The Place of Photography

K Madhavan Pillai

K Madhavan Pillai

I cannot but think that the greatest achievements of our species is in the understanding, appreciation and in the practice of the arts. Be it music, painting, poetry, literature, photography, crafts, or the various arts that exist, the very act of seeing, recognising and then plucking out the infinitesimal from the infinite—stringing them together to produce seminal works—is unfathomably complicated, and yet, second nature to us all. This is one side of the story of human endeavour. The most advanced technology today can only replicate, and at best, emulate, but not create. Technology is the other side of the coin, though. It allows reproduction and dissemination. Together with creation, it has changed our lives and the very course of human history. With every moment, we know more that we ever have before.

Photography stands at a very unique point among the arts. As practitioners, we try to make images that mean something. We use a camera or a phone to transmit a moment from someplace, sometime, and share it with anyone who is willing to see and experience this moment with us. Every thought, action, sentiment, visible and invisible, leading up to the moment that the shutter is released, is transmitted, and, in varying degrees, received. Be it a breathtaking landscape or a found object on a pavement, a monument to the Gods or a view from the edges of our world, no other form of art can show the truth with such clarity and immediacy, or across spans of great distances and time. Be it a face in an old album or an event, momentous and extraordinary, or something unseen from the wilderness that we share on this planet, no other art form can show humanity to humanity, with such disquieting directness. Even the multiplicity of visuals in a video cannot achieve what the study of a single image can.

This places photography on a different pedestal. It is so much more than science or art. Photography is a record of things, and more than just a record. It is language and grammar. It can also be a voice. It can inform and educate. It can change perceptions and influence decisions. A photograph can affect a single individual deeply. It can, likewise, move the masses. It can liberate and provide us with a sense of identity. It can also alienate, and shake our foundations. It can make us ask who we really are. No other form of art makes us question as quickly, or just as easily provides answers.

This article originally appeared in the April 2017 issue of Better Photography.

Tags: K Madhavan Pillai, better photgoraphy, Edit note, April 2017