I bought a used copy of Walker Evans' American Photographs. I love used books. I like my books to feel read(probably because I might never get around to reading them). I like the fraying of the corners, the yellowing of the pages, the shelf-wear. I like the smell of age from the paper. I like the folding of the pages once used as book-markers. But most of all, I love the secrets. They're all secrets. Scratches, doodles, underlines. Names, dates, wishes. Scars, bookmarks, photographs.
I wonder about Christmas '95.
and Tony too.
I wonder about the photograph on page eleven.
or photographs, perhaps.
I wonder about Hilde.
My tastes tend to prefer sweeter ragas, those that are delicate bordering on the tender, those that can melt as quickly as butter, those that are effortless in its unfolding. The ragas I have fallen in love with always feel obvious to me. Obvious in its shape, its form, its textures, its colors; obvious to my psyche the way that my name is obvious to my subconscious. I find beauty in familiarity and comfort, like everybody else. But, I also dislike stagnation with a staunchness that sometimes upsets the rhythm of my everyday, and oftentimes sends me scurrying across borders and over the foothills of the unfamiliar Himalayas.
This is the first time I have experienced Raag Shivanjali. Shivanjali is as beautiful a raga as it is a name, but I only see the beauty after spending a very difficult time listening to it. In this performance, a majority of the improvisation is in the pursuit of comfort, the familiar cushion of the Tonic is rare, and something about the design of the raga keeps me from feeling the body-shattering resolution of the build-up/return to Sa. Because of this, my mind is pushed beyond familiarity for longer durations than I am used to, and the effect is profound. Triggers go off in unusual centers of my brain, and they linger because they have nowhere to go. Panditji also works repetition into the performance the way a masseuse would work repetitiously on a particularly sore muscle. I can only liken the hammering down of these notes upon those unusual centers of the brain, to the effect of an exceptionally feisty Kerala monsoon where the rain stings your bare back as your run for cover and hide under the wind-fraught trees. This likeness only remains metaphorical, the experience unfortunately, is inexplicable. Shivanjali is a mind-expanding raga– uncomfortable and addictive, like all addictions– but where a physical addiction might lead to mental discomfort, and a mental addiction might lead to physical discomfort, Shivanjali’s discomfort leads to a very tangible resolution where both your mind and body are challenged to the point of breathlessness, at which moment comfort is found in the air, comfort is found in the water, comfort is found in the silence of your empty thought– and the experience of being massaged, without ever being touched, is addictive.
If there is such pleasure in the unknown, whatever I roam the Earth searching for, I hope I never find it.
I found a roll of film
on an empty shelf.
My old camera
met the cold night
on that roll of film.
I took pictures
of buses and balloons
and empty shelves too.
Then I returned
the roll of film
to the empty shelf.
The shelf it is on
inside it too.
The whole world
inside that roll of film
on the empty shelf.
the roll of film
might be found again.
Or perhaps lost, or stolen,
buried, or forgotten,
and the empty shelf
will be empty again.
I once saw a girl with green eyes. It was the summer, but it was a cold day. San Francisco has no seasons, only cold days with the sun and cold days without the sun. Her green sweater brought out her green eyes. I remember her eyes because I saw something in them. But I see something in everything, so I cannot remember what it was. I was at the Washington Square park sitting on the green grass, watching the tall trees with their voluptuous green leaves. Squirrels ran from the dogs and children, as if in mortal danger. There were the sounds of the brown twigs crunching and the brown earth scattering, there were the sounds of the dogs barking at the end of their outstretched leashes, and the children screamed and screamed and screamed. There were green kites and green bicycles, there were green mats and green salads, there were green pens in the hands of the poets and their lovers wore plastic sunglasses with green frames. There was such happiness that cackles of laughter broke-out in surreal patterns as if carefully orchestrated by a madman. And would he be the happiest madman that we ever did know, dressed in a green cape with silly green hair. The copper sculptures were covered in a green rust and the girl with the green eyes rested her back against the green granite plinth of the tallest statue. Her sweater was hand-knit and well worn and she was soon joined by a handsome man in a green coat and matching green suede shoes. I walked down Columbus avenue to take my favorite seat outside the corner café at Green street. I ordered my green tea and looked at my wrist-watch. Time had stopped as the rusted needles had finally broken but I caught a glimpse of myself on the shiny glass that covered the green clock-face. I sighed and resigned into the green cushion of my favorite green chair, green with envy, feeling blue.
Back in the summer of '11, three-months before I left for San Francisco, I spent a few weeks in Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya(not pictured here). I spent most of my time there alone, in the sleepy little town of Tawang, and walked plenty through the lane that held our room to the gates of the monastery. I never walked past those gates.
