Song of Surrender

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Travails of a photographer

What is Art? 

By S Hariharan

Shashank Subramanyam
Photo: S Hariharan
The Oxford English Dictionary defines art as "the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, producing works to be appreciated primarily or solely for their imaginative, aesthetic, or intellectual content".

Music, Dance, Drama, Literature, Painting, Movies - all are accepted and appreciated forms of art. But are all arts equal?

Chennai, especially takes pride in the mushrooming number of Sabhas which are expected to promote Art.  The mission statement of any such Sabha would be for the betterment and promotion of fine arts. And most of them are good at what they are doing which is promotion of just one or two branches of fine arts.

But when it comes to photography, all of these institutions, in Chennai and elsewhere, are consistent in handing step motherly treatment.  The moment someone takes out the camera there is a volunteer whispering a warning that the camera be put down or you would be ejected from the auditorium. Is photography not an art? Why is it not being given room by these institutions whose very existence is to promote art?

Photograph by S Hariharan
The most common reason that would be given for not allowing photography is that the flash and the clicking noise are a source of distraction. The crisscrossing of these volunteers cause more distraction than the actual photographer might. Mobile phones ringing and talking loudly during concerts are disruptions. There are requests from the organizers for restraining from these activities. These are universally applied.

But that is not true when it comes to photography. There are privileged photographers who are allowed to click photographs to their heart’s content.  The organizers are happy to have their programs being reviewed in magazines and so the “Press” photographers are extended all courtesies. There are other ‘special’ persons who also have the right to click photographers. But the rest of the world, who have the volunteers materialize by their side when the camera comes out. How is it that photography by some is not a disruption while by the others are?

KV Gopalakrishnan
Photo: S Hariharan
It is ironical when these organizers, who so vehemently are against photography in their events, go to events organized by others and click away to glory. And they have no qualms in using pictures that belong to others without even a basic acknowledgement of the source, when it suits them.

The other reason that is provided is that the artists do not want to be photographed in the middle of a performance. In my experience, barring very few, artists generally like to be photographed and have expressed their gratitude in getting their pictures taken and uploaded on to the internet. So this reason as well does not hold water.

Photo: S Hariharan
I have been to events held in some spectacular venues. There are very clear rules of engagement and they are universally applied. Those interested in taking photographs are required to register prior to the event. There are specific areas where these photographers are placed. There are clear instructions that they cannot move around during the performance and if flash photography is allowed or if there are specific segments when photography is not allowed. These are processes worthwhile to be followed in any event.

Photography is a serious art and it captures the emotions of an artist like no other artistic medium. It documents history and preserves it for the posterity. We would do well to recognize and encourage this form of art as well.

Towards this my suggestions would be

  • Regulate the number of photographers allowed at an event
  • Require prior registration to ensure the photographers would be accommodated properly
  • Qualify photographers by their past record, if there is a need to restrict numbers
  • Or to ensure only serious photographers make the cut, accreditation fees can be levied
  • Earmark areas from where the photographers can operate
  • Have an universal set of rules that apply to all photographers, such as restriction of the use of flashes
  • Specify specific time when photography is allowed – such as the first 15 minutes and the last 30 minutes of an event
  • Conduct contests and exhibit selected photographs of that organization’s events
Let us allow photography its share of flashlight, um, I mean limelight!

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