Monthly Archives: February 2007

Whatever goes up must keep going up

Net profits are up 82 per cent. Journalists are being offered mid-year hikes. Salaries are rising. New publications are opening. It’s boom time in the Indian media market.

Read the full story here: The boom times are just beginning…


Is the end nigh for black and white photography?

T.S. NAGARAJAN writes: Is it twilight time for black and white photography? Yes. It appears that the days of traditional photography are numbered. Modern technology is driving this art form from flash bulbs to digital imaging, bringing in major changes in its practice and appreciation.

After all, it’s simpler to make digital photos with increasingly automated cameras coming out every day. As digital image processing and inkjet printing take hold as the preferred means of producing photographs, one would tend to ask: Does a century-old technology still have relevance in the digital age?

But there is still an ardent group of diehards, among the senior citizens of black and white photography, who would have nothing to do with digital. At the same time, they do know in a corner of their minds that they would see the demise of photography itself, as they have understood and practiced, well within their own lifetime.

Their fears are not totally misplaced. The complete domination of colour in the snapshot market, which has pushed the black and white version into an area not commercially attractive, is certain to influence the future of photographic technology to sway in favour of the colour image.

Photography is no longer the preserve of the elite. Almost everybody owns a camera. You just point and click; the camera does the rest. Almost everyone wants only colour prints. There is a mini-lab next door to do the job in a jiffy. Most professionals these days work only in colour. Black and white photography is considered by many as old fashioned and professionally not very lucrative.

So, where do the black and white specialists, who produce eye-catching pictures in varying shades of grey, print them arduously in their wet darkrooms, mount them in artistic frames and try to sell them (as painters do) at high prices in art galleries come in, when the age-old question whether a photographic print is an art object still remains undecided.

Then, is it twilight time for black and white photography?

Black and white photography has been around for years. It had its days of glory. When the colour revolution arrived, black and white remained on the back-burner. Lately, there has been a resurgence of interest in black and white photography. Museums have opened their doors to photography throughout the world. It is simply being pushed into the realm of art by critics, gallery owners, dealers and auction houses.

But this good news is only for those professionals who have made a name for themselves internationally and whose work is sought after by leading galleries. There is no doubt that the black and white image has lost its people’s mandate. Today their king is colour.

I thought my black and white days were over when colour photography arrived and mesmerized the world. But, it was not so. I took to photography in the early fifties. I shot my first roll of black and white film as long ago as 1950. I still have those negatives in good shape even though it had been processed in a wayside studio in Mysore city. I produced my wedding album of black and white pictures nearly fifty years ago. Even today the prints in the album remain bright and beautiful while the wedding albums of my daughters, produced wholly in colour, have already begun to fade away!

This is where colour photography, despite all improvements in its chemistry, lags behind its poor cousin the black and white version. The most obvious advantage of the black and white print as an art object is its longevity. The Daguerreotype was essentially a black and white image, which is still there as a vital part of the history of photography. Black and white prints properly processed to archival standards can last a few centuries. Even the badly processed prints have a long life. Though technology is still trying to give colour images some stability, most of them, irrespective of their developing process, can’t go beyond forty or fifty years. Photographic colour chemistry still has a long way to go.

I feel the supremacy of the colour image in visual communication and in advertising remains unchallenged. Black and white is preferred only when one needs to make an image conspicuous in a world full of colour. I am curious about the future of black and white in journalism too, especially because digital journalism has taken root with the help of film-less technology.

What is the future of the black and white image, digital or otherwise? Digital photographs taken today may be or may not be around for a long time. There is no guarantee that you will be able to read a CD after a few decades and print pictures from it. Yes, this may be possible if you find a computer in an antique shop! Everything digital needs constant upgrading. Wet darkrooms have dried out. The digital camera aided by versatile softwares can produce unimaginable pictures. But to me all this is nowhere near the drama and delight of seeing a picture come to life in the darkness of a good old darkroom.

Also see: The most memorable home I’ve photographed

My most memorable photograph

Related link: Are spot-news photographers and endangered species? 

The 51 best (American) magazines ever

Bigshot Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter explains the magic of magazines:

“A magazine—even in this age of electronic everything everywhere, is a marvelous invention… Newspapers tell you about the world; magazines tell you about their world—and by association, your world.

“Writers, photographers, editors, and designers bundle the slice of the world they have chosen to explore and deliver it to you in a singularly affordable, transportable, lendable, replaceable, disposable, recyclable package…

“The essential strength of a magazine is its ability to amplify. An idea, or an image, or a story, set within the pages of a magazine and assembled by the right hands, can become the grist of breakfast chatter, dinner-party conversation, or elective body debate around the world.”

Read the full article here: The 51 best magazines ever

Just short of a good length

Any fool can write a story over 800 pages—and most do. But what if the canvas is infinitely smaller? Esquire magazine sent 250 napkins to writers across America to try their hand at telling a tale. One hundred of the napkins came back with stories on them; the result ranges from the “lush to spare, hilarious to terrifying”.

Read the stories here: The napkin fiction project

Why all journalists must blog

Cyber Journalist has an interesting comment attributed to Chris Cobbler, publisher of

“Blogging helps you better understand your audience. The hallmark of any blog is the ability for readers to post comments to what you write. By having this regular conversation with readers, you learn what hits and what misses.

“For newspapers that are rapidly becoming irrelevant to a growing number of people, this is a huge issue. If you write post after post that garners no response, then it ought to be telling you something. In print, we’ve been able to kid ourselves for decades that every reader is savoring every word of our prose. Online, it’s painfully clear what readers do and don’t care about.”

Howard Owens had made a similar appeal to student journalists not too long ago. Read the full article here: What J-schools and students should do 

Wider and wider, expanding always expanding

A graybeard once told Tunku Varadarajan that a cultured man should have very few friends, and very many books. As the Wall Street Journal‘s new assistant managing editor prepares to move into a new but smaller office, a new question stares him in the face. What books to take home, what books to leave behind? And Joseph Brody‘s line springs to mind: “There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.”

Read the full article here: Hardback mountain 

SHAM LAL: Rest In Peace

sans serif records with deep regret the passing away of Sham Lal, a 22-carat man of letters, on Friday, 23 February 2007. He was 95 years old.

Born in 1912, Sham Lal took a master’s degree in English literature in 1933, joined the Hindustan Times in 1934 and worked there for 12 years. After a three-year stint at the now-defunct Indian News Chronicle, he joined The Times of India and was its editor from 1967 to 1978.

His weekly literary column ‘Life and Letters’ was the first to introduce many Indian writers to scores of writers and thinkers who left their mark on post-war literature and social thought.

“The brilliant Sham Lal was as deeply read in modern Western thought as in the philosophical traditions of India,” Octavio Paz said of Sham Lal.


In 2005, Sugata Srinivasaraju interviewed Sham Lal for the 10th anniversary special issue of Outlook magazine.

Do you think our media has become frivolous because it has started focusing on a wider and younger audience?

There is nothing wrong in catering to a wider public with a short attention span and which is not interested in understanding difficult issues related to foreign or economic policy. Nor is there anything wrong in papers supporting one political party or the other. This inevitably reflects divisions in our society. But the papers also have a duty to address those interested in public affairs or those involved in shaping policy. It is important for them to be well-informed of not only big changes at home but also the forces that are bringing about a global transformation. The trouble with Indian media is that by reading papers or watching the coverage of events on TV, one just doesn’t get a proper idea of the event or the deeper changes the society is undergoing.

Read the full interview here: “Why can’t we invest to gain expertise on, say, China?”