Since the advent of digital technology and its fast growth, we have been carelessly misplacing or erasing much of the images we produce, “safely” storing them in the long forgotten floppy discs, CD drives, USB drives, old mobile phones, cameras etc. Photography, which is essentially a print, has been stripped of its traditional alchemical quality and longevity, and has almost completely become mere virtual intangible images. While this digitization has undoubtedly democratised the medium and stretched the horizons of thought of its practitioners, the danger is, in an instant, the innumerable casual-yet-valuable images that are being made can be lost forever to our future generations. The practice of storing digital images for the sole purpose of virtual viewing needs to change.
Even though several thousand photographs are being taken everyday, by nearly everyone who access to at least a mobile phone, only a very few provide thoughtful and focused efforts to preserve these photographs like yesteryear epigraphical documentation or other iconographic motifs for the benefit of future generations. This is as much an effect of seeming unnecessity and non-viability as it is of gross negligence – a curse of our times. Documents are only valuable for those who see a use for it many years down the line, and not for those who do not intend to pay a second thought to the matter. Smart phone photographs, therefore, seem trivial and replacable for the majority of their authors and as such, irrelevant. These photographs may not be printable in larger formats, may not be commercially viable, but in an archive, they serve well the intended purpose – a visual document of ordinary people and their everyday life in an ancient town.
Abul Kalam Azad has been making smart phone photographs as connecting anecdotes for Project 365. He has created several hundred lo-fi images depicting the life and culture of this ancient town, recording routine or chance meetings, casual events or details of his own daily life. Project 365 public photo archives will be locally preserving these images for public access and research. After traversing through analogue, digital, painted, manipulated images, Abul has consciously shifted to smart phone image making in a bid to utilise its nuances.His series of smart phone images are titled 365 Days – A Myopic View; it is made of 365 images that are sliced off Abul’s life in Tiruvannamalai. Despite the episodic nature of the series, and of course, of photography itself, there is an innate sense of continuity existing among the images. This owes partially to both the photographer’s solid preferences in composition and choice of subject, and also to the visible growth of certain recurring subjects, sometimes suggesting a gradually developing human story in the background. In general, the images are themselves narrative, but perhaps not in a traditional sense – the narrative is built on the viewer’s knowledge of the culture. This may be true for all image making, but Abul’s choice of medium and conscious utility of this particular kind of narrative-building makes a marked difference in the unfolding of stories. While rooted in the photographer’s own personal and social life in the town, they provide observations and insights into the cultural, artistic, architectural and historical truths, while some images maintain a whimsical touch.
Smart phone images by themselves readily seem to bring in an element of autobiography. The daily events are most often captured through them, almost always in a moment of subconscious composition and judgement. There is a lack of formality or any veil of pretention that a bulky professional camera might induce even though the pretentions and mannerisms of the “real world” remain intact, as the smart phone remains nearly invisible between the subject and the artist. Even in staged portraits captured on smart phones, the posture of the subject becomes much more free. The smart phone becomes something of a non-intervening observer, not affecting the system at all.
The myopic eye of the smart phone demands that the photographer has to be within a certain “intimate” distance to take a photograph. There has to be a certain connection between the one who is being photographed and the photographer himself – using a smart phone to create portraits of people means that the photographer is not a mere witness; the one who is photographed often looks straight into the camera and thus, at the photographer. A reflection of the effect of eye contact between the photographer and the subject is captured in the portrait.
This presence of intimacy is what a spectator relates to in these images. As personal spaces become increasingly reserved and physical contact becomes restricted in a wave of conservative urban-elite influence, this welcome intrusion of a nonprofessional-appearing, smart-phone-wielding photographer into touching distances of the subject is a reminder of the extent of simplicity and freedom in human relationships.