Is Filmmaking a More Complete Art Than Photography?


Raj Lalwani ponders over the eternal debate of photography versus cinema, to find completeness in the incomplete. 

This article was originally published in May 2014.

A couple of weeks ago, I had a rather unexpected conversation that has been whirring in my head ever since. I was talking to a photographer friend, someone who has far more grey between his ears, having seen much more than I have, both in life and photography. In the midst of his visual musings, he asked me if I’d ever considered filmmaking.

For someone who is fascinated by cinema, but equally scared of a camera that moves, this was a strange question. Wasn’t our conversation until then about the humble still image, the joy and pain that a solitary moment can bring?

The greatest of cinema is always an education in still photography. But the moment you want that moment to stay, it moves on to the next one. Film still/Pather Panchali

The greatest of cinema is always an education in still photography. But the moment you want that moment to stay, it moves on to the next one. Film still/Pather Panchali

Our conversation moved from the still to the moving. As we discussed the complicated relationship between these closely linked but disparate forms, we came to a grudging conclusion. That filmmaking is a more complete form of expression than photography.

For two photographers who are hopelessly in love with pictures that stay still, it wasn’t easy to acknowledge this. But then, we are equally in love with the silent call of poetic verse, with the inherent grace of a dancer’s twirl. With the lilting timbre of a poignant voice, with the worlds created by an imaginative tale.

Here is a medium that combines the written, the visual, the aural… from scripting to acting, choreography to art direction, editing, sound engineering and all else, every tiny facet of moviemaking is an individual art form in itself. Cinema is the stage that brings them all together, in one gorgeous jugalbandi. Like different threads of the same story.

Photography is often less ambitious. There are exceptions, of course, Annie Leibowitz’s elaborate photographs in Vanity Fair are nothing short of a film set, but it can probably be agreed that photography is a far less collaborative exercise.

The limitations of the medium are very real, and these are thoughts that every photographer has grappled with, at some point of time or the other. How does one move beyond the single image? Think out of the rectangular box? Go beyond the sense of sight?

The fact that photography is usually a solitary affair is what draws me to the medium in the first place. It may not replicate the satisfaction of several people working together, but allows the silent curiosity of walking alone. It’s photography that allows us to wander and wonder. Just like the fact that a picture that doesn’t move allows you to linger, a little longer.

It is an unfair comparison, some may say. It’s several images versus the single shot, a motion picture versus just one. A photograph seemingly has a lot of pressure. But maybe that is its charm, the fact that you have to say it all, in one visual instant. Like that moment of truth, when just a few words speak volumes. You say less, to say more.

The best thing about boundaries is that magical feeling when you go past them. The greatest of photographers have constantly tried to redefine the potential of the medium. As have the greatest of filmmakers, artists, or well, anyone who has striven to go beyond.

No art is lesser or greater, but it is this seemingly incomplete nature of photography that makes me fall in love with it, just a little more. The most perfect things in life are often not perfect.

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