Nostalgia is intrinsic to photography. Yes even today’s photography. It is in the nature of the medium. You feel a kind of nostalgia for a powerful picture you saw in the newspaper yesterday. It stays in the mind; haunts sometimes.
Photography recently has become really big. What started off as science became an art. At some point, it became art for the sake of art and not just for the sake of aesthetics. New possibilities are being explored by photographers who choose their subject matter, their frame and their light at will. What was done manually till a decade or so ago is all being done on the computers; interestingly with the same names as were used in the dark room.
Apart from the art aspect, photographs are a valuable part of history now. They help run businesses and are used in advertising, newspapers, surveillance, forensics, fashion, you name it.
Alongside these developments are the personal photographs; each person’s own history. Stored in albums and enjoyed as a family event.
The technological advancement, doing wonders in all other fields, somehow, took away the paper photos, albums and photo-frames from homes. They landed instead in the inboxes, facebook accounts and on laptops. Since photography is intrinsically nostalgic, people miss that culture where the albums shifted from one hand to another in the entire family; where people wrote personal comments on the back of each photo. On the other hand, it has allowed people to send photographs across all corners of the global at virtually no cost.
With the techniques, the ethics changed too. Every lens-wielding person could shoot anyone at will disregarding all considerations of privacy. In some ways, in many ways, the change of ethics has been successful in bringing in some openness to closed societies like us. With the camera becoming an integral part of most cell phones, the number of amateur photographers is growing exponentially. It is these personal experiences — of what photograph means to all of us as people and our own journeys — that are the subject of today’s Special Report.
Modern technology has added new dimensions. Mind you, digital cameras are just half the story. The other half is Photoshop that edits photos in almost every aspect, Picassa web albums used to format and organise and other websites and photoblogs like Flickr used to share, change and discuss images.
Modern cameras are high-resolution, come with a variety of lenses (that are delicate and expensive), can capture a wide variety of images, both moving and still under bright or low light. Focusing the camera, correcting a red eye or blurred image is no problem. Moving objects can be shown as still and vice versa. A new formatting called RAW now allows you to print huge photos without pixilation.
But the greatest new wonder in modern photography is Photoshop - a graphics editing programme developed and published by Adobe Systems Incorporated. It is not just correction but enhancing to modifying a picture, adding a new background and props, merging images, embossing images, changing the texture and returns a latest picture to the black and white image.
The Photoshop CS File Browser includes quick access to automated tools, bigger thumbnails, more flexible viewing, and editing. Photo-merge features has enhanced to accommodate much larger images. Photo-merge automatically arranges and seamlessly combines images to create a panorama.
Photoshop CS has a new addition under the filter menu - the Filter Gallery. Not only does the filter gallery give you a more visual way of selecting effects, it lets you stack multiple filter effects and apply them in one step.
The new History Log helps you remember how to repeat a technique, record time-tracking information for client work, create a legal record, and is also useful for training purposes and also a live histogram that updates in real time as edits are being made. It includes a dialog box for visually editing and creating new picture package layouts and share photos with friends and family.
"It helps newbie experiment to their heart's content," says Dua Abbas, a painter and amateur photographer from NCA. "Plus, tutorials freely available on the internet make learning photography or retouching techniques easier. The presence of photo hosting sites like Flickr encourages more and more people to photograph, compare results and improve."
"All our work is done on Photoshop, filter, format, lay-out and designing, since 1997. The upper class and tech savvy customers come with some demands but generally people are unaware. We have several brushes in Photoshop, we use different strokes, if you are good, it's all natural. I have a decade of experience and the treatment is often subtle," says Zakir Zaki from the photo studio called Sky Color Lab.
The picture quality is crucial, poor resolution will be harder to treat and more time-consuming without the desired effects. We can change backdrops, with wedding or birthday greetings. Photo books can be photoshopped with effects. 6-8-12 mega pixels, lens, and flash and natural light make a difference.
Fashion photography requires drastic photoshopping, so do photos for larger billboards. Facial defects, nose, cheeks, squints, marks… all can be cured through this sofeware.
Picassa web albums are fairly common for organising, importing and tracking photos. Facial recognition, and collections for further sorting make Picassa very popular. It also includes photo editing functions, including colour enhancement and cropping. Images can be improved for emailing or printing, reducing file size and setting up page layouts.
"I have always used digital cameras so I don't know how the conventional ones function. There's no reel issue and no developing requirements. I can just randomly click as much as I want, take 20 pictures in one go," Samra Noori, an amateur photographer who has interest in photo-journalism.
