Photography By: Rohit Krishnan Sabu
I have lived in conflict. One of the spirit. At 16, I had no voice, no inner voice, no outer voice, no voice. A 16yo who cannot hear himself speak is one who is told many things because he listens in silence. I was told many things. I still am. They had a name for the bunch of us then, in school- failures. Concrete noun. I used to cringe at the word having had spent 15 years as a truant of being one, but it was a word that said more about the people sent out to inspire us than it did about us. I did not really mind being a failure in their world, at their game, playing by their rules. But I did fight- not to be a “winner” but out of general bitterness because that label bothered me so much. I wasn’t a failure-to-be; to them, I’d already failed. Failure. “Failures stay back after class.” And we all did.
They asked me to “just finish school and do whatever you want”. Yes, but I had nothing to do. I did not know what to do, I just had to. I don’t know how photography happened but I needed something to show for to get into college and I was already familiar with hiding behind the camera every time I needed to find a safe refuge. Relatives, mostly. I turned to the camera because I’d only ever used the pencil before to scratch my back. I got into college. We all did. And it felt like school again but this time, I’d changed. I’d found something that made me happy, I did not know it at 16, but i know now that it’s all I’ve ever lived for. To be happy. And I also know now that to be happy is to tell myself that I am and to know the reason- in words. To speak to myself in a voice I like to hear. The camera made me happy. I took pictures of flowers, leaves, sunsets, sunrises, people, and everything was just so perfectly beautiful. I enjoyed the beauty and the happiness until I realized that I’d lost my voice again. I was told the photographs were good and I listened in silence. I’d put so much importance on the impact that the ‘what’ had gone to make way for the the ‘what else’- and somewhere in that loss of spirit, in that loss of confidence, in that conflict, I slowly turned to ‘why’.
Reality, causality, perception, identity: the existence of the self in casual independence of society, a self that believes in freedom and rationale. A self that also cannot exist in complete independence of society and it’s absolutes, having been born into a system much too big for it’s small ego. But the ego grows, the soul shines brighter and the self is placed as it’s own end and a contentment is found in the knowledge that he is not, in fact, a pawn of society, but the hand that casts a shadow on the chessboard. The mind that moves the pieces. The soul: an abstraction of the ego’s own morality and code of existence. The soul represents the ideal. The vanishing point at the climactic horizon. But society claims the sanctity of the soul to feed the monster of the ego. Happiness, a reason and a code of conduct- I had these. I was still lost. I traveled to many places in search of the answer and had not found it. Meanwhile, I’d found a photographic sensibility, a method of questioning that sensibility and an approach that kept me happy. Also, I realized that I’d always be told things and that it did not depend on the volume of my own voice. I listen because I like hearing their voices and not for the lack of my own. But I also learnt that I can only do the things I have in my own head and nothing else. Expectations are meaningless outside of a system that can’t define them in concretes.
I found my answer in Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh. Because I still believed that I’d find it if I went far enough. And Tawang was the farthest. The drive there was demanding, the days there were not easy. Circumstances. I spent many misty days in our beautiful wooden room(most of it in complete solitude) just thinking about all the great photos I might’ve taken had the light been good. Thinking, in general, while looking out the window at a sheet of metal that shone brightly in the fog. Clouds of thought replaced my brain like a smokescreen that hid that undefined purpose. One that presented itself as a quest. I was journeying to explore the non-verbal struggle of my soul and had found rest and relaxation instead. But as if at a luminescent crescendo of sight and perception, an idea was born. That the clouds of thought within me hide the meaning of this quest much like the clouds around me hide from me the collective progress of the human mind. The exploration I make with the camera is only to better understand my own ideas. To see, to recognize, to resonate with and to appreciate the beauty of that seamless super-imposition of idea and image. To wonder in bewilderment what led to the birth of the image in that decisive climax of the shutter-button. A primal and instinctual physical response that bore no load on the mind. For me, the reflection only came after the reaction.
My photographs are not the answer. They are the question. They are my means of wondering aloud, of reading the unscripted play hidden in the mist of my mind. A bread-crumb of hope tossed by the subconscious to humor the hunger. Questions. Ironically, that was my answer. Questions.
I’d realized that in everything I’d done, it was the pursuit that mattered to me the most. The quest. Something to do. It was the “DO whatever you WANT” that made me happy; the freedom and the pursuit that still does and always will. The journey is not a quest of the mind but a quest of the soul to liberate the mind and let it wander. So it does, in solitude, in clouds of thought that define its purpose- a definition that cannot be expressed in a language of the tongue.
The (photographic) process is blissfully simple- a conscious and physical recognition of the mysteries of the sub-conscious mind leads to the birth of the image. This is only the first step, one that relieves the tension of an elastic mind stretched to breaking point. The answer and the meaning comes from the translation and never from the definition. To translate the silence of a photograph into words, to see and understand the questions they raise. To create that perfect question, not of hows- but of whys. The answer is everywhere- it is the question, the language, the translation- the thought.
Made of the Mist.
In my constant quest to define photography I’ve realized that a photograph(like the mist) hides more than it shows and the beauty lies in the dark(in the missed). A fog descends upon the frozen mind and as the mind warms to the knowledge that it is in complete control of itself, the fog clears, a steam rises from the ice, the curtain of mist is drawn and ideas are born. Such is the nature of this series, my struggle with photography to question myself, to learn truths from the observation of life unfolding around me. Such is how it helps me take pleasure in the fact that I can find happiness in a physical craft not guided by bodily need but by moral duty to the seed planted in my brain. I find hope in thinking that one day I might climb that tree I raised so I may see further than I’d ever seen before.
I don’t make pictures to have something to show, anymore. I do so because I have something to say and photography is my means to that end. Besides being an incredibly beautiful sensory experience, it is also a sensory exercise. I enjoy both. The material, materializes out of air, out of light. The mysticism of the mountains does not come from having its feet in the plains, but from having its head in the clouds. At that point- during my days in foggy Tawang, the clouds were a symbol of my mind: mysterious and ever-expansive.
This series is in tribute to that mind and that state of being; the clouds of thought, the mist, the mystery. To be made of the mist is to be an abstraction of actuality. The mist is but a veil that blurs objective reality to provide sight to nothing but by it’s own volition. A selective representation- much like our own ideas and how they exist in our mind. Much like photography. Veiled, but present, waiting in earnest for inspiration to come and spark thought, to draw the curtains open- to face the light. I drew the curtains, I saw mist. I faced the light, I stole it but I only saw(stole) what nature wanted me to see. I was starved for inspiration and the icy beauty fed me well. I saw mist, I saw mystique, I felt the photographer in me bow down to the photographer in the skies. I took pictures of the little I could see and now I show them to you. I understood. Such is the nature of the mind, it understands only what it wants to understand no matter how objective the vision is. I was happy there. The maid of the mist had kept her promise.
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All the pictures in this post are copyrighted to Rohit Krishnan Sabu. Their reproduction, even in part, is forbidden without the explicit approval of the rightful owners.