they tell us what is important to us. If I asked you what you’d grab and run if your house was on fire, aside of money (yeah, your materialistic side will be duly accounted for), you’ll probably want to save a few photo albums, or at least a digital collection of them. On an impulse, all of us at some level, want to return to the “good old times” – and given that, as Nehru put it in his magnum opus, The Discovery of India, there is only one way traffic in time, photographs become our refuge.
All said and done, photographs are a part of our legacy. They chronicle times past in a way that writing cannot. For the reader, the written word is an escape hatch that allows their imagination to thrive and come alive. But for the non-reader, and even for the reader alike, a photograph is a way of emphasizing the reality of it all, and of personalizing the narratives that it reflects. If I showed you images from the concentration camps during The Holocaust or of families herding their meagre belongings across the border into the newly carved nations during The Partition of India and Pakistan, you might find yourself tearing up – or at the very least, moved. If you see a picture of a baby asleep or a particularly delightful cat on your friend’s Facebook wall, you’re likely to share it. Photographs are a way of preserving things that words cannot effectively do: and remain a way to keep the dialogue going.
The power of photography and the emotions it can convey through a square image are a combination of myriad nuances. It’s just like looking at a sunrise, or the waves of the ocean ebbing and flowing. You know what it is, you know what it makes you feel. You can’t put it into words, but you feel it, nevertheless. The biggest deal clincher in photography is that it is tangible memory: the closest you’ll come to preserving the imagery of a time bygone. If we lived in a world without photography, we would live in a world of too many memories to share, but no language to say it all in. I’d like to leave you with Jhumpa Lahiri’s lines from The Namesake, when the family makes a trip and leaves their camera behind – and has no way to record memories:
“Try to remember it always,” he said once Gogol had reached him, leading him slowly back across the breakwater, to where his mother and Sonia stood waiting. “Remember that you and I made this journey together to a place where there was nowhere left to go.”