Three men on the steps


Three men on the steps photgraph

Ilse Bing is supposed to be the queen of Leica, additionally a master of angles. As with most of the avant garde photographers of her time, Bing preferred to photograph from an angle and her angle turns out to be oblique. Truth has a slant and one can capture it only at an oblique angle, as she perhaps felt .But the composition of a photograph is not always possible at such a conscious angle .The availability of the angle is mere chance and may be, if you are on the lookout for it, you go get it once in a while.

But what is the beauty of the angle ? The beauty of the angle is not merely in positioning of the camera but in the way the components of the resultant picture are fused together. Thus here there are five men, not three accounting for the moment and they form a sort of a triangle,two of them the base of the triangle, the top one the vertex, the lower one the side. See the way the top one skews his head. The camera is behind the men sitting on the steps but manages to integrate the two men below in the scene , making them all a part of the “three men on the steps scene”.May be , we may include the camerawoman too , who is silently participating in the scene.

Three men on the steps

Cities die regularly from suns
When suns go red in the face.
As cities grow dark and dense,
On steps are found three men
Awaiting a Leica to hide them
In shadows, away from cities.

(Reference is to a classic photograph of Three Men on Steps by the Seine by Ilse Bing)

Thinking inside the box

Demon in the box

I stumbled on this exquisite picture of a gramophone making waves in the backwaters of pre-independence rural India.The picture is by a now -104 year old Pranlal Patel , recently honored with a government award for photography.

It is about how new technology when first introduced to the masses arouses curiosity and fear. Fear because one never knew what it would bring. A gaggle of women , some with suckling babes suddenly come upon a wholly new thingamagic, that produces sound without a human inside it! The sound seems to come from this “humongous” trumpet-like thing and no human being can possibly be hiding in such a box.

The photograph is a chronicle of the times when India was still to attain its independence from the British and the vast majority of its population remained untouched by winds of change. The innocence of the illiterate villagers , women and children tinged with an apprehension about the possible monsters hiding in the sound box are beautifully captured in the photograph.

Please read about the photographer here:

You ride your rickshaw, I drive mine

Girl childI have come across this in the images shared by one of my Face Book friends and hope there is no problem in my referring to this here for its interestingness. I do not know the photographer’s name. I love the image for the straightforward message it is giving although such  a thing was not probably intended when the photographer had clicked the picture.

 It is obvious to anybody that the picture juxtaposes two different sections of population in  India’s unequal growth story-one section represented by the school children  on way to school in a pull-rickshaw and the other,in sharp contrast, by a girl of almost the same age pulling a similar rickshaw for living .
1) Girl in school rickshaw is on way to school towards a better future for herself. Girl in the open rickshaw is probably carrying a plastic bag with  scrap or some rags for sale.The first girl is going to school.The latter is going away from it. The first girl is aspiring to a bright future ,supported by relatively well to do parents..Just look at the coincidence of the two rickshaws playing in opposite directions.
2) The first girl  who goes to school  takes a glance at the second girl who has turned back to look at her . What must be going on  between them as they exchange glances with each other?
3) Look at what the second girl is doing ,in addition to earning the family bread . She also takes care of the sibling whom she carries in her rickshaw ,wherever she goes. In India the elder one takes care of the sibling , to enable her mom to go on her work. Or may be, her mother is big with another kid.
Images like this may sound too dramatic but the reality cannot be wished away. Large sections of the population still make their living like this , The girl child has along way to go from here. The 6 to 7%  annual growth India has been able to clock in  the last many years does not necessarily translate to a more equitable distribution of wealth.

From Riches to Rags

I have yet to see a more dramatic picture, so direct and so cutting. A Reuters photo appearing in the context of an interview with the economist Joseph Stiglitz on the subject of the growing inequalities of the American society, the picture almost sounded like an Indian theme , a home-grown theme  so popular with socially conscious photo-journalists here. The almost cliched photo theme here now figures in the American context, once again bringing to the highlight the universality of the underlying image. The subject has no doubt become jaded and repetitive.But look at the caption of the photo:

Fashionistas pose for photographs in front of a homeless man outside Moynihan station following a showing of the Rag and Bone Spring/Summer 2013 collection during New York Fashion week.


I am not sure if the photo-shoot is deliberate in the choice of the background. The bearded old man,apparently unwashed and may be starving, sits on the steps on the sidewalk  with three well-fed and clothed fashionistas in their Rag and Bone dress extravaganza. The old man is not posing for the photograph but seems acquiescing in it as if he does not care either way. I do not know if any irony is intended because there is no reason for the Rag and Bone people to mean anything other than promoting the collection. But the juxtaposition of the  two images from the contemporary American society  is more than a macabre coincidence. The picture beautifully illustrates the point made by the economist Stiglitz that the American dream is a myth and that America is no more a land of opportunity where people can go from “rags” to ” riches” .In an ironical twist, ” riches” now go the “rags” way.

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These ghosts strike you only within your houses

Residents of Ravindranagar in Sitaphalmandi are spending sleepless nights for the past two months, gripped by a fear that a ‘ghost’ is frequenting the area during night.While most of them are taking shelter in a nearby temple, three other families have already vacated their houses.At least half a dozen persons reportedly committed suicide by hanging after the rumours of the ‘ghost’ started haunting the locality.

