Oh there are so many posts and blogs and articles about Disney Princesses and how these are weak, stupid females setting wrong examples to children. For a long time, I didn’t particularly think of these obviously-fiction characters as role models. They were bed time stories and that was it.
I received a book of feminist stories when I was perhaps 14. The books had an interesting twist on the common stories that we read. Little Red Riding Hood did not wait for someone to come and cut her out of the Wolf’s stomach. She chopped the wolf to pieces herself. Cindrella did not end up marrying the prince – the guy who was so blinded by the lights that he couldn’t really recognize the woman he claimed he wanted to spend the rest of his life with.
Some of these stories were very clearly written for older women. But even if I had heard them as a kid, would it have made an difference to me as a woman?
I don’t think hearing the traditional (non-Grimm Brothers) versions of these stories scarred me in any way or made me sit and wait for my Prince Charming to rescue me. Perhaps that is also because of other role models I had.
I know several kids in today’s generation who fawn over the Disney Princess. They have Disney Princess lunchboxes, CDs, backpacks, pencil cases, t-shirts and their rooms are painted in the candiest pink you can find. It is disturbing. Because with all that pink, the girls also seem to be having a definition of what being a ‘girl’ means, even at the tender age of 7 or 8 years old. They wants a ‘girl-specific’ bike, they want a barbie and not a remote-controlled car.
It makes me wonder – was I one of the exceptions to be influenced by these stories? Do these stories seep into our psyche in manners that are seen only later?
Do children really believe that if they are trapped in a glass box, a prince will come and break them out of that box? Do they believe that waiting is a virtue? That singing songs in the rain will really be heard by a passing stranger, who then will be nice enough to help you?
I’d like to believe that these fairy tales are just that – fantasy. I probably dreamed more about being in The Hobbit and fighting dragons more than being in a Princess trapped in a boring life of song and high ceilings. But perhaps when these stories are being made into movies, it is more dangerous than letting your own imagination fly.
I was perhaps 18 when I first met Mr. Tarun Tejpal. He was an icon to us in those days, just after the infamous “Operation West End” and the match fixing scandal in cricket.
He was the standard to match for the journalists of our generation, and for once, the auditorium was packed willingly with student journalists keen to hear him talk. He walked in, wearing his trademark kurta, an imposing figure and charismatic.
Strangely, I do not remember much of what he said. He spoke about the integrity of journalism and why it was important for the government to have good ‘watchdogs’. Those were the terms we used on a daily basis on those days. “The media is the watchdog of the government.” “A journalist must be unbiased and give all sides of the story.”
Tejpal and his magazine Tehelka faded into the student days, and we became jaded with the reality of journalism. We realised we were mere tools for propaganda and our ideas of being the watchdog were edited out.
But a small part of hope was finally extinguished with the recent scandal surrounding Tejpal. More importantly, his response and reaction to the entire situation.
For someone who has supposedly constantly fought against injustice and corruption, his arrogance in the face of the accusation strips away some of the glory of his past accomplishments.
It is disheartening to see a magazine like Tehelka, which has long positioned itself as the ‘true’ spokesperson of the people, to say that “what happens in our office is none of your business.” For Tejpal to assume that his standing excuses him from any actual punishment.
In that one statement, he became yet another power-drunk businessman / politician who believes that he is above society’s laws. That his actions do not deserve the same reaction as the rest of the commoner.
What is the difference between Tarun Tejpal and Salman Khan, who was accused to running over and killing several people sleeping on the pavement? It is said that Salman Khan has made ‘retribution’ and is taking care of all the families of people he killed. It is said that he is taking care of their jobs and education. Yet, we demand for justice.
What is the difference between Tejpal and countless politicians whose actions have been brought to the forefront by the very same man who now claims a ’6-month absence as the editor’ is punishment enough for his actions.
Perhaps he never was the man that we all admired. Perhaps he has fallen from the heights he achieved, dizzy on his own power.
