Monthly Archives: October 2008

Once upon a time, they wrapped fish & pakoras

Devangshu Dutta in Business Standard:

“Unfortunately, even R.K. Laxman’s presence wasn’t enough for me to continue with my daily ritual of passing the paper [The Times of India] onto the raddi-wallah after that one brief moment of homage.

“For a while, I continued to take it because I was rearing kittens—it was absorbent and useful for little misunderstandings during the house-breaking phase.

“Once the cats became civilised, I stepped aside from that value-chain.”

Link courtesy Amit Verma

Read the full article: Fanfare for common man

Also read: Making all of us smile can make one of us cry

Look, who inspired R.K. Laxman‘s common man


When all the cameras were looking the other way

Given the packs of still and video journalists who now hover over even ordinary news events, it is a mad scramble to get good visuals. And if the news is related to global terror then it’s a virtual stampede. If a photographer does manage to find a good frame in the melee, he is at the mercy of deadlines, space, and quixotic editorial priorities.

Nishant Ratnakar, lensman with the soon-to-be-launched edition of DNA in Bangalore, has put together a collection of pictures built around one signal news event last year: the homecoming of Mohammed Haneef, the Mudigere-born doctor who was implicated in a terror attack in Glasgow, including this unpublished picture of Dr Haneef’s wife Firdous Ashriya all dressed up and demure.

For days, Ashriya was a brave and articulate spokesperson, answering queries on Dr Haneef, who had been nabbed by Australian police as he was leaving Brisbane merely because a SIM card belonging to him had been found on one of the bombers. But on the day he was to arrive in Bangalore, all the cameras were suddenly turned the other way. All except one.

View the entire gallery here: People in news

World Press Photo invites entries for ’09 contest

PRESS RELEASE: World Press Photo invites professional photographers and photojournalists to enter the 2009 World Press Photo contest, the 52nd such contest being held by the Holland-based organisation.

Entries can be sent by uploading images directly on the website from 1 December, or by mailing the entries by post or courier to World Press Photo, Jacob Obrechtstraat 26, 1071 KM Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

All entries must be received by 15 January 2009. First, second and third prizes will be announced in 10 categories. The jury’s verdict will be announced on 13 February.

For further details and an application form, log on to the WPP website.

‘The camera, like the brush, is just a tool of art’

T.S. NAGARAJAN writes from Bangalore: Spencer Tunick is a New York photographer who prefers to be seen as an artist, not a photographer. He convinced 18,000 Mexicans to take their clothes off for him. The volunteers posed for Tunick at the Zacalo square in Mexico City on a Sunday morning, last year.

“I just create shapes and forms with human bodies. It’s an abstraction, it’s a performance, it’s an installation.” he says.

He has photographed over 75 similar installations in which hundreds of people posed in the nude in artistic formations at various locations all over the world. He calls his work “flesh architecture”. Though his images are both technically sound and even striking, most critics have ignored him.

Here’s a photographer who is prepared to go to any extent, even convincing a mass of people to strip in public, for his picture, just to acquire the label ‘artist’.  It is this unholy dalliance with art that has made the world treat photography as its poor relation.

Spencer Tunick and those of his ilk don’t realise that the camera-brush relationship is a myth.

Ever since the day it was born, photography got entangled with art. Daguerre discovered photography as a substitute to drawing, a kind of a short-cut to art. It became instantly popular because the technique made it possible for everyone to create art and with much less effort.

He never imagined that photography would be seen as a competitor to art and even treated as a stepchild of the art world.

Over the years, many have attempted to reduce the difference between the painter and the photographer to almost nothing. They say camera is an instrument that the photographer uses to create his images while the painter uses the fur of the sable as his brush to paint.

This is indeed an over simplification.

There can’t be two objects so unlike each other.

Neither the camera nor the brush creates art. Both are just tools. The camera, unlike the brush, is a complex pile of metal, glass and electronics. Hundreds of people may use the same camera but few would produce worthwhile pictures. Even today, I’m almost certain that there are fewer good photographers than painters. The reason is simple. The instrument does not do the entire thing.

Is photography art?

The controversy aroused by this foolish question has been going on for several decades. The first time an attempt was made to question the status of photography was in 1862 when a French photographer sought a legal definition by taking another photographer to court for using his photographs.

The French court ruled that only art could be copyrighted, and since photography was not art, it was not subject to copyright laws. But this decision was happily overturned on appeal and photographers were permitted to copyright their work.

Discussions are endless only concerning the camera, a machine in the hands of the photographer—not the marvellous things the machine is made to do by the photographer. Whenever this question about photography is discussed among photographers, painters and art critics, three distinct views come up for discussion.

The first view is that the camera is a lifeless object with no inspiration of its own. The second is that Photography is not art because it is produced by a machine using a chemical process.  The third argument is that photography is at best an aid to art because it is similar to lithography and etching.

As far as the actual image is concerned, photography is an instantaneous process.

Edward Steichen put it well when he said:

“The photographer is served by a technique differing completely from that practiced by the painter, who begins with a blank surface and then by more or less complicated procedures, always under complete control, is able to achieve a growth and a realization of his concept. The photographer begins with a completed image; and compared with the painter the controls available to him are hardly worth the mention.”

Those who compare photographs with paintings ignore this basic difference. But it is possible that there can be art which is not photography and photography which is also art.

In recent years, the prestige of photography has suffered because of modern technology which has given a new tool, a kind of a super camera, in the hands of photographers (and even to those who are not serious practitioners) called ‘digital manipulation’ using latest softwares on a computer. This has certainly damaged the integrity of photography and moved it further away from art.

Though this development has influenced the art world too, but the influence is more in the area where art works are used for promoting easy and effective communication as in advertising. The work of artists in its purest form still remains largely untouched by technology.

It is not clear what direction photography will take after the invasion of digital technology into its world. There is an opinion that digitisation has made photography more of an art than ever. But what is certain is that it has democratized photography by giving everyone numerous ways to express vision. But some, especially the old practitioners, feel that in the process photography has “lost  its soul”.

It seems to me that it is time photographers distanced themselves from this unending debate of whether photography is art and thought themselves as privileged practitioners of an extraordinary process which  rides on high technology. All the arguments in its favour or against are futile; nothing more than piled up verbiage leading everyone to an useless dead-end.

Photographers should not foolishly get caught up in this fatuous debate about art and photography. This is a piece of intellectual debris. The photographer’s goal should be to look at life by an honest use of the camera and produce inspiring images that record or reflect its various aspects with thought, understanding and sympathy, and enjoy the process of creativity.

Photography is not art like say painting or poetry. It is an enterprise of another order. It does not belong to the realm of art. The photographer need make no apologies for his profession. The camera is only a versatile instrument which “teaches people how to see”.

Photograph: courtesy Laughing Squid

‘An unruly and illegal expression of intolerance’

Shooting the media has become an acceptable bloodsport in India, especially if the message is contrary to the closely held views and beliefs of linguistic, parochial, chauvinistic, political, fundamentalist, extremist, militant, communal and casteist groups. And that’s not the full, unabridged list.

The Hindu, the 138-year-old Madras newspaper with editions in all the four southern States, has become the target of pro-Tamil LTTE groups which do not share the paper’s stand on the military action that the Sri Lankan government has taken in the north of the island republic, where the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) hold sway. The paper’s offices have been attacked in Coimbatore and Erode.

Below is the full text of the statement issued by N. Ram, the editor-in-chief of The Hindu, condemning the attacks:


“On behