Photographs as memes

We are talking about the poet’s approach to photography. The approach is based upon a larger-than -life view of the world , a kind of stylized expression which brings out the poetry of the subject.We are of course clear about what we mean by poetry and for the sake of clarity let us accept the idea of poetry as another abstract form of expression which is dulce et vite being a collection of images reflecting life in a manner which gives you pleasure. This whole thing may not be acceptable definition in the strictest sense but the idea of poetry being imagery should not be entirely unacceptable because that is how I have practised poetry and I believe others have practised it. Images are certainly the central part in the scheme of things and in photography if it is also not images , what else is it which holds the central place .If both poetry and photography deal with imagery there has to be some common ground in the way they deal with it. I am fascinated by the similarity in the way images are dealt with in both poetry and photogaphy .Of course the uncommonness or esotericism of expression in poetry may not necessarily be an element of good photography .For example ,we do not look for “concentrated thought” or aesthetically pleasing expression in photo-journalism which concerns itself with direct and effective reporting of an actual event. But there is certainly a class of photography which works at a much different level. This is the photography which is closest to poetry and any of the plastic arts.

Let us talk about imagery which plays the most critical role in poetry. I am giving below my own experiences in photographic images which could be easily converted into poetic expression .Here the poem does not attempt to say much different from the photograph but this is not necessarily the same in all cases . The photographic image operates on a much more objective level and lends itself to less subjective experience . Poetry works at different levels and depends a lot on the subjective perception of the reader’s mind and his interpretation.


A photographer’s “doggereal”

A breeze blows on the fallen leaves,
Soft- crunching under footfalls
Then thoughts flow in a pageant
Their slowly crawling centipede
Is so much like a human chain
Their poetry exists in fine words,
Their rhythms beating as in life
Their symmetry really pretty.
Beauty-words gently fall like
December mist dripping from leaves.
Our own transience feels like birds
In the blueness above the treetops.
In the summer sky’s blue torpor
We keep stretching our vision
Until tiny luminous worms swim
In pools of tears in raised eyes.
Here ,a dog becomes a mere image
On the rock where it belongs,
In joyful photo-luminescence.

Images like this have a story to tell ,just like a piece of poetry and all the elements of poetry are to be found in them just as one would find in a piece of abstract painting.How the photographic image happened itself is like the re- construction of the circumstances leading to the creation of a poem.In December last year ,I lived in the Staff College campus of my Bank in Hyderabad for a week .The weather was just fine, totally conducive to long morning walks in the sylvan surroundings of the College. The search for beauty went on ,with the glass eye in tow and several objects bathed in warm glow behind reddish-tinged rocks. On the hillock ,where I headed in my walks, a brown dog stood waiting to be photographed as though that was the moment of its glory.

In the following case an attempt is made to relate a poet’s interpretation of a personal experience with an image which has not been originally intended to represent such an experience. I mean when the image is made the symbolism of the type which is related to the poem is actually not intended.The image is used merely to universalise the kind of experience that the poet is trying to depict in the poem.Several layers of meaning may be existing in the photographic image depending upon what the maker intends or what the viewer puts upon it depending upon his subjective experience.


The ramblings of a dysaphic

(The picture has originally been uploaded by loveless blues on Flickr)

I have lost the tactile sense
The last time you met me
I could smell your hug
The fragrance has endured.
I keep raising my arms
Towards the rain-laden sky
But cannot feel the raindrops
On my outstretched tongue.
In the dewy winter mornings
My feet do not feel anything.
I try feeling the tenderness
Of the just opened lotus petals
With my senseless fingers.
I sense the tingle of your fingers
On the shadowy curve of my back
Through their after-fragrance
You ran your fingers on my belly
I could almost hear their music.
I could hear your carbon smell
As the midday burnt your back
With the crustaceans crawling around us.

Much of the poetry in photography occurs in memes or in units of cultural expressions. Each sub-culture has its own memes which ,when presented in photography become fascinating pieces of aesthetic expression especially to a viewer of a different culture.Of course to a viewer of the same culture the poetry occurs in the way symbols are used to convey universal experiences or in the way the symbiotic relationship between the elements of the same spatial situation is explored.

The Hindu tradition has the relatives of the dead perform a ritual of mixing the ashes of the dead in the river ,preferably at a confluence of rivers .The same ritual is performed in a sacred spot in the holy Ganga in the Himalayas . There is an elaborate ritual in all this when the priests perform offering of various oblations accompanied by Sanscrit prayers to the spirits . The beauty of the moment is captured here in the following image taken at the confluence of the Kaveri and Arkavaty rivers.

The poem :


Then the drama continued
The words were spoken
From the guttural depths
Of a middleman’s throat
And washed by drops
Of sanctified water
The pursuit of silver
Went on in the waters
With sonorous words
Chasing life-death shadows
The waters flowed silently
Over the rocks nurturing life
And its golden-brown ashes.


Silhouettes are not something to be obsessed about but should certainly be considered as one of the means of creative representations.At the best they can be viewed as abstract representations which are meant to stylize expressions as intense thought.They are basically two-dimensional representations which have their significance in highlighting thought content ,not necessarily the same as what outwardly they represent or their apparent meaning in the context in which they occur.
In the photograph above the figures represent people worshipping shiva linga (the phallus god in Hindu Pantheon) installed in an ornate ancient stone canopy.Apart from the intrinsic beauty of the figures against the golden sunset ,what comes out is a strange magic in which the figures represent exquisite beauty of expression in the way their bodies stand out ,their souls merge into the sacred ambience of the worship.The woman figure stands in a body posture , her garment flowing ,her hands moving in space as though in dance.Actually none of this happens in reality and it is only what emerges from the perspective, the visual slant of the mind’s eye.

Exploring the beauty of the human form


This one is a silhouette of a woman bathing in the river in the golden light of dusk .The stark simplicity of the picture ,which is a mere shadow ,makes it into a beautiful celebration of the human form .Two points are worthy of notice : the first one is the beauty of the human form as a visual-dynamic image in art. A static-visual image does not represent the human condition truly as one would see in a model posing for a photograph where there is no surrender of the subject to the spacial situation around him/her. Here the subject becomes a part of the surroundings interacting with the remaining elements of the situation freely as though it is , like them, a part of the same spacial consciousness.The second point is the aesthetics of exploring the beauty of the human form in its most natural posture adopted in diverse situations of coping with the environment .The uniqueness of a body posture such as the one shown in this photograph arises out of the uniqueness of the cultural environment .The beauty of the rhythm involved in normal human activities and even routine ritualistic actions is a fascinating subject to explore in photography.

This is a picture taken from the online photographs of Mr.Jag Gundu which has a pretty good collection on India. The beauty of the human form can be explored in silhouttes very effectively.I have taken some pictures of a single or multiple figures of people in silhouetes which are aesthetically pleasing to me and at the same time ,tell a story. Here is a photograph of two people squatting on the mountain top and chatting leisurely against the setting sun;


Here is another interesting situation.Worship at dusk presents another interesting possibility