What’s in a Pursuit?


In a most basic sense, the pursuit of anything involves body and mind. The greater or deeper the pursuit, the faster and easier do the revelations occur, and the more trained, agile and adept the mind and body becomes. Medical practitioners, psychiatrists, thinkers, philosophers, artists, sportspeople, professionals of any sort… In fact, all of them not just subscribe to this basic way of being, they just as easily prescribe it as a way out of any number of ailments, from travails of the spirit to diabetes. Get involved. Dig in. Focus.

Yet, a narrowing of approach cannot mean a narrow vision. Quite the opposite. Being able to choose a path comes with an expansion of mind, and a fluid, easy awareness of possibilities. The word ‘possibility’ precludes promise. In the knowledge that something imaginable is feasible and probable, there is anticipation. In the pursuit of it, is purpose. The journey from purpose to fruition, the pursuit, takes learning, preparation, control, work and time. It calls for method, process and discipline.

There is value in it, but some take discipline too seriously and a bit too far. Many believe in the unwavering rigour of it, of repeating something unerringly, almost viciously. There are techniques to be learnt, and repetitions develop into speed and confidence. But without deviations, there are no mistakes, and consequently, no discoveries. Without these, there is no understanding, no sense of loss or joy, and no sense of flair. There is no expansion of thought or mind. And eventually, this leads to limited awareness. While most strive for a level of permanence and comfort in doing things mechanically and repetitively, an artist seeks the exploration, revelations and excitement of impermanence.

Anything creative, the very existence of it, comes from impermanence, or finiteness. And fundamentally, our perception and experience of it. When the end of all things becomes a distinct reality, there is a seeking of continuity, a need for meaning, and a reason for being. Why preserve a memory in the form of a photograph? Because memories fade, become embellished in the telling, and that some testament or evidence of the truth in the story is necessary. Because the subjects in the photographs can escape the ravages of time. Because the memories of those who are no longer with us are just as important. Or perhaps, because it does not take much for photographs to simply exist in the fringes.

What of collective memory? What of photography as a record or document, or as art? Or as a practice and a process? A moment is fleeting and infinitesimal. A space is never the same one second to the next. Once a moment, an event, a face, a person, or an object with a space, has gone or moved on, things are really never quite the same. Often, the art is in the simplicity and complexity of knowing or seeing that tiny, fleeting, fraction of existence. And in so seeing, acknowledging the infinite. This is not just for photography, but for creation or art in every form. For a few, art is in the process, and not in the message, or even in the chosen medium in some cases. I have come to understand and admire these artists in particular, those who unceasingly practise their art with no end or intent, in whatever form available.

For them, their purpose, pursuit, and fruition is in the process, and the possibilities are immense. They usually lead parallel lives, as professionals, and separately as artist, with their professions often unconnected to their art. These artists have a sense of detached attachment that only comes from an intimate understanding of their equation with their practice and the world, with no expectations from either. Just an immeasurable joy in experimentation and perfection. There have been several such artists all through history, and in every country. The body of work they leave behind is usually immense, pathbreaking, sublime, and sometimes discovered years or even decades after they passed away.

At any given point, the key to creation, invariably, is in the constraints.

This article originally appeared in the April 2021 issue of Better Photography.