The Meaning of Being a Photographer


When love for something is so powerful that words fail to describe it, a new language must evolve. What emerges is often universal in its elegance. The love for a subject is indeed more important than knowledge of technique or any particular means of expression because the desire to articulate eloquently compels a lover to inescapably create the perfect vocabulary and grammar. This sentiment could have been no more beautifully voiced than by Ansel Adams, the grandmaster of black and white landscapes. He had stated… “When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.” Amongst all that has been said and written about photography, this quote remains one of my favourites.

Unlike many forms of art that require some level of cultural exposure to be able to grasp subtle nuances, sensitive photography lends itself wonderfully to appreciation, regardless of the viewer’s origin, or social and economic background. And in today’s world, there is so much to fall in love with. There are so many automated tools with which to explore, record, and share. Yet, does that make the creation of an evocative image easier? Or is it now much more difficult to rise above the mundane? On the other hand, do these things matter to an artist, whose only quest is to express? Subsequently, wouldn’t an artist be oblivious to the hours and years of practice that preceded the fluency to define and interpret, craft and connect… perhaps, oblivious of even being an ‘artist’?

A few days ago, I had the privilege of attending a recital by the legendary Kishori Amonkar, one of India’s greatest vocalists in Hindustani classical music. For her admirers, it was her gift to them on the occasion of her 83rd birthday. For those who knew her well, she sang in the memory of one of her closest friends, who recently passed away. The concert was set against the backdrop of an exhibition of breathtaking photographs from the Valley of Flowers, by her son, Bibhas Amonkar, at the Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai. After the concert, even as the strains of her heartrending aalaap kept echoing in my mind, I suddenly found myself being introduced to her. She left me with words that, coming from her, is a life-lesson. “You must try very hard to get your picture,” she said to me. “You must capture your subject’s soul.”

This article originally appeared in the May 2014 issue of Better Photography.