"Photoshop includes photo manipulation and colour correction, the latter is ethical, former is not. You cannot erase a person or object. It is unethical to take a huge ground and focus on a single object by using a software," says Noori.
The fact is that churning out poor pictures on Facebook is just a hasty exercise - technology can fix the defects.
Retouching not manipulation
It may feel like “manipulation” but it’s fundamentally a process and the process is as important as the image itself
A few years ago we were watching Oliver Stone’s The Doors for a class assignment. Because most of us had seen it already, we skipped the main feature and moved on to the special features which had some deleted scenes. All of them, I think they were about four, were roughly the same visual quality of say Maula Jutt, the faded out colours, scratches, just plain awful. My classmate asked with some hesitation “why do these scenes look like crap?” The teacher smiled and replied “ Well, you see this is the rush print; this is how the actual movie looks like until it goes to a colour correction lab, post procession, the works, then it looks like the way it should.”
But there seems to be some amount of confusion between manipulation and post-developing. Before digital came in and killed the dark room, photographs were developed and then post processed there. Because the dark room was dark, as the name implies, it was actually dark red, was much of a private place, a silent one where hands and papers fluttered slowly and you heard sounds of liquids purring in the darkness. There the photographers, usually printers would darken or lighten certain areas in a frame, crop an image or blow-up an image, the image would change, become something else entirely sometimes, a mood, a moment the photographer did not realise was trapped in between seconds, inside a frame.
Films do not look the way they do when they are exhibited; they look very different. It’s the same with photographs. To say that a photograph should not be “re-examined” after being immediately taken, that it should be shown “as is” is an amateur thought process, it’s like saying to release a professional Indian song at its birth with just a voice and a harmonium or a book with all the typos intact.
Manipulation per se would be making a fashion model appear thinner or adding an object in a photograph that doesn’t already exist in the frame. The way a photograph looks is the photographer’s prerogative; because the dark room has become a computer there is lack of privacy, anyone can see the process of an image going through the process. It may feel like “manipulation” but it’s fundamentally a process and the process is as important as the image itself.
— Ali Sultan
Beloveds go mobile
Ever remember carrying the loved one’s picture in your wallet?
I vividly remember the misery of a school fellow who couldn’t recover from the loss of his black leather wallet. He claimed it carried Rs 1,500 (which meant a lot in late 1980s), his college card, some receipts and the most important asset of his life — his beloved’s photo.
It was hard for us to believe this. We knew he never carried such an amount of money and wasn’t ever seen with a girl. Yet, I had no option but to share his grief.
Apparently, the valuables were of least concern to him. He pleaded his friends and foes to return the photo, assuming one of them had pinched the wallet for mischief sake.
His story aside, the whole romance of carrying the picture of a beloved used to enchant many. I remember my friends stuffing these photos in the folds of their wallets or between currency notes to keep them away from the unwanted looks at home.
Love was not always mutual. One-way affairs were a norm. The only essential was a photo which one could claim to be of a beloved. Unlike today, it was hard to get hold of a photo and boys would often carry cutouts from magazines published by girls’ schools or colleges.
Decades down the road, wallets, once bulging with currency notes, chits and utility bills, have become thinner with credit cards and computerised IDs. And, photos that made the wallets all the more precious are another casualty of this transformation.
Now, the photos are still held close to the heart but on handheld mobile devices — and hundreds of them. The beholder can blow up or shrink the photos or do all sorts of experiments with the images. There is no fear of being caught off-guard by those who matter. A password is all he needs.
— Shahzada Irfan Ahmed
I, the photographer
Everyone’s an expert, really
You put up a ‘nice pic’ as your FB profile picture and guess what happens next — you are bombarded with comments (sometimes not that many!). And soon after, ‘the photographer’ will call to remind “@naila plz don’t forget to mention the great photographer here”. “The great photographer” yeah right!
Gone are the days when photography was considered a specialised field. Everyone’s a photographer, thanks to digital cameras. The new media — the social networking, blogs, photostream etc — has made sharing photos convenient: “It’s an easy skill and therefore everyone is clicking away,” says Karachi-based photographer Ali Yahya.
Wonder if this skill make someone a photographer? Or is there more to it?
“The comments on photo posts are an indication that someone, somewhere likes my work and I don’t need any further certification,” says architect Shahnaz Iqbal.
Shahnaz, a photographer on the go, likes to share her photos on Facebook and doesn’t believe in taking up photography as a profession. “I believe once I take it up seriously, I will lose my love for it,” she says.
There are amateurs who make a living out of it, like Jabran Khan (not his real name). “I’m a self-proclaimed photographer. I have a website where I post pictures. I put them on photobucket so that I get ads and games. I have also done wedding portfolios and have charged half as much as the more established names in the field.”
