This article was originally published in January 2014.
Though the word ‘panorama’ literally means ’an unbroken view of the whole region surrounding an observer’, unfortunately the word itself is tainted. This is proved by several practitioners all across the world, and particularly in the west, and a host of mediocre touristy imagery, with no start point and no end point. In other words, what you could classify as pointless pictures. On top of that, the panoramic scene has always been synonymous with clichés. That word that makes a contemporary photographer’s skin crawl. Beautiful sugary landscapes, to a point where you would be almost excused as serious photographers if you were to think, “now why on earth should I use a format that is not only so negatively viewed, but also takes us right back to that very British pictorialism that is so out of fashion today”. What I would like to say to you is, perhaps that thought needs a rethink.
I once came upon an analogy on a life of an artist with a bus terminus. Let’s appropriate the analogy for us panoramic photographers and let’s make the bus terminus Delhi’s ISBT. Some of you might, at this point, be thinking that this can’t be a very nice analogy, considering it has something to do with the disgusting ISBT of terrible experiences. I urge you to read nonetheless. This analogy mimics the lives of all creative people, who are either at the start of their careers like some of you, or bang in the middle of it, like me (I am nowhere near finished yet!)
Metaphorically speaking, each bus stop represents one year of our photographic, or more specifically, panoramic life. Then three stops, of course, means, three years of that work. Let’s say that for the first three years you set yourself the goal of photographing the urban landscape with a Fujica 617 or a Noblex camera. You shoot them, all Ansel Adam zone systemed and tight, and your trademark style is an all-centred approach. It is your signature, your watermark, a statement of who you are.
At the end of three years, if you showed these photographs as a body of work to someone knowledgeable and he or she said, “are you familiar with the work of photographer Christopher Faust,” you’d be shocked! And you would realise that what you have been doing for the last three years has already been done, and by someone with far greater fame than you have attained, thus far. So what do you do? Really, what do you do? You get off the bus, grab a cab (because life is short), and head straight back to the bus station looking for a different platform and a bus in a different direction.
This time, you decide you are going to piece together overlapping images to construct a panorama. Technically, these are called joiners and you are a panographer but you don’t know that. You spend three years and produce a series of works that elicit the same comment: “Have you not seen the work of famous photographer David Hockney?” “Your work so resembles his, he is your inspiration, isn’t he?” you’re asked. Huh!
Boy that is tough, isn’t it? What do you do? You are definitely in the doghouse now! Do you return back and look for another platform? After all, there is no point in doing something that has been done before, and that person has already hogged all the credit for that kind of work. At best, you will become his shadow! You don’t want to be known as a clone! You really want to go back and find that bus that you can claim to be your own, of course panoramically and photographically speaking.
It is quite justifiable for you to think that there must be a certain way of seeing which is just you and nobody else in the entire photographic world sees quite that way. Do you then go and look for that special bus which is meant for you? Are you likely to find such a bus?
Well, the answer is really simple. Don’t run back to the bus station. Stay on the bus. For a while, it may seem that the route taken by your bus is the same as that of the other, the bus of the more famous person. But sooner or later, you will see that you are pretty much on your own! Your bus is now charting its own course, and where Chris Faust & Hockney are headed is somewhere else entirely!
The panoramic world embraces this philosophy, for the world you step into with panoramas embraces that larger vision. In a sense, you sort of develop this wonderful feeling of being omnipresent.
This happened to me as well. With no formal training in photography, as is true for most photographers of my time, my ideas and my vision were clearly my own. Add to that the advantage of having no internet, none whatsoever. Complete bliss! The virtues of being in a bubble. You might think that without the sharing and critique, where could I go? What would be my guiding light? When you embrace this larger vision of your world, that vision embraces you as well. As you look outside and gather the world into your mind, your relationship with it comes into sharp focus. You are then your best friend and your internal critique is that voice that will light your way forward.
Lately I have even begun to think that exposure to this visual bombardment, of which we have plenty of these days, coming from where I am now, is perhaps detrimental to my inner image building process. It is that world that is not only fragile but so easily influenced by this very ‘trending’. Luckily, since I had no professor’s vision to borrow, I had to build my own way of seeing, and my portfolio was based on what appealed to me, and of course coupled with the hard facts of life, which was that a lot of what I was photographing was the commercial work I would get. I was reborn then. I called myself the panoramist. I had been warned by an inner voice earlier that being a panoramist would be an addiction, a deadly one perhaps, and I thought to myself, “Oh well, let me do a bit of this, and I would probably tire of it eventually…and get back into photographing rectangles, or squares.” “Each subject decides its own format,” I argued.
I was mistaken. I was adopting, not a technique, but an entire philosophy; a dramatic shift in my viewpoint which took me some time to understand that you are the way you photograph.
About Amit Pasricha
Amit Pasricha was born in a family of photographers. After imbibing qualities from his grandfather and father, he carved his own path, in terms of how he makes the viewer experience the final image. This panoramist’s books are grand and ambitious, and his photographs are characterised by the use of storytelling motifs.