I have lived in conflict. One of the spirit. At 16, I had no voice, no inner voice, no outer voice, no voice. A 16yo who cannot hear himself speak is one who is told many things because he listens in silence. I was told many things. I still am. They had a name for the bunch of us then, in school- failures. Concrete noun. I used to cringe at the word having had spent 15 years as a truant of being one, but it was a word that said more about the people sent out to inspire us than it did about us. I did not really mind being a failure in their world, at their game, playing by their rules. But I did fight- not to be a "winner" but out of general bitterness because that label bothered me so much. I wasn't a failure-to-be; to them, I'd already failed. Failure. "Failures stay back after class." And we all did.
They asked me to "just finish school and do whatever you want". Yes, but I had nothing to do. I did not know what to do, I just had to. I don't know how photography happened but I needed something to show for to get into college and I was already familiar with hiding behind the camera every time I needed to find a safe refuge. Relatives, mostly. I turned to the camera because I'd only ever used the pencil before to scratch my back. I got into college. We all did. And it felt like school again but this time, I'd changed. I'd found something that made me happy, I did not know it at 16, but i know now that it's all I've ever lived for. To be happy. And I also know now that to be happy is to tell myself that I am and to know the reason- in words. To speak to myself in a voice I like to hear. The camera made me happy. I took pictures of flowers, leaves, sunsets, sunrises, people, and everything was just so perfectly beautiful. I enjoyed the beauty and the happiness until I realized that I'd lost my voice again. I was told the photographs were good and I listened in silence. I'd put so much importance on the impact that the 'what' had gone to make way for the the 'what else'- and somewhere in that loss of spirit, in that loss of confidence, in that conflict, I slowly turned to 'why'.
Reality, causality, perception, identity: the existence of the self in casual independence of society, a self that believes in freedom and rationale. A self that also cannot exist in complete independence of society and it's absolutes, having been born into a system much too big for it's small ego. But the ego grows, the soul shines brighter and the self is placed as it's own end and a contentment is found in the knowledge that he is not, in fact, a pawn of society, but the hand that casts a shadow on the chessboard. The mind that moves the pieces. The soul: an abstraction of the ego's own morality and code of existence. The soul represents the ideal. The vanishing point at the climactic horizon. But society claims the sanctity of the soul to feed the monster of the ego. Happiness, a reason and a code of conduct- I had these. I was still lost. I traveled to many places in search of the answer and had not found it. Meanwhile, I'd found a photographic sensibility, a method of questioning that sensibility and an approach that kept me happy. Also, I realized that I'd always be told things and that it did not depend on the volume of my own voice. I listen because I like hearing their voices and not for the lack of my own. But I also learnt that I can only do the things I have in my own head and nothing else. Expectations are meaningless outside of a system that can't define them in concretes.
I found my answer in Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh. Because I still believed that I'd find it if I went far enough. And Tawang was the farthest. The drive there was demanding, the days there were not easy. Circumstances. I spent many misty days in our beautiful wooden room(most of it in complete solitude) just thinking about all the great photos I might've taken had the light been good. Thinking, in general, while looking out the window at a sheet of metal that shone brightly in the fog. Clouds of thought replaced my brain like a smokescreen that hid that undefined purpose. One that presented itself as a quest. I was journeying to explore the non-verbal struggle of my soul and had found rest and relaxation instead. But as if at a luminescent crescendo of sight and perception, an idea was born. That the clouds of thought within me hide the meaning of this quest much like the clouds around me hide from me the collective progress of the human mind. The exploration I make with the camera is only to better understand my own ideas. To see, to recognize, to resonate with and to appreciate the beauty of that seamless super-imposition of idea and image. To wonder in bewilderment what led to the birth of the image in that decisive climax of the shutter-button. A primal and instinctual physical response that bore no load on the mind. For me, the reflection only came after the reaction.
My photographs are not the answer. They are the question. They are my means of wondering aloud, of reading the unscripted play hidden in the mist of my mind. A bread-crumb of hope tossed by the subconscious to humor the hunger. Questions. Ironically, that was my answer. Questions.
I'd realized that in everything I'd done, it was the pursuit that mattered to me the most. The quest. Something to do. It was the "DO whatever you WANT" that made me happy; the freedom and the pursuit that still does and always will. The journey is not a quest of the mind but a quest of the soul to liberate the mind and let it wander. So it does, in solitude, in clouds of thought that define its purpose- a definition that cannot be expressed in a language of the tongue.
