Inspiration, design and homogeneity.

Among the many sources that I actively court, to inspire my photography, are museums and art related books (and sometimes magazines). Not always does it directly relate to photography, but it usually has a photo (or a few) related to the arts. It might be use of colours in a painting, sketch -the design of a page, or something like a magazine describing the playthings of the rich.

All usually feed off some part of the brain that gets simulated by images, and hopefully inspire my own (original) burst of creativity.

Among these habits is habit of visiting Book Fairs (especially if steep discounts are around! ;)) and on visiting one such fair recently, I was quite stumped by a few books – on art and photography. The three books that caught my attention, and still stay in the mind were:

  1.  A study on Renoir’s images/paintings.
  2.  National Geographic Magazine’s best portraits over a 100 years or so.
  3.  Opulence and ornaments of Indian Maharajahs and Rajas.

Each inspired me for varying reasons but a common thread was homogeneity – the lack of it, especially. What I got to see was that a over most of the 20th century pretty much every locale, region or country had a different costume or dress – and they were colourful and distinct. In contrast with our modern times where one would probably hop from many different continents but almost invariably encounter the same type of clothing if not necessarily the style.
Another important thing that I got to see was that even when the photography was indeed Black and White, the clothing, costumes and jewelry of the peoples  were not monochrome – they were multi-hued.

This individuality wasn’t only joyful to be seen, but it was breathtaking to be experiencing it, captured by photographers working with a very new medium. In an era of mass-manufactured “homogeneity” and conformity, it was refreshing to see it wasn’t  always the case – that it was hardly the case for most of the last century – let alone the many ones gone by.

I think that is one of our duties primarily as photographers. To document – sometimes immediacy of the medium now with digital photography and social media blurs us to the fact that we are actually documenting our race, our species. A 100 years ago when Graham Bell encouraged his son-in-law (to-be) to explore further areas and cultures with the National Geographic he might not have envisioned it living on as a magazine that served to document the exploration(re-exploration) of old and new cultures and their existence. While much of the world is explored, there are still 7 billion people around and much of what we do needs documentation.

A quick snap and update to facebook sometimes is the wrong way to go about it. A little thought about how the image might play a year down the line, or even ten years might give us just that pause and help us assess that image a little better.

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