In Studio: Session on Pause

“Sma…a…aisle! Sma…a…aisle!”

Photographer Madam, I can’t. Your light. That flashing light. Flashes of smiles. Smiles as you flash. Why miles-long smiles in mile-long flashes of dark and light?

Screams at the white rolls of paper.

White on extra white. Giant orb light over my head.

Light over darkness – not this light over a child’s darkness. This is no fun. He wishes not to be a part of the spectacle. Little, unwilling, uncooperative boy behind flashes.

Silence.

Everyone takes a breath and try not to look at him. He plays quietly.

Lights turn on again.

Screams.

He lights his paths, self-determined little man in adult worlds.

Beauty is someone else’s wish. A picture frame with smiling offspring and those bearers of the future’s weights

To adorn a wall where aunts and uncles and grandparents can say ‘Oh how lovely! That’s a great photograph!’

Making memories of forced moments.

“Sma…a…aisle.”

The studio is silent. Shutters are closed.

Every morning I walk to the back of my house, to this brick construct, fourteen by seventeen feet, just enough creative space. I still go to work. I don’t have a sense of what that means, just that the routine makes sense even if the hours are empty.

The smell of perfume and powder, cologne and bass voices, shrill screams and breathless laughter, pitter pattering of little feet running off-frame no longer linger there. Dirty footprints on white paper backdrops rolled up now, hanging silent overhead.

I clean the lens from time to time with a tiny brush that gets between tight spaces.

Test the shutter.

The familiar sound provides momentary relief. As though something is happening. Addictive sound. I want to hear more.

Chair. Chi chik. Book. Chi chik. Pen. Chi chik

.

I pull the curtains and experiment with light.

I find myself in the small kitchen space.

Coffee cup with inscription: “I shoot people”. Chi chik.

I pair the cup with the French Press, change my f stop.

f/2. Chi chik.

I look at my camera. I like the mood of this photograph, the blurred out French press, just a suggestion behind that cup. I realize, for the first time, it isn’t just a press there. There is also tile work.

The things we take for granted.

The child screams. He hates white. It makes him think of the hospital. Everything is whitewashed. The lights hurt his eyes and the whites scare him. Either way, he is terrified. He resumes normalcy when everything is turned off. Amiable, happy, child like.

My studio. This memory making place. Some people put no priority on memories. At least not some of those little people, making their own worlds on their own terms. Many times. I want to shake them sometimes. Tell them that life doesn’t work on their terms. But now, I feel the universe shaking me, telling me that the same applies to me. It can hit pause and we all have to, if it so desires.

There’s a remote control somewhere. To switch on the a/c. I can’t find it. It irritates me that it has been misplaced.

March 12, 2020
10:37 a.m.

Dear Friend,

*This is a first for me. It feels a little bit dumb but I will write anyway. I decided to keep a journal. Well, you can see that. I am a photographer for a reason. Because I hate reading and writing. I feel illeterate because I know that I can’t spell very well. But, since this is private, nobody has to know right?

I am so bored. I woke up at 6 and there was nothing to do. We are not allowed to go outside because the government says so. I keep walking back and forth from the house to the studio. Its the only time I get some air in this concrete jungle. I now realize how much bricks there is, all around. If I have to see greenry I have to drive out to the fields or the beach. But of course there is no beach on the way to the supermarket and we have a curfew now so if the police stops me, I won’t be able to tell them why. Might as well stay home. Anyway I pulled a book off the shelf today, one of those Black and White photography books Ron gave me for my birthday last year. I never even opened it. It smells like an air-conditioned room. Ariel started talking about someone called Ansel Adams a few days ago. I didn’t know who that was. These photographers always have to make everything so academic. Everything has to have a meaning. I feel stupid when I’m with them. Do photos always have to have a meaning? I just want to take pictures. That so bad? Do i really need to know about other photographers?

I think I will do some macro photography today. Sun is hot now but later. There is nothing else much to do and I don’t like eating. Like everybody is talking about how they are hungry. I feel for coffee though. O.k. so I am going to have a cup of coffee now. Thank God mom bought the big bottle of Folgers.

11:27 a.m.

March 15, 2020

Dear Friend

I feel like I’m finally getting the hang of this journal thing. It’s not very easy being a photographer without models. Well, I guess I could be a still life photographer, but I’m not. I shoot people, not things.

