Himanshu Vyas – Chhayachitr

Consciousness and the Photographic Gaze

AFTER TAKING EVERY PHOTOGRAPH, a thought always appears within – even if I had not taken this photograph, this scene still would have happened in the existence…

A photo is made from the reality but simply put, that reality isn’t made by the photographer. Is that the reason why we take a photo but make  a painting… ‘Is this creation entirely my imagination or have I chosen a fragment from a bigger scheme?’ Does this question arise in followers of other art forms like music, poetry, painting or dance?

Due to the visual semblance of something static and framed, photography appears close to painting. But a painting and a photograph evoke differing reaction in a viewer. Looking at a photograph, the viewer marches into the information zone of his mind and his primary reaction is to know: Where is this? Who is this?

Square Flame

Whereas even if the same photograph is painted on a canvas, a viewer unknowingly ambles into his plane of feeling and mumbles words like ‘It’s beautiful…’

Even the extraordinary landscapes of Ansel Adams have this information almost nailed into them that they are, for example, of Yosemite Valley.  And information, as in any art form, is not only superfluous but an impediment to aesthetic appreciation of a simple flow or gaze at those photos. On the contrary, the city where Van Gogh’s ‘Potato Eaters’ stayed or that of the village where cypresses in ‘Starry Night’ leap to stars, seldom figures in conversations about them. 

This balancing of information with emotion within a photograph is subtle and hinges on two aspects.

First – the information delivery, so inescapable in a photo, must not overshadow the photographer’s way of seeing that information. Both must be in assonance – information, as well as the way that information is seen. Since photography too is a language, it may be said that in a photo, along with a noun, it’s adjective or verb too must be visible. For example, in the sentence ‘sunlight peeps from a window, slants on the wall and rests on the floor,’ the photo must show sunlight peeping, slanting and eventually resting.

And today when almost every person on the planet is a photographer, it is a photographer’s responsibility that in his photograph of a moon lingering above a wall or adorned in the tresses of a tree, the viewer doesn’t ask, “Where was this Moon?”

A photographer has to deliver his image across meaning and into a renewed primal meaninglessness.

Secondly – noted Indian poet and thinker Agyeya offers an insight to poets in his book A Writer’s Responsibility to reuse creatively and infuse respect into words that have lost their meaning to indiscriminate usage. Today that responsibility has extended to photographers to restore the glory of scenes and things indiscriminately offered at the altars of fps (frame per second).  Or else, with time, instead of being ‘a joy forever’  – beauty will evoke boredom.  

And then our gaze too would be dry of affection – every photograph’s destination.

We will live in the world like a tourist who has clicked fifty photographs of the Taj Mahal and while returning, instructs the cab driver, “Don’t take this road. I have SEEN it.”

Only by a gaze used consistently with awareness, can seeing nourish and satiate.  Then the artist can go further towards ‘that inward eye.’ Probably legendary photographer Henry Cartier-Bresson realized this when he left photography at his zenith. Or maybe the 19th century Indian poet Mirza Ghalib too, who fathomed absolute contentment in seeing and yearned to transcend the gaze –

 vā kar diye haiñ shauq ne band-e-naqāb-e-husn

ġhair-az-nigāh ab koī haa. il nahīñ rahā hi.

(My zeal has unveiled the beauty, now besides my gaze, there remains no hurdle) 

We may say that if painting or other visual arts are in search of an image in our consciousness, then photography is a search for image ‘out there.’  Is then there some consciousness out there? Is this whole vast world someone’s consciousness?

Carved Flame

Not consciousness, but the tangible world has often been called a reflection of cosmic consciousness. Between 1328-1380 AD in India, sage Bharati Teerth wrote a terse philosophical treatise ‘Drig-Drishya-Viveka,’ an enquiry into the nature of ‘seer’ and the ‘scene.’  He says – ‘Chichchayaaveshatau buddhau bhaanam…’ that the individual mind is ‘charged’ with reflection of that universal consciousness known as ‘Chit.’

And a little further in the same book he offers a relief to the dichotomy of ‘taking’ or ‘making’ a photograph, through a beautiful verse:

Antahkaranvrittisch  chitichhayekyamaagata,

vaasna  kalpayet swapne  bodhekshairvishayaan  bahi  (11)

(The mind, identifying itself with reflection of consciousness, imagines desires in dream. And in waking state, identifying itself with the body, externally it imagines objects.)

No wonder, in Indian thought, a photograph  – written with light – is understood and known as reflection or shadow of infinite consciousness …a shadowgraph … Chhayachitr.  

[top image: Cotton Flame]

NOVEMBER 2018 Himanshu Vyas MONK


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