The Great Gig in our Heads
This article was originally published in September 2014.
Last month, I decided to disappear. The mountains had been calling for awhile, and despite all the stories that seemed to tell themselves from the heart of Ladakh, I’d not been a part of those tales myself. A few hours into Ladakh, I paused to myself, looking all around, with bated breath. No cute moment from the movies; it was acute sickness from the mountains. This was surely not what they meant when they spoke of being on top of the world. But when your lungs struggle and your head explodes, your senses are still racing, even more heightened, even more intrigued at this new experience. I sat by the still waters of the lake that unites and divides two lands, my head on the ground beside Pangong Tso, my eyes staring right above.
I saw stars. Real ones, not any fantasy created by mountain sickness. Or so I hoped, as I began to count. Numbers got the better of me and I remembered that cliché about people becoming stars. It’s not just in death, but also in love, separation and reunion. Every person we meet is like a star that contributes to the sky of our lives. Every picture we see is like a moment that adds up to the continuum of our visual lives.
The volume of photography today can, strangely enough, be equated with the number of stars above, the great gig in the sky. Millions of inspiring photographic voices being stars in the sky, with some blessed ones shooting by. This is an exaggeratedly romanticised thought, of course, as the world of photography at this juncture seems to have a haze of light pollution that’s blocking the stars from view. The apparent frivolity that surrounds some of modern picturemaking is a little like a dark, gloomy sky, the cynic may say. But romanticism comes from the need to be romantic. The need for each one of us to lay open our hearts, look up in wonder and surrender ourselves to the sky of photography.
And then I saw my first ever shooting star. Hours passed by, and 227 of them flew above. 227 shooting stars, 227 wishes that I made, repeating some, innumerable times, contradicting others, sometimes. The sun may be the one lighting up our lives, but the stars are the ones who create the real magic. Every shooting star is like that one magical photograph we will treasure for life, that photograph that we don’t photograph, because it is so perfect. They shoot by. And that is it.
– Raj Lalwani