I’ve tried to take aesthetic pictures of the brick wall. People love pictures of brick walls. Though I feel like maybe, when this all ends and we’re allowed out freely again, people might be pining for pictures not of interiors. Might even trigger PTSD in some people. I guess that’s the sort of academia other photographers talk about; what the picture reminds us of. Maybe.

I haven’t taken my walk of the day yet. Though we’re not allowed to go out in any real capacity, we’ve been allowed to go on walks as long as we like (as long as we only basically do one a day and don’t see anyone midway). Past few days, I’ve gone on some quite long walks into the countryside. Luckily, I don’t live too far from the hills so it’s counted as a walk. I haven’t taken my camera with me, but I have snapped some quite nice images of the trees on my phone. Maybe today I’ll bring some equipment. I don’t work with anyone else, so it should be fine right?

Anyway, I thought it might also be nice to print out the work I’ve been doing while everything is on pause: here’s what I’ve taken this morning

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21 March 2020
00:06

Dear Friend of a friend

Before this I had, sort of, thought that Ganesha was with me. That things were changing. Gradually on the up.

I was born in Dharavi slum. Parents who could not afford contraception let alone a child. Adopted. Happily? I dunno. I never lived through the alternative so how can I say which is preferred?

Adoptive parents were kind. Are kind. But we don’t have much. This (alleged) three week lock down is surely bound to extend. I’m not well educated but I am also no fool. We are not a country that has an infrastructure that can easily support any kind of mass control. So, after finally getting a position in an expat house as a cleaner (not live in) this lock down started, and now I have even less than before and turn circles around our tiny two room home in Malad. My daily visit to the (outside and communal) washroom is the most exciting part of my day and gives my eyes a horizon line beyond the (ironic) two meters my home allows.

I like to take pictures. I do it on my phone, but now with no job I can’t afford the space to save any new pictures. I don’t have any other device to download them and I’ve maxed the free space I have.

It kills me because I’ve never seen the air in this city so clear or the mood of the people so perceptible through their faces. It is exactly the kind of moment in time when I want to sit with the chai wallah on the corner and capture the world going by.

I hope time comes again for me. Ganesha is with me. Sai Baba keeps me in his thoughts. I have so much more to offer my world than cleaning and I cannot even offer that right now.

My world has never been an easy one. I have faith but I don’t know that this plague respects such things.

I suppose we can only watch to know.

Dear Friend of a Friend’s Friend

I have never been to Dhavari but maybe one day, after this all blows over, I’ll fly over to say hello. Is there much to eat there? What about to drink? I haven’t really explored a lot outside of my town and the surrounding cities, so I’m not too educated about different cultures. It would be exciting. It is saddening to see how the world is outside. I thought it was bad here but fuck is it worse over there

Wait.
What character am I writing as again? Maybe I’m not getting the hang of this journal thing. Stick with one character Mr. Photographer, stick with one.

Today while pacing around the studio, I happened on a wall that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. It was also made of brick (since the whole building is made of brick) but it was a different sort of brick. Well, I’m sure I’ve seen it before, after all I work and live here, but I’ve never noticed it in this way. The brick was just a little lighter than what I took the other day, it was a little softer. Reminded me of those magic doorways you’d see in children’s movies. Maybe tomorrow I’ll bring a hammer and see if there’s a wardrobe to Narnia or something behind the wall!

…I should stick with photography because god am I a bad writer

I had misplaced the bloody journal. Three days, and no writing. Not that I liked the writing. I was enjoying mostly pasting nonsense photographs that I had taken and printed out. No one to judge the work. It had taken me at least the last month to get to that point and now, the journal and my photographs were gone. And today I had an exciting story to tell.

A hush had fallen over the neighbourhood. No one was on the streets. Not even to walk over the fence of a neighbor. The heat of the days was growing intense. And then, last night, Jupiter had decided to create a play for us all.

I have no idea how some parents choose names for their kids. All I can say is that these parents create their own fortune or misfortune in that initial naming ceremony. Jupiter? It sounded like it belonged to a dog. But to give him that quality would be a fallacy. He was far from it. Perhaps a cat. Jupiter the cat.

