By Trilokjit Sengupta
This weekend, I learnt something new. It all started last week when I got an excitable call
from photographer and a dear friend, Colston (Julian).
The Photographer’s Guild of India had organized a workshop with Prabuddha Dasgupta and Colston being a part of the managing committee extended his invitation to me as a guest.
Now Prabuddha, just in case you didn’t know, remains one of India’s most creative and inspiring image makers. I first came across his work as a 16 year old, blown away by his most controversial book on Indian Urban Women (titled: Women, Viking Books) where he explored famous personalities at their vulnerable best and then followed it up with silvery landscapes of Ladakh (titled: Ladakh, Viking Books).
The man is also famously a recluse, hates being stalked, infrequently refuses work and remains very, very difficult to get hold of to have a conversation, leave alone speaking at a workshop to professionals. Needless to say, at the risk of losing a well-earned Saturday, I had to be there. And it was not about photography at all.
It was much, much more. It was a about gumption. It was about conviction in one’s belief. It was about the courage to swim against the tide. It was about a life that was ruled by an energy of the spirit. It was about simplicity.
The photographer himself is no personality. In fact, he gives off the impression as a man who could go unnoticed in any part of the world. Tall, thin and dark with salt and pepper hair you find many such government servants trying to eke out a life in Calcutta. Or perhaps a struggling artist in the by-lanes of old Delhi You will not give him a second look as he walks past you in a white shirt and jeans smoking a hand-rolled cigarette. But what he spoke, sometimes piqued by the questions, sometimes irritated by his own inability to explain was where you realize that this is no ordinary man.
He didn’t speak of his pictures. He didn’t speak of his successes. He just spoke to the crowd about their own work. And how you can make it better. Not by being a better photographer.
But by being a better person. And he summed it up beautifully somewhere in the middle of the talk when one particularly persistent young photographer kept asking him questions. I don’t have anytime to do personal work, he ranted.
I am only doing commissioned work and I am not enjoying the imbalance etc. He kept on rambling with his complaints for a while and he finally stopped with the question, so what so I do? Prabuddha said curtly, “Do something else.” Afterthought: In a workshop where attendance was so high that Atul Kasbekar apologised and complained he had to drive people away, there was just one guy from advertising. Me.
And it was a shame, because a lot of the accusations were directed to the agency. “Them” was the word they used. And though I stood up many a time trying to not defend but explain our predicament, sometimes supported by Prabuddha, I was embarrassed at the absence of most of my fellow species who couldn’t be bothered. Perhaps photographers are still mere suppliers for us. And art, understanding and appreciation is reserved for the ads that will get you a glitzy metal trophy in a closed room full of peers.
What good is a workshop when you always have Google?