Breaking Away from the Norm


As Indians, as a people, we are so very tuned to being economical in our choices and everything we do. For instance, India largely skipped a very expensive copper wire phase in data and telecommunications, and moved quickly to fibre optics in the late 90s, because eventually, it was simply less expensive. Yet, India also has one of the most elaborate, cost-effective, and functional postal systems in the world. It exists comfortably along with email. Speaking of computers and ‘lifestyle commodities’ like digital cameras, we plan rather carefully, preferring to buy into second and third generation iterations, once all the wrinkles have been ironed out. And usually in the middle of their product life cycles, when prices stabilise. These are tipping points in Indian consumerism. Companies that have realised this about India—the normal bell curves of the Indian masses, middle ground for the varied middle classes—do extremely well, with double digit growth, year over year.

Naturally, the thing that we reflect as a people, shows through in us, as individuals and photographers as well. We bargain constantly with ourselves, whether we know it or not. For most of the Indian diaspora, sentiment and approach is governed by the economics of need, which, perhaps, is a little strange for a somewhat sentimental people. We even need to deserve our investments, before we can deem the rewards from it meritorious.

The issue here is the very idea of need. It is defined by the past, with a view of the future. It constrains us. I have always maintained that constraints are not just important, but paramount, to creativity. Extreme constraints gives rise to frugal innovation that serves the moment, otherwise famously (or infamously) known as jugaad. Yet, unfortunately, it also narrows vision to the exclusion of all else, including the gathering of knowledge, and seeing a bigger picture. Having witnessed the photography that comes from India, I can very easily testify to the largely homogeneous nature of it, where vision is more about conformity than about knowledge, or risk.

There are nine magnificent photographers in this issue. You will know two of them, Mariko Klug and Dhritiman Mukherjee, through our interview sections, and the others through an interesting feature titled, ‘What’s in Their Bags.’ You will notice the common thread that binds them. They were all part of the curve too, until they inevitably broke through. They moved beyond the immediacies of their needs. They invested their lives by making their journeys as important as their destinations. It is in that transcension, that they found their calling.

This article originally appeared in the February 2020 issue of Better Photography.