It is a beautiful picture I have across in today’s Hindu. The picture at once catches your attention by the striking colors of the background provided by the walls and the door. Look at the elements of the picture: people squatting outside their homes, their homes locked from outside, tempo van parked outside with a child in it , a man walking away, the pictures of a political campaign. The walls are at once striking with the words Jai Shriram written on them, as though invoking Lord Shri Ram to protect them from the ghost. The fear of the ghost is palpable in the generally cheerful atmosphere of the  brightly colored houses. The ghosts come only at night when you are in bed in the privacy of your house.Here , outside when you are squatted among a group of people they do no harm.

Ghost is a planted rumor in a group who are commonly agreed on the existence of such a ghost. Ghosts build solidarity in believers. What we see in the picture is such an agreement.

A powerful newsstory from Afganisthan

Cold comfort

A child stands with his father as they wait to receive blankets and winter jackets from a German aid organization at a camp for internally displaced Afghans in Kabul, Feb, 20. More than 40 people, most of them children, have frozen to death in what has been Afghanistan’s coldest winter in years.

A classic example of powerful story telling, in which the photo-journalist supplements a highly telling image with powerful prose. Two things that have attracted me to this picture are:

1)The photographer is on level with the child, making it clear to the reader what his subject is and the central focus. The face of the father we do not see, only his protective hands around the child and a part of his woolen blanket protectively covering the child’s head and the child’s hands hid in pockets against the cold. There is no smile on the child’s face, only an expression of sadness.He does not even look into the camera’s eye.

2)Look at the picture with the description alongside, which in itself is powerful writing.It tells us that the child ,now under the protective blanket of his father is waiting for his blanket and winter jacket from a donor organization . Add to this the background information that more than 40 people,mostly children have frozen to death in what has been Afghanistan’s coldest winter in years.

The White woman who photographed India’s under-privileged

Margaret Bourke-White had in her time taken some fascinating pictures of life in pre-Independence India, some of them well celebrated like the famous Nehru pictures. What has struck me so deeply about her photographs is her concern for the under-privileged, which had taken her to the remotest corners of India documenting the ordinary lives of the people, man on the street, their struggles in the extremely difficult living conditions of the times. Not that the living conditions of our people have greatly changed for the better since but at least many of the social evils of the day have been eradicated with liberal education and the spread of literacy and a better standard of living.

Three of her photographs above show her grasp of the Indian reality so well : about a drought in rural India. Water had always been the biggest challenge , with a majority of our villages with no source of water except a truant monsoon.In the first of the pictures we see a cavernous village well, 200 years old, that had gone dry , with the villagers hovering over the rim of the village like tiny helpless creatures,powerless against the forces of nature,against a monsoon god who had always played fickle despite so many ritual sacrifices made by the believers. In the second one, we see a well in Mysore working at half capacity due to drought and from the still figures of the men and women around the well you can feel the hopelessness of the situation in which the well was almost dry and might not last long.

The third of the photographs is a commentary on India’s obnoxious social practice of untouchability, in which the people from the lowest castes are allowed to draw water not from the common village well but from their own well on the outskirts of the village. The drought of course affects them all,including the wells of the upper castes.

(Gratefully acknowledging pictures from Life's Archives of Indian Images)

Separating the wheel from the two-wheeler

Yala, Thailand: Security forces inspect the site of a roadside attack by suspected separatist militants
Muhammad Sabri/AFP/Getty Images

This picture , taken from the Guardian‘s 24 hours in pictures has caught my attention for the way its caption conveys a news so effectively adding to the visual contents of the news item. The picture is just about a severed front wheel of a two-wheeler vehicle, with the rest of the picture blurring out images of security men holding the passers-by at bay, the passersby standing under umbrellas at a safe distance etc. Now supplement the picture with what the caption says: a suspected separatist attack has just taken place on the roadside, with the security men now inspecting the site of the attack.

We know it is an attack by suspected separatists, who seem to have symbolically done a similar separation of the wheel from the body of the vehicle. We have reasons to believe that no collateral damage to human life has occurred :from the way passers-by are looking on from the blur of the picture under their safe umbrellas. We also see security staff doing their inspection duty in the blur of the picture.

A piece of effective news reporting.

Photographing the Prime Minister not prohibited, only photographing the airport

(India’s first Prime Minister ,Pandit Nehru besides a ‘Photography Strictly Prohibited by order’ signboard at Delhi’s Palam airport.-Photo by Homai Vyarawalla, one of India’s early women photo-journalists who has recently passed away at the ripe age of 98 )

The iconic photograph of India’s Prime Minister posing beside the “photography prohibited” signboard outside the Delhi airport is one of the finest examples of how the lady could make an amazing story out of a routine news item of the day.The Prime Minister getting in and out of the Airport is just a routine event for a photographer-journalist to cover. Photographing the Prime Minister was not prohibited but only photographing the airport. It is a masterstroke of the photographer to arouse interest of the viewers by making the Prime Minister pose beside the signboard.

They are solving the Eurozone debt crisis under a common umbrella

I love the several delicious sarcasm possibilities present in this picture. Some captions that would come to mind are :

A) Sar”kozhy”ing to Angela in search for a solution to the Eurozone debt crisis
B) Madmoiselle, we are deeply indebted.
C)France and Germany are trying to solve their debt crisis under a common umbrella.
D)Sarkozhystically speaking, Angelas do not fear to tread where the French have rushed in.

Please think of other possibilities. Of course , in good-natured fun, not to cause hurt to the persons involved.