Most of the neighbours bore witness to last night’s occurrences through their windows or squatting in darkened porches. Jupiter lived opposite my home, with his parents. He was throwing a tantrum again. At twenty-seven, he was still at that stage of development where his parents were responsible for the drudgery that was his life. His mother, a school teacher and his father a government officer in agricultural services or something of the sort, were quiet people. They were retired folk, closing in on seventy. Sometimes people’s bodies tell them that they aren’t supposed to have children. Their bodies scream at them to stop the attempts to procreate. Yet they continue. And Nature, eventually giving in to their perseverance, grants them that little bundle. Blessed are they when the child is born and their joy knows no bounds. And then, he becomes Jupiter, this hateful, always malcontented child whom the world is supposed to revolve around. Nothing is ever of his own making. Rather, his father never had time to take him fishing. Jupiter always had the latest brand name clothes and shoes mind you. Or his mother never baked. The pizzas and the birthday parties they threw for their only son every year were not important to him.

“All I wanted from you was time,” he cried, the little twenty-seven year old pansy.

I woke up still furious about the slamming of doors and the storming off that he did through the gate and out onto the empty street.

“Selfish little shithead!” I had railed, pacing back and forth. I had felt like driving to the police station to make a report. It would have served him right to have been arrested last night. Even if it was just for being an ingrate.

Where was the fucking journal!

I pulled out a sheet of copy paper and began to write. I would stick it into the journal with the other entries when I found it eventually.

Dear Friend,

Dear Friend

I am never having a child. It’s ridiculous I should even have to put this one paper because I’ve never managed to hold a serious relationship and there’s nothing to say that I ever will. Even if I wasn’t this shit at romance, I’d never considered having a child. But here we are anyway. I’m. Not. Getting. Pregnant.

No, not only that. I’m not adopting, I’m not doing surrogacy or using any new sort of pregnancy child-bearing technology even if we get one that’s completely painless. I’m. Not. Interested

Why am I suddenly putting this on paper? Well Jupiter, the little shithead from across the street. Older than me he is at twenty-fucking-seven is still throwing tantrums asking for his parents’ time! I used to only deal with his outbursts once a year, but now that we’re all stuck at home, he’s been doing it every other fucking day! And I’ve had just about enough of it

Oh for the love of God, he’s going for it again

Come to think of it, I know very little about their lives despite having worked next to him and his family for years. Maybe his parents did give him too little time and support growing up, but you know by the age of twenty seven, you learn to deal with it. At least you don’t put on a song and dance for the whole neighbourhood to see. I mean, go get a therapist. They’re doing online sessions now so you won’t even need to get in your car!

It’s just mental. Sure I guess if my kid happens to be nice, then this won’t happen. But I’ve never been lucky at the lottery, so I’m sure my kid will be even worse. Maybe he’d have ADHD AND be ungrateful.

Yeah, maybe Jupiter just has ADHD or something…but I doubt it. I’ve never seen him work a day in his life. He’s not unfocused, he doesn’t do anything but throw tantrums. How he managed to get this old, I don’t know

Oh Jesus, he’s going AGAIN!

Fucking hell what’s going on. I walk over to the window to take a look, because it’s really getting ridiculous, I can’t even vent about him in peace!

Wait. What’s he holding. Oh shit, he’s not really aiming that at his Dad is he?!
I should’ve gone to the police yesterday. Fuck. I’ve got to call them now.

It’s been quiet for months. Everyone, for the first time, seemed to be together. We were not all in this together. No. I didn’t think so. The guy next door had lost his job. I was freelancing. We were different but our experience of vigilance and lockdown merged at a point I couldn’t put my finger on. As yet.

I could hear him, the neighbour, irritably throwing the dogs’ bowls around. He fed them every day, two German shepherds. They were one year old. I didn’t need to look over the wall to know that it was him. To know that he was venting his anger on the animals. He wouldn’t hit them. No. He was too kind for that. But even kind people feel pain. Throwing the bowl, clatter clatter, into the sink where he washed them was an acknowledgment of pain. I listened, whistling as I cleaned the lens. I thought, it was nice to have a routine. Even if that meant, taking out already clean lenses every day to wipe specks off them. I don’t think the neighbour realized that this routine of dog feeding could keep him sane. He was in too much pain to notice. Maybe, I thought, in between my whistles, that I would go over and chat with him. Just a casual, “Hey! How you doing?” sort of chat.

It was routine.

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