The (photographic) process is blissfully simple- a conscious and physical recognition of the mysteries of the sub-conscious mind leads to the birth of the image. This is only the first step, one that relieves the tension of an elastic mind stretched to breaking point. The answer and the meaning comes from the translation and never from the definition. To translate the silence of a photograph into words, to see and understand the questions they raise. To create that perfect question, not of hows- but of whys. The answer is everywhere- it is the question, the language, the translation- the thought.
Made of the Mist.
In my constant quest to define photography I've realized that a photograph(like the mist) hides more than it shows and the beauty lies in the dark(in the missed). A fog descends upon the frozen mind and as the mind warms to the knowledge that it is in complete control of itself, the fog clears, a steam rises from the ice, the curtain of mist is drawn and ideas are born. Such is the nature of this series, my struggle with photography to question myself, to learn truths from the observation of life unfolding around me. Such is how it helps me take pleasure in the fact that I can find happiness in a physical craft not guided by bodily need but by moral duty to the seed planted in my brain. I find hope in thinking that one day I might climb that tree I raised so I may see further than I'd ever seen before.
I don't make pictures to have something to show, anymore. I do so because I have something to say and photography is my means to that end. Besides being an incredibly beautiful sensory experience, it is also a sensory exercise. I enjoy both. The material, materializes out of air, out of light. The mysticism of the mountains does not come from having its feet in the plains, but from having its head in the clouds. At that point- during my days in foggy Tawang, the clouds were a symbol of my mind: mysterious and ever-expansive.
This series is in tribute to that mind and that state of being; the clouds of thought, the mist, the mystery. To be made of the mist is to be an abstraction of actuality. The mist is but a veil that blurs objective reality to provide sight to nothing but by it's own volition. A selective representation- much like our own ideas and how they exist in our mind. Much like photography. Veiled, but present, waiting in earnest for inspiration to come and spark thought, to draw the curtains open- to face the light. I drew the curtains, I saw mist. I faced the light, I stole it but I only saw(stole) what nature wanted me to see. I was starved for inspiration and the icy beauty fed me well. I saw mist, I saw mystique, I felt the photographer in me bow down to the photographer in the skies. I took pictures of the little I could see and now I show them to you. I understood. Such is the nature of the mind, it understands only what it wants to understand no matter how objective the vision is. I was happy there. The maid of the mist had kept her promise.
The best of his days melt into a night of pining and he’s left with its dribble on his cold, often unwashed, palms. Tonight, I carry a notebook and a pen, of which I will make a present should I run into him again.
I like taking walks after the city has resigned into a dull rumble. I know where I am going and I know who I will see; I have made friends with the shadows and the bridge knows to wait for me before she sleeps. She lives in a distance, but there’s a terrace at the end of Vallejo, where I can rest profusely as she twinkles over the San Franciscan bay. Berkeley twinkles too, but behind the low-hanging veil of our beloved fog.
This terrace is special to us, and it is our little secret. We bring ourselves here each night, not in friendship, not in fellowship, but in understanding. Here, we lie on our backs upon the grass, for minutes that seem like hours and in silence that oozes concern.
It is 3am now. I bury myself within the folds of my woolen scarf and I set out into the night. I have a bottle of wine and two paper cups, my camera, and my gift.
Dear City, how you have changed. I no longer recognize you as the monster I know you are. I feel forgiven as I make my way past the Spanish Chestnuts, now dressed in black for the Midnight Ball. And the moon, seduced into a narrow crescent, a tiara like only the heavens can craft. Even the spirits are dancing to the chirp of the crickets, disguised as the wind in the chest of a shirt on a clothesline. I raise my glass to an empty sleeve and I walk.
I smile as the view of the bridge slowly edges into my thoughts. Instantly, I am stirred out of my stupor and I recognize the ebbing light. I see the familiar shadows upon the terrace, and I try to smile, but I find that I am already smiling. I feel a warmth absolve me as I rest upon the grass.
It is cloudy, but we are hopeful. Within each of us is the truth that we can part the clouds just by believing we can. In time, they do, and we search the skies for a lone, twinkling star. I shine my flashlight into the sky and light nothing.
“I’m god-fearing”, he says. We remain silent. I wonder if he actually lives in fear. His cigarette burns with an audible cinder. That’s how quiet it is, when the sound of a TV stabs the night.
Perhaps our silence frightens the lonely girl. Or perhaps she doesn’t know her friends stand right by her window, disguised as the night.
Spent some time in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art today.
It'd been a long day after the ride back from Europe. Took this picture just as the sun went down, while waiting to catch the train from San Francisco to Cupertino. I was exhausted and happy, but also sad that the trip was over, and also happy that I was leaving to india three days later, and also sad and excited and happy and exhausted. This picture brings it all back to me.