There are many who are generous with compliments: “Wow! You have some talent. You should take up photography professionally”, “awesome pic”, “Mind blowing photography”, “Zabardast”. No words of praise are spared.
But take a close look at the picture and you’ll see blurry, out of focus images. Yahya laughs, “Yes it happens a lot. It’s actually hilarious that the light and the focus are not always in place. Honestly, the self-proclaimed photographers should take lessons in photography and stop bragging about themselves.”
— Naila Inayat
Photo shops or studios?
There is still no substitute to the studio effect
Studio is the name they all go by. Even the small-time shops we all went to for getting those film rolls printed and developed were called ‘studios’. Almost all of them had some kind of arrangement for portrait photography or the more common “passports photographs”. There were a few state-of-the-art studios in all big cities and then there were those shops in hordes.
Gradually, (was it 1980s?) these ‘studios’ moved into making videos as well. People took to the video technology instantaneously because they wanted to see what actually happened at the event. They did not do it at the expense of photography though.
With the arrival of the digital camera, people found still photography manageable and doable; something for which they did not need to go to the ‘studio’. Everybody holding a camera was a photographer of sorts. And in most cases they weren’t bothered about the prints either. Computers and emails were enough.
So how do these shops/studios manage to survive? From the look of it most of them do. Not only survive, they thrive. How come?
The “passport photo” of yore is the life line it seems. It is required for visas, admission forms, library cards, school ID cards and what not. Photographs have to be submitted with forms for National Testing Service (NTS) held every six months and is viewed as a saviour by photo studios.
Instead of negatives, they have gone digital. They take the photograph and send it (the card) to the laboratory (labs by the way are digitalised as well) which sends them the prints; all done in a matter of hours if not minutes.
Contrary to the popular perception, they still deal in prints. Weddings needs prints and albums today are a lot more elaborate than before. Talk to the shop owners and you hear complaints about photographs being taken inside the Nadra and passport offices etc. But the truth is that they are doing good business. Besides, the quality of photographs taken inside the ‘studios’ is still better than all other options.
— Saadia Salahuddin
Smile, click, and result there and then… Polaroid was good fun
One can recall a cameraman hanging around in a zoo or at a historical monument in Lahore or at any other place for that matter, with his equipment ever ready to take a snap — with a Polaroid camera for instant result.
The word Polaroid harks back memories of boyhood (or girlhood), when going on a picnic with the family was often a weekly or a monthly excursion in the 1980s.
Still, that is not a very old story. Till a few years ago, there was a visible presence of cameramen carrying Polaroid cameras in many cities of the country, producing instant photographs for nominal charges. However, they were on their way out due to technical reasons, such as unavailability of the film.
The romance associated with an instant photograph is difficult to measure — imagine families posing for a group photo, their natural smiles and then seeing the results there and then.
That was also the time when digital cameras had not made their entry. With the Polaroid camera, it was one-picture-one-picnic thing. One did not have the luxury to continue clicking at will and then delete the undesired images as we do today with the new digital technology.
Nonetheless, Polaroid camera, invented in 1948 by the American scientist, Edwin Land, was a major breakthrough — it took a remarkably shorter time to develop a photograph compared to the older cameras. As time went by, the technology advanced and eventually Polaroid cameras saw the way out.
Reports say Polaroid, the company, announced in February 2008 that it would discontinue production of film, shut down three factories and lay off its workers.
The popularity of the Polaroid camera was due to a number of uses it offered, for example people enjoyed seeing their photos shortly after taking them, and they could retake their photos if they wanted to improve on them. Instant cameras, as they were also called, were useful for other purposes such as ID cards, etc. In some countries, they were also used by investigating officials of the police department because of their ability to create an instant photograph.
But Polaroid was not the only choice for professionals and hobbyists. People who could afford to have a regular camera preferred them over the Polaroid and carried them along on their picnic trips for more refined results of photographs.
But then, again, the impatience to see one’s photographs there and then often overpowered the consideration for quality that required knowing the art of taking a perfect photograph; with Polaroid memories were a lot more easier to capture.
We didn’t have a camera in our house while I was growing up. But somehow we had loads of photos all around. In albums. In frames. And then there were negatives that were more precious than the photos. We would put them against light and laugh our hearts out. Everyone looked weird in those negatives. Like shadows. Or ghosts.
There was this old large greenish album with black and white photos of family in which there were older people looking younger, young people shot as children and children as babies. There were silver corners of aluminium paper to squeeze and fit each photo. It was like a real treat for us. This album. Each time my mother got it out of the suitcase and let us have a peep, there were screams of joy and wonder. Everybody looked different in those pictures. Fashionable. Glamorous. Timeless. But clearly different from what they looked at that time.
