The Perfect Gift


Three years ago, my grandfather’s 95th birthday occasioned an extensive, fun, group photo session. With family from all over coming to wish him, I made over 200 group portraits. A week ago, N Krishnaswamy peacefully passed away. All of a sudden, I found myself thinking of the biggest gift he had given me… a love for classic literature. I hear him now, even as he eloquently recited from memory, all those years ago when I was nine, the first paragraph from ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ by Charles Dickens… “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness…” (Strange that Dickens thought of capitalising the words ‘Light’ and ‘Darkness’). Through my grandfather, Dickens, Dumas, Melville, Poe, Orczy, Walter Scott and Shakespeare came alive. I am happy that I had a camera with me that day, three years ago.

I find making portraits immensely satisfying. Sometimes, they are made quickly, intuitively. At other times, the photography is planned. Lights and backgrounds are assembled. Family and friends are invited. Many a times, I find myself sending pictures to people by email… even to complete strangers. Once in a while, the only option is to visit a photo lab.

From chai offered by traffic constables to being invited as a special guest at the founding day celebration of a nearby chawl… the rewards, oddly enough, have often been more gratifying than the best assignment fees I have earned.

There is no other gift or form of art that can replicate the immediate tangibility of a wonderfully captured, beautifully framed print. Eventually, the portraitist may be forgotten. But the portraits last, reminding people of how or who they were. This is why a good portrait can be the most valuable and the most selfless gift that a photographer can possibly give.

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