But his fall marks an end of the purity of journalism in a manner that perhaps can never be restored.
After much of the hype and grand words about how awesome Gravity was, I finally got around to watching this movie.
The movie begins to go downhill about 20 minutes into it… which is when George Clooney disappears and all the stuff blows up. Your brain has gotten used to all the awesome 3D graphics and begun to ask sensible questions like:
- Why the hell won’t NASA initiate a rescue mission?
- Are spaceships really made out of such flimsy material that any passing meteorite / debris can just break it into tiny little pieces, making more dangerous weapons?
But you think the people writing the movie would have done their research and try to watch the movie again.
Five minutes later, you wonder if they really put people into space without adequate training. True, they might have the knowledge to fix that all-important chipboardthingy but if they panic at the slightest thing, how much help would they really be at 600 km beyond the earth’s atmosphere. And then more questions sprout:
- Do astronauts really wander around the spaceship in their underwear? What about all those cooling pipes etc?
- It really takes like a minute to get out of that bulky spacesuit? (Most of us take at least 5 minutes to change)
- How much training do these astronauts receive? Aren’t they trained to remain calm and simple?
- So Sandra Bullock is a doctor. But if she is the kind of doctor who works in a hospital, what the fuck is doing in space? (Now, I’m wondering if I even heard this right)
- Aren’t they taught not to strip to their underwear when there is all kinds of debris flying around and they might need to make an emergency exit?
Ooh look! Pretty earth and lights in the distance.
- Are you taught to read Russian as a part of your astronaut training?
- Is the model of every spaceship the same?
Things coming towards your face as they blow up. Time to flinch!
- A spaceship’s fuel gauge works like my car? You need to tap it a few times to get it to work
- So communications to all satellites – Russian, American and Chinese are out?
- Why did those shuttle makers forget to put an auto-eject button for the parachute?
- Can you catch radio signals that far up in space or do Russian / Chinese space specialists bring their babies to work and sing them lullabies?
Well, the movie is almost over. But hey! George Clooney is here again! Oh wait… no that’s a dream. Does lack of oxygen induce lucid dreaming?
- Don’t the Chinese believe in manuals?
- Why the hell are there basic operating manuals only in the Russian shuttle and not in the Chinese one?
- A fire extinguisher can work for so long?
- Don’t they give you the basic training to not open a door when your vehicle is half submerged in water?
And the most important question that kept ringing in my head – How the fuck did NASA allow such a stupid woman to go to space? And did they forget to give her any sort of training at all?
Through my years as a photographer, I’ve learnt a lot from various people. Some of them are photographers I know personally, some are artists, some are just random discussions with friends and some of them are just photographers on the internet. My explanation of photography and interpretation has changed over the years, with every shoot.
There have been highs and lows, the fun of photo walks have translated into solo journeys with my camera and I’m still learning.
One of the photographers who inspired me was Brandon Stanton of the Humans of New York fame. I’d been shooting random strangers and getting pieces of their story, but Humans of New York put a name to the project. It became more focussed and I met many more interesting people and stories.
But ever since I got the HONY Coffee Table Book, I’ve begun to feel that this is not enough. A portrait on a street, where they are looking straight into the camera… that isn’t really what I want to say. I’m not sure what I want to say through the photograph but this is not just it. There’ve been periods when I was hunting for faces for my city’s project when I felt… a little tied up. Perhaps I became too focused on what HONY was about and followed the same path, down to a T, instead of defining it my own way.
I rejected photographs from Humans of India because they were too random… just photographs of street children, laughing. They looked pretty but when you stripped them of the captions, they were just similar images of laughing children. I looked to Humans of Mumbai and that too seemed insufficient. That was more an anthology of Mumbai, and not a very strong one at that. I’ve seen better, untitled projects that captured the spirits of Mumbai better.
So what remains? What is it that drives me a photographer to tell a story? Strangely, I was not able to find the answer to that. Perhaps it is the commercialization of what I do… all the pitching, and marketing and mailing… but the answer seems to have faded.
