Read Part 1 here.
(Interviewed by Sourabha Rao)
4. Is there a concrete concept called ‘style’? If there really is one, what is it that a photographer needs to strive for? Should that be a drive-force for one to set out with a camera at all?
This topic of ‘style’ often comes up in the world of art. Photography is no different. Is there a ‘style’? I think so, since every one of us have differently coded genes. Being overly conscious about it ensures we are losing our creativity or losing our way! I think the more important question is ‘is style important’? I think we have a tendency to over emphasise style/signature. At one point I thought I needed to have ‘my own signature/style’ etc. That is the advice we often receive from people – “you need to have your own style”, “your own signature” etc. Now, after many years, it is an uninteresting topic for me for a deeper reason.
Let us try to dissect this “style/signature”. For the sake of simplicity let us assume through a ‘work of art’ (any form of art, painting/photography/poetry..) an artist tries to say something. Why does an artist want to say something? That is a very important question, let us try to dissect it a bit later.
For now let us focus on ‘style’. Some have a distinct way of telling what they want to say. We often attribute that to ‘signature/style’. However, I think what is more important is what is being said, not just ‘how it was told’ or who (‘signature’) said it. If ‘signature/style’ alone is what makes a “work of art” then
I think that “work of art” will have limited shelf life. I am not sure whether “cubism” today has any significance beyond art history. Let us not confuse that with how much money some of those artwork gets auctioned for today. That is not the measure of real worth of an artwork. I think what lives forever is the “truth” not an individual’s fancy “opinion”. An opinion dies with the individual, truth lasts forever.
This is why I think Mankuthimmana Kagga will remain relevant forever and will live forever while “Cubism” by Picasso and others will become part of art history.
These below lines will remain as truth forever. Many of us may ponder over these lines in different forms. No one disputes the validity of these questions.
ದೇವರೆಂಬುದದೇನು ಕಗ್ಗತ್ತಲೆಯ ಗವಿಯೆ?|
ಕಾವಿನೋರ್ವ್ನಿರಲ್ಕೆ ಜಗದ ಕಥೆಯೇಕಿಂತು?||
ಸಾವು ಹುಟ್ಟುಗಳೇನು? – ಮಂಕುತಿಮ್ಮ||
DVG had his own style/signature. That is not the reason why Kagga will live forever. It will live forever because it characterised the timeless truth in simple lines, the mysteries of the nature/universe that we live in.
In contrast, from Wikipedia about Cubism: “In Cubist artwork, objects are analyzed, broken up and reassembled in an abstracted form—instead of depicting objects from a single viewpoint, the artist depicts the subject from a multitude of viewpoints to represent the subject in a greater context.”
Why? What is the “greater context”? If that is not a valid question then the next question – so what? Many things are left open for viewers’ “opinions”. I think this work of art succeeded in being “creative” and “different”. However, I am not sure about what is being said though! That said, an artist is not bound/limited by viewers' opinions. That choice and freedom lies very much with the viewers too when it comes to “opinions”.
Just to sum up, I think any work of art which is an “opinion” will have limited shelf life when it stands only on ‘style/signature’. The question – “why should I care about your view?” does not make sense when an artist portrays subtle, unquestioned “truth”. That said, it is very hard to express truth as art in interesting ways. I don’t know how to do it. In my recent attempts I only wonder about the truth and mysteries of nature – more as a philosophical attempt.
5. How do you associate photography with philosophy, with the spiritual? So many of your photographs ache to convey so much more than what is seen by the two eyes, but calls for an inward eye to really see. How do you describe this melancholy of an experience that is ironically solitary?
I think a 'photograph' is only an external manifestation of thoughts/feelings. It does not have an independent existence of its own. That probably is true with any art form. If my thoughts are rooted in philosophy then photographs will take that shape. When not done for making a living, I think many artistic expressions are solitary in nature. What makes it non-solitary is the inherent ego of an artist.
6. Susan Sontag, the American writer, philosopher, filmmaker questions the status (?) of photography as a form of art in her book, On Photography. There seems to be a hesitation in terming photography as art, especially when compared with painting and even filmmaking. Why do you think this could be, and do you think fine-art nature photography can change that perception?
To resolve this further we need to agree on a definition for the word ‘art’. I think no two artists agree on how to define a work of art. Tolstoy had his definition (the book – “What is Art?”), Picasso had his definition (“Art is an opinion/view”) We will be stuck here forever without any forward progress on the topic in question! Susan’s definition of “art” may be different from mine. I think everyone has their own definition of art. This essentially means art has no definition. I think not all that painted is art and at the same time not all that photographed is not art! What gets often contested is apparent “as is reality” portrayed by a photograph.
7. Your way of seeing photography as nourishment to your soul is deeply moving. Even when you share your work on Facebook, if one pays attention, one can sense a healthy detachment in you from the whole validation circus that social media can sadly initiate as a false goal in some people. How do you think social media affects an artist’s work? Or does it affect it at all?
This is an important question which needs to be thought through very clearly. If we don’t have a clarity on this then we will be very disappointed. Let us try to dissect it a bit.
There are two aspects here:
– Why someone photographs?(or paints/writes poems/novels)
– Why does someone then share it with others?
We need very frank, truthful answers here, we can ask these questions to any artist/photographer for example. There are two main answers: the photographer may make a living from photography. In that case answers to both the questions are obvious and uninteresting.