There were stacks, outside the album. You could turn each picture to see the names and the date and the place. I knew my father, the stickler for detail, had written on them, making every photo so authentic.
We also had quite a few photo frames, the curly silver ones that stood on the mantelpiece and contained b&w photos that we grew up with. My grandmother with one of her grandsons was simply out of this world. My father who was once fond of photography had taken the picture. The light and shade which they say makes a picture perfect was superb in that photo. It must have been by accident but my father liked to take all credit. Then another one, of my parents, with my elder brother in mother’s lap. This was their first picture together in those conservative times.
Somehow in those days, photographs came out nicely. Or perhaps the way they were preserved and presented made them look special.
Going to the studio was like a ritual, performed at least once in a lifetime. If you were lucky, then more than once. Luck it seemed favoured most people then. I still remember the day when we were told to get all dressed up because we had to go to the studio for a photograph of all siblings. I must have been five or six. Quite an occasion it was. The neighbours knew it too and one of the older friends volunteered to do my hair. I have since looked at that picture wanting to kill her for what she did to my hair but I will not let anyone harm the picture.
Each photo had its own story. Each household carried its own treasure. I remember going to my khala or phuppo’s house to find similar-looking albums there. Some photos were common between our albums and theirs. Others weren’t. And those were the ones that excited us so much.
It so happened that we never got around to buying a camera of our own. The car and the television and the refrigerator came but my father was too busy to afford the luxury of photography. Photographs kept flooding in though. From here and there. Friends and family shot and sent us prints. And we had to buy more albums to place them in.
Some time in the late 1970s, family from abroad brought Polaroid cameras and shot us. Now that was real magic and the man behind the camera a magician. Those two three minutes that transformed a white paper into a photograph were most exciting. The albums of that period contain those pictures too.
But it didn’t last long. Polaroid was accepted as gimmickry. Not the real thing. Fit only for zoos and parks.
The nostalgia never waned. The birthday parties. The school trips. Soon it was time to get photographed for the domicile which was required for admissions to college. The passport size. Over to the studio again. Class photos. College photos. The studio comes to your institution. Wedding photos. I go to the studio again. And then my own children’s. The closets swelled up. I kept buying nice-looking frames but somehow never had enough albums to fit them all in.
It was in London at the age of 31 that I first got a chance to buy a camera of my own. Nothing fancy, just an ordinary Olympus. While getting used to the shooting, the developing and the printing routine came the digital camera.
Things have changed ever since. Photographs have not stopped being fascinating. But something is amiss. I don’t know what exactly. I have them in hundreds and thousands on my laptop, on the Facebook, in my inbox. Friends scan old pictures and send them and it’s great. Maybe younger people have found ways of enjoying photography collectively the way we used to. But I miss the paper photograph. Laptop is limiting. I have to take it to my parents and only one of them can see the photos at a time.
Thank God we still have old albums and truckloads of photographs to bring us so much joy. I wonder if my children and their children will be able to enjoy the photographs the way we do. Individually perhaps. Collectively, as family, I’m not sure.
Romancing the dark room
For photojournalists, adopting digital technology was quick but not easy
For the last couple of days, I’ve been trying to organise my thoughts — because the topic I was asked to write on took me back to my golden days, to what I call the days of ‘the romance of the dark room’.
As I write, some of the old photographs I took and developed in the dark room are in front of me, bringing back memories of dark room, of hours spent inside to develop a perfect print.
My passion for photography began in 1980 when I was 18. I had just taken my Intermediate exams and, like the youth of my age, was wondering what the future held for me. One day my elder brother, Hafeez Dar, who was then working for Pakistan Television asked me to get engaged in some activity… and that somehow triggered my romance with the dark room.
I told my brother I wished to get trained in photography. He took me to his friend, my peer Majeed Mir, an icon of photojournalism. He inspired me.
By introducing me to the dark room, Mir opened a whole new world before me. It gradually became a place where I often found solace after a rough day out. The mysterious red and yellow lights illuminating the details of the apparatus in the room, the smell of the fixer which was a sort of a chemical used in the developing process... These features eventually became an important part, in fact a deciding factor, in my life. I would get impatient during the ten-minute process of developing a film to printing an image. The wait always seemed so long!
I found the exposure a very sensitive phase where a photographer adjusts values in the image using light on selective areas, thoroughly enjoyable. This process exposed the miracles light played in image processing.