I wanted to tell stories of people. But the photograph needs to speak for itself, and should not require captions. It should be defining features, should be poignant or funny or whatever. But should not require a caption. At least, it should be able to create a story by itself, awaken imaginations.
I find the work of David Terrazas suddenly compelling. I find Danny St Photography’s project of #100Strangers compelling. The focus is on the face, the eyes. The entire story is told in that little space.
Yet, it isn’t enough. Should I add props, do a studio shoot? I would love to convince people to give me ten minutes, loosen up and portray them as they are… but that is not always a possibility in this fast city. Besides, the world is changing and people are always suspicious of those random weirdos who walk up to you with a camera and say “I want to take your photograph”.
So what is the alternative?
There are fabulous stories, if we only had the time to break the ice and get people talking.
My favorite photograph remains of Diana… I ran into her in a mall in Australia. She sat down next to me to rest her feet, enclosed in those high high heels and began chatting. She was a busker… posed as Marilyn Monroe every evening on the main street.She told me stories of the people she met, and said she was a singer too. She dreamed of going to Paris someday, where she could eat good food and sing. And she posed for me, Marilyn Monroe-style, despite her aching feet.
Her pose, her dress… it evokes the question – who is she? You make your own story about her, or you read about her.
If I were to shoot her today, I’d probably do it a little differently. I’d probably frame it better, be more visual and capture little details about her separately.
But what do we do in this fast, fast world?
I came across a blog post recently where the author was explaining why photographers charge as much as they do. I’d written a similar post earlier (never published, though) but one of the points in this one caught my eye.
The photographer / author in question listed out various costs associated with the photography equipment. Cameras, lenses, bags, memory cards, laptops / desktops, software, flash, batteries etc. Though photography has become accessibly to many in the digital age, being a professional photographer still involves a lot of money.
Now, there are various reasons to pay a certain amount for a photographer, but it made me wonder if a photographer’s gear is a reason to charge more?
Every profession requires a set of equipment. A printer, for instance, invests crores into the machines. A mechanic invests millions into a garage. But if they charges us more than what their skills were simply because of the amount of money invested in the equipment, we would definitely throw a tantrum.
I often get annoyed when potential clients ask me a list of my equipment I’d be using. Some of them are “amateur” photographers and are disappointed that I use the same camera that they own. By that simple factor, they expect my skill level to be the same as their own, though they marvel how I’ve taken photographs they would never be able to. Most of them do not understand that it is the time, experience and skill they are paying for and not the equipment.
I choose my equipment for a shoot when I begin planning for it. I sketch out a rough draft immediately after I’m booked for a shoot. I choose my equipment anywhere from a week to a couple of days before the shoot. In this period, I could decide to go for a different camera, or perhaps even own a new camera. The lenses again are a matter of choice, based on the location, light and event. A mere list of “this is what I’ll probably be using” will never give the client an idea of the whys and whats, and I’ll probably never take the time to explain all of it, even if they have the patience to read through all of it.
Actually, I’m getting a little tired of justifying costs and explaining things to people, either on the phone or via email. Most of the people who contact you are not professional enough to say “No thanks” if they’ve decided to work with someone else. The famous Indian “if we haven’t called you, we’ve gone with someone else” silence is what you face.
I would have thought this happens only to photographers, but I’ve seen this happen even as a PR professional. You get an enquiry, you send them a proposal or costs and if it isn’t suitable, they just don’t bother mailing you back or calling you back to say “No, Thank You.” If you don’t work out for them, you aren’t worth the extra minute it would take to say that.
A friend, who recently started working, asked me a simple question – is it more important to stay longer at office or get your work done more efficiently and quicker?
She commented that her boss didn’t seem too happy with her efficiency, though she got through her share of work much before deadlines and quite well.
“There is an underlying expectation of flattery from me as well, or kissing ass as others call it. Many of the girls particularly get away with this. Is this really necessary for me?” she asked.
