From watching reflections on water to posing for a photograph is indeed a long journey. Here Madhumita takes us through the various phases of history, showcasing the voyage of the camera and how we react to it. Selfies might kill but the lure to pose is irresistible.
Narcissus, the hunter in Greek mythology, known for his beauty, was so proud that he looked upon all with disdain. He was lured to a pool by Nemesis where he looked upon his reflection in the water and fell in love with it. Little did he realise that it was his own image. He loved his face so much that he could not look away and finally he died.
Women in the ancient times looked into a bowl of water to approve of their looks after a ritualistic grooming in the late afternoons. Today, we have the mirror. We see our image as and when we please. We approve with a silent satisfaction when we look perhaps better than we do and disapprove and sulk all day when we don’t, on one of those bad hair days. So we have the camera to capture those precious moments when we look our best. A woman past her prime, with a widened girth and receding hairline, cannot have enough of admiring her younger self in a photograph taken years ago. This is what I actually look like, she reassures herself. The mirror is no longer her friend. She hardly stands there.
The camera helps eternise the temporal. The long-lost youth and departed dear ones too. When I was very young, I had seen a photograph in my parents’ album, of morose, grim looking people standing around a person laid out on the floor. He was my father’s grandfather, laid out on the floor at the crematorium, the people surrounding his body his near and dear ones. My father was there too, a very young boy, I had not recognised.
The camera, made by George Eastman and named Kodak, was offered for sale in 1889. It was the beginning of a long journey, the camera evolving and developing into shapes sleeker and less cumbersome, technology advancing by leaps and bounds. From the box camera, set on a tripod, where the photographer would hide his head with a black cloth, and while focusing on his subjects, would emerge now and then to give instructions to the people lined up to come closer and/or to look up or down. Then the point-and-shoot box camera and the folding camera came. Next, the first 135 film cameras, with Leica being the craze of the time, arrived. This was in 1922. Since then the camera has come a long way, through SLR, Polaroid, Digital, Digital SLR, to the Smartphone. The camera today is everywhere. It’s present at the tourist spots, at social functions, on the road, in the car, on the boat, in the classroom, at the office, and at the shopping mall, most of all.
With the change and development of the camera there has been a sea change in the photographs too. From black and white to sepia to b/w and sepia being touched with colour at the studio to produce a make-believe colour photo to colour. From organised disciplined posture of the subjects to candid ‘natural’ shots. A photograph in the days of yore was for public and, therefore, formal. People dressed up for a photo-shoot and stood straight, often looking stern and staid, saying ‘cheese’ only much later. Photographs in those days were more for documentation than for fun, as it is today. Today, we capture a myriad of moods, sitting, standing, lying down; kissing, hugging, sulking. Photography is informal today. It’s more so, with smart phone in hand. The choice is a click anywhere and everywhere, with anyone or everyone or with no one at all. Selfies are the craze today. People are taking photographs of themselves in the washroom too. And many are dying in the process. Standing on a cliff, beside the river as a flashflood rushes in, walking on railway tracks, mowed down by the train. Narcissus died, being unable to desist from looking at himself.
A Narcissus is perhaps hiding in each of us. The only thing that has changed is what we look at!
Pix from net