I’m Here Now

 
Mirrors and reflective surfaces are all around. There is a picture waiting to happen, almost everywhere. Photograph/Raj Lalwani

Mirrors and reflective surfaces are all around. There is a picture waiting to happen, almost everywhere. Photograph/Raj Lalwani


Raj Lalwani
peers into mirrors wherever he goes, in an effort to find the perfect Facebook profile picture.

My Assignment

  • Description: To remember the places I have been to, while adding a hint of myself in the frame.
  • Duration: I shot the first frame four years ago, and see new ones, everyday.
  • Notes: The most vital aspect to self portraits is to have fun.

Personally, I believe that if a photographer is honest, then every single photo that one makes, is a self portrait. It may not have you in it, but it still portrays something about you, your background, your influences, likes, dislikes and all such things.
Several years ago, I told my friend this. She laughed her head off, dismissing my thoughts as intellectual rubbish. “You are always in front of the camera, where are your photos?” So, in a bid to prove her wrong, I started including myself in a lot of my frames… only because it was fun.

My Perspective
After all, isn’t that what most of us seem to forget? Photography is meant to be fun. Sometimes, a picture is worth it, not because it will stand the test of time, but as something that you want to share with all your friends, even if it is for the infamous Likes on Facebook.
A lot of these self portraits have been born out of sheer boredom. But the entire exercise of looking into mirrors and searching for shadows has helped me be on my toes all the time, thus keeping my vision fresh and my camera, always ready.

I get weird reactions from passersby when I point my camera at mirrors, but the photos are often worth it. Photograph/Raj Lalwani

I get weird reactions from passersby when I point my camera at mirrors, but the photos are often worth it. Photograph/Raj Lalwani


The Process

All sensible talk left aside, the first time I decided to follow my friend’s advice was when I encountered Kareena Kapoor. No, not the real one, I saw a kitschy poster of the actress amidst a lot of crazy artefacts. It was almost a “I have to have a picture with that” kind of moment. The moment I shared the picture with my friends, everyone was curious to know where I had spotted this sight.
That got me thinking… wouldn’t this be an awesome way to photograph places that leave an impression on me? So whether it was a a mountaintop in the middle of Himachal, or my favourite downtown cafe, I started looking for ways to bring myself in. Sharing these photos not only tells me how my friends react to environmental self portraits, it is also a status update of sorts… a statement that this is where I am. The Kareena photo happened four years ago, and as my style has changed, as have my self portraits. The early ones were obvious, with a mirror being dead in the centre. I now enjoy transparent surfaces, since they show a hint of me and the world beyond.
I don’t want to call this a series… it is not shot with any agenda, apart from the sheer enjoyment of being in a particular place at a given point of time, much like a personal diary.

My Equipment
Does it really matter? I used whatever camera I had on me at that point of time, from compact cameras, to DSLRs and cell phones. I generally enjoy wider focal lengths as the story conveyed is more wholesome, with the entire scene around me being framed.

When the kind of photography you do is an exercise in narcissism, a bit of humour is never a bad thing. Photograph/Raj Lalwani

When the kind of photography you do is an exercise in narcissism, a bit of humour is never a bad thing. Photograph/Raj Lalwani


Going Beyond with Self Portraiture

  • Find Out What You Want to Say: Is it only about you? Or you you want to convey your relationship with a person, place or an idea?
  • When You Should Shoot: It depends on whether you want to plan a structure or just enjoy a picture at a time.
  • Look up the Masters: From Lee Friedlander to Cindy Sherman, study how the masters have dealt with this challenging genre.

Raj’s work is online at www.rajlalwani.com. He occasionally blogs at rajlalwani.wordpress.com.

This article originally appeared in the April 2013 issue of Better Photography.

Tags: Raj Lalwani, On Assignment, self portrait, portrait, travel, mirror, april 2013