The Indian corporate world is yet to really evolve from the days of “boss” and “sir”. Though now we pride on the “American” culture of being able to call you boss by his first name, that is pretty much the only thing that has changed. Your dedication to your job and skill sets are still somewhat, unofficially, measured by the numbers of hours you put in office rather than how much work you do in the said hours. Bosses still expect to be treated like bosses and think ordering employees around is acceptable.
They promote people who suck up to them and the really talented ones are marginalized. This might not be intentional… you might just be more in the radar when you talk more to the boss rather than just getting your work done and getting out. In other circles, sometimes, this is called as “networking”. It helps.
But for us who really suck at sucking up, these things are a nightmare. The work goes unnoticed, the motivation to do work gets lesser and most of us end up quitting or just plodding on.
Of course, most of the people would vehemently deny this policy. “We have an open and fair policy” they would claim. Even the employees… but for a small minority who have worked abroad, we realise that the Indian politics plays a lot stronger. Which is basically saying these politics exist everywhere in the world but in India, with that little added thing about “staying longer means you are better” it puts things into a slightly different perspective.
At a recent shoot, this hierarchy was clearly visible as the GM of one of India’s most popular chains made several demands and expected them to be completed. His assistant was scared of his shadow and still called him “Sir”. She was scared to disturb him to even get the details of the specified event for which the photographer was needed. Needless to say, the hours were not specified, I packed up and he blew his top over such disobedience.
In his world, minions did not speak up and have a mind of their own. They did what they were told to and without being seen or heard, perhaps. His assistant got a severe dressing down the next day for engaging a photographer with a mind of her own. Of course, nothing less was expected from a guy who barely considered his employees human and more importantly, expected to be called “Sir”.
Perhaps I am generalising, but in any occasion when a boss expects his employees to call him “Sir”, particularly assistants, they are quite a pain. The same goes for those ‘jovial’ bosses who insist that the employees call him / her by their ‘pet’ name.
The culture of sucking up, however, continues in India, much the to disappoint of those like my friend.
The solution? Put your head down and figure out another job.
It dripped slowly, savoring the long journey from the tip of the nose to the ground. It was a moment to be savored… this pale sunlight in the peak of winter, as snow and ice covered every attainable surface. The drop of water was a sign of victory of warmth over cold, and the drop savored it.
The sheen of ice over the skin made it seem like a statue. A marble statue, gone to mold a little bit but standing strong and still, nevertheless.
Joggers ran past this human statue, barely glancing at it. It was a part of the tree, the ice, the cold and they were intent on those little devices attached to their wrists, making every step seem like a reward. They chanted in their heads “one more step” and promised themselves hot coffee and rich bagels once they were home. Such a heavy winter, they thought, feeling self righteous to be out running at all this cold morning.
But the drop of water continued, fighting for its right to seep into the ground and probably become ice once more as the evening set.
He had been a pretty man once. Tall, fair and pretty. Of course, the word pretty would have made him angry, like it would for any self-respecting man. His posture reflected that… the self righteousness. Rigid he stood but one could wonder if that was the rigidity death imposed or he had imposed on himself before he gave himself to death. His face was a mask, sheathed with ice. The eyes were serious, looking straight ahead into the path he perhaps took.
If one were an artist, they would try to capture him the way he was. He was never so regal in life, and would never be seen as such once discovered. They would call him a victim, they would shed tears and perhaps raise a toast to some good moments. There were a few good moments, and some hearty ones too. He was, after all, a decent man, even if unremarkable.
Would he have chosen a different pose, if he had known it would be his last one? Would it have been leaning against that tree, staring into the distance? Of course, the ice made it all seem regal and shiny. But another drop of water had found its way to freedom and was following its predecessor fast down the nose. What would be left when all the water found victory? The last gleam of life, giving a shine to his skin or the victory of death lending its unique glow to his cheeks?