Surrendering to the Medium


There are a lot of things that go into the making of an image. But what I am most intrigued by is that diminutive interval when the photographer decides to pause, just before pressing the shutter. What is it that goes through the mind at that very particular point to cause the spur-of-the-moment reaction?

I remember reading Todd Hido on Landscapes, Interiors and the Nude. In one of the essays titled, ‘What I See and What It means,’ Hido reflected on what goes through his mind when pressing the camera’s shutter. “Much of what happens in a picture is subconscious at the time I make it. I’m really seeing what’s there later, when the picture is done. Joan Didion puts it this way, ‘I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I see, and what it means. What I want and what I fear.’ I feel the same way about photography. I learn things from my work about what I’m thinking. My mind is way more sophisticated than I realise,” he says. I relate to this quite a bit, especially the part that Didion mentioned about writing. Until I start writing, my thoughts are unknown to me. They exist as incoherent fragments of words, interjected by emotion. The more time I spend thinking, the more muddled my thoughts become. But there’s that tiny inkling of surety that pushes me to spill out what I have in my mind. It’s only after I’ve written that I am able to understand.

Isn’t photography the same as well? I don’t think we ever know, or it’s rare that we are ever aware of why we photograph certain things more than others. But that’s what makes the process so endearing… To not know and simply react. In an interview, William Albert Allard spoke about how he has never made a picture keeping the editor in mind, or what photograph is more likely to be published. “That’s self-strangulation,” he said. “You do that once or twice and then you start thinking that way, and you’re not going to be able to see anymore.”

When I photograph, I am not thinking about anything. I surrender myself to what is to come. Answers can never be sought out directly, and present themselves in the most unlikely of places and forms. So I walk, observe, and admire, hoping to find more pieces to add to the enduring enigma of why I photograph. I also don’t question my motives for making a particular image. It can be crippling, I’ve found. I prefer leaving my subconscious motives as is. So I continue shooting, till I’ve had my fill, and then forget about the pictures for a while. After enough of time has lapsed, I begin the arduous process of making sense of what I’ve shot. Even then, some of the pictures don’t make sense. But it doesn’t mean that I’ve failed, it simply means that there’s more to be done. I believe that even the most inconsequential image has something to say. Don’t discount your rejects entirely. After all, you found something in the scene that you felt was worthy to make a picture of. “One of the great pleasures of making photographs is being surprised by the results,” Hido ended the essay with these words.

This article originally appeared in the October 2018 issue of Better Photography.