It gets very interesting when someone does it as a hobby (like many of us). Why does someone who photographs say that the subject in Nature? The simple answer could be “I love Nature”. Then the next question is “Why can’t you just see and enjoy? Why do you want to photograph?” The answer could be: “I want to capture the memory/moment to cherish it later”. Okay, then the next question – “Why do you want to share it on Facebook/Instagram/….”? Here it gets very interesting. The answer “I want to share so that others can enjoy it too” is not often a complete truth!! The more truthful answer is “I have photographed this.” I would like to satisfy my inevitable ego. So, I keep visiting my posted image every minute to see who has responded, how many likes I got etc. This is a simple human nature, which probably goes back to Darwin’s observation on “survival” or Sigmund Freud’s “Id and Ego”. This is not a problem, this is given! However, the real problem is we get distracted completely from the greater joy! The very subject and our own thoughts behind the image. In the long run only that will give us real happiness and satisfaction.
My way of photographing has significantly changed over the past two decades. Currently, photography for me is nothing more than wondering about mysteries of nature through the images I make. At times I debated about sharing my images with a wider audience. However, I still share due to two reasons. I must admit that my ego has not completely died yet. Secondly, there may be a very few who may enjoy seeing them. Currently the question of validation does not arise since images are just an expression of helpless wonderings about mysteries of nature. I am the only one who cares about what I make...well, most of the time.
8. In times when one is spoilt for choice, what is your view on the relationship between photography equipment and the art of photography itself?
Effective expression needs control over the medium. To that extent one needs to be aware of the camera equipment and its strength. Once you have that basic skills the time better spent thinking about the subject and probably yourself.
9. What made you begin Creative Nature Photography?
I got bored doing the same thing again and again for many years. That is when I wanted to explore creative and artistic avenues.
10. When you are photographing a moment that stirs your soul, there is also the conundrum that you will lose that very moment, in a vague way, while trying to document it. How do you balance this seeing and preserving?
After many years of photographing I have learnt to do both through the viewfinder!
11. I’ve been fascinated by the way you associate certain Indian classical music raagas to certain images. How does this mingling of two soul-enriching art-forms come about in your life?
I love classical music, in particular Hindustani classical music. Long ago I was trying to relate the ideal time to listen to a rendition (evening/morning/night…) to movement of notes in those ragas. I then thought of playing similarly with tones/colours to create different moods in my compositions. It was an interesting experiment.
12. You also photograph people. It is perhaps not very common for nature photographers to pursue this. What has your experience of this journey been like? Your blogs convey quite a lot about this, but if you could share more here, I’d be grateful.
I am very confused about my people photography. I think the transactional nature of photographing people seem to miss something. I am still trying to understand it better (http://www.naturelyrics.com/pages/articles/WhatIsAPortrait/WhatIsAPortrait.php).
13. There is a notion that nature photographers must use their art for conservation. But there is also a notion that an artist is free to create for the unique, exquisite joy of creating itself. As an artist, what is your take on the same?
As I said, these days I just wonder about Nature. I would love to donate my images for the cause of conservation when I make such images. That said, I just photograph what I want to. Conservation is not the end goal of my photography.
14. The care you show for printing images is incredible. What is it about printing images – bringing a physical dimension to digital art – that inspires you so?
Printing is a different art. I think the real photography is in making fine large prints on right media. A photograph loses 95% of its subtleties when seen as a small image on a cell phone or on a computer display. It is difficult to explain how a cashew tastes, beyond saying, “it tastes good!” Experience of seeing a quality print is like that, hard to articulate. Printing is a different involved topic by itself.
15. For someone who doesn’t believe in getting validation, doesn’t believe in being a populist, what do awards from the Natural History Museum mean? (I convey my heartfelt congratulations here, sir!)
I must admit, I tried for many years to get into the Wildlife Photographer of the Year winners list. It is really tough to get there thanks to intense competition from across the globe. It was an experience to attend the award ceremony in London. I have many friends across the globe now, thanks to the event.
16. A clichéd question, but a question I am keen on asking anyway: What would you like to share with a budding photographer who brims with love for nature and its marvels?
I think simple answers – if you want to take it as a profession, then the rules are the same as those are for any profession. Master your skills, produce high quality work, market yourself well (all that Darwin’s theory talks about – mutate if needed and fight for survival). If you want to pursue it as a hobby, all that I can tell you is make sure that you define your happiness, don’t leave that to others, I mean to the “like” counts. It may take some grey hairs to reach there but you will be blissfully happy thereafter.
17. To my knowledge, I don’t remember seeing pictures from outside India. Is that a conscious decision?
Not at all. If everything goes well I do plan to travel in the near future (of course after COVID-19 calms down). All these years I have been very busy with making a living writing code as an engineer. I hope to spend far more quality time in Nature in coming years.
18. I have heard you talk about DVG, Da. Ra. Béndré and other Kannada writers. Have their works influenced your own? Could you please share more on this?
Yes, I love Da. Ra. Bendre’s poems deeply. They are the result of his first-hand deep experiences in his life. There are no pretensions or searching dictionaries for rhyming words to make his poetry work. Words simply flowed along with deep emotions. I love DVG’s Mankuthimmana Kagga a lot. ‘Kagga’, Baruch Spinoza’s ‘Ethics’, Immanuel Kant’s ‘The Critique of Pure Reason’ and a few other philosophical readings have shaped my current take on the ‘Philosophical Nature Photography’ which I am trying to pursue.