Then, to see an image develop before my eyes in the dark room was exhilarating — it was like a make or break situation, either you had a perfect picture or an imperfect one. And if the result was unsatisfactory, the feeling was terrible and I had to start the process all over again.
Now, film photography is out, digital is in. Photography has become a whole new ball game.
I’m nostalgic; a better part of my life has been spent in the dark room and today I can only romance about the good old days.
Today, now, take any camera, put the controls on auto hold the viewfinder to your eye, view the scene, press the button, hear a sound and look at a photograph. The chances — according to how well the light source is illuminating whatever you are photographing — of taking a good photograph are good ones. But is that photograph an artifact or a work of art?
It’s a fairly complicated question. The camera, the mechanical apparatus itself, is the biggest victim of this, and with the lightning fast wand of digital technology, the camera, its exposures, its colour schemes, the way it measures light, everything in fact about it is becoming easier and easier to handle. Therefore from the time it was invented to the very urgency of now, the criticism (and you hear this all the time in the form of the question: Wow that’s a fantastic photograph! What camera do you have?) Levelled against photography is that even if certain photographs show some “artistic” merit, is the person holding the camera making the art or the camera itself?
But let’ not tangle ourselves in this argument, let this one rest.
There is a quote in Silence of the Lambs a book by Thomas Harris where very late into the book the main protagonist thinks, “Problem solving is hunting. It is savage pleasure and we are born to it.” So if one sat down to think about that line, about pictures about art, a lateral direction seems to appear, a simple one to start off with.
If art has anything to do with subjectivity then photography is art and photographers who have a consistent body of work, the ones who wake up in the middle of the night thinking of a face, or a pavement or the spec of light that illuminates their bathroom window in strange ways are artists. The camera doesn’t take the picture, the eye does, the heart does, the way you think does. You don’t take pictures, you make them. Photographs by the very nature of how they are taken now, quickly, in a quarter of someone’s breath, seem effortless, but in some cases, the thinking process is so intricate, so painful it takes one’s breath away.
The pleasure of good photographs, to borrow a term from Gerry Badger, is that they seem to always be solving some kind of problem or creating one. Isn’t art this way? Personal, political, impersonal, sexual, religious, just to throw some heavy words at you. Isn’t art trying to address the problem of life itself? So is a picture. Are there moral implications? Yes always; without them there wouldn’t be a problem.
But here’s another spanner to throw in. Garry Winogrand was this gruff American photographer, cynically funny, extremely intelligent and one of the best. They asked him once about photographs, the nature of it, the question, the philosophy, the why, the one question you try to lock down an artist down cold flat. Winogrand being Winogrand answered, “Photography is not about the thing photographed. It is about how that thing looks photographed.”
Those two sentences actually carry a whole philosophy of photography but let’s not go there either. What one should take out of them in this context is this — pictures are no mirrors of reality. When was the last time you saw the world in stark black and white? Perhaps as a dog in another life, or even in lush Fuji, high fever? Drugs anyone?
People, places and objects significantly change when they appear in photographs, they look different. Photographs are two-dimensional flat objects, they create illusion of space, they lie all the time and their reality, and even if they are large as say the Eiffel Tower will end when their four frames vanish into nothing. Photographs have their own reality; they swim in their own dreams.
From staying a family secret to being posted on social networking sites, photography and its ethics have changed
I first picked up a camera when I was in higher secondary school. By the time I was in college, I had saved enough pocket money to buy a used camera, a manual one.
Looking back, I think, I made some interesting images with that same camera.
Back then, photography was not just for fun. A photographer had to take care of a number of frames on film role and before every snap he had to set the camera settings several times.
Today, in this digital age, photography has been revolutionised: It has become easy to shoot live and still life objects. The digital images are now more malleable and changeable.
Years ago, in eastern societies in particular, a photograph was a family secret shared only with close relatives and intimate friends. The black and white images were printed on bromide paper and pasted in fancy, hand-crafted albums. The negatives were as precious and thus stored away very securely.
The albums were prepared rather ceremoniously. They were taken out on special occasions and shown to intimate friends only. A picture was hardly ever shared with acquaintances or strangers. ‘Decent’ girls showed their photos to friends very reluctantly and kept them hidden away from the male members of the family. How a photograph of a lady in a man’s wallet carried romantic connotation…
But that’s no more. The digital photography has changed the value structure altogether. Group shots and portraits are all over the social networking sites via cell phones (MMS and Bluetooth), email and what not — challenging the once-cherished ethics. ‘Privacy’ is a word from the bygone days, almost archaic. Personal images are no longer secrets shared with close ones but those posted in the virtual space for the joys of the world.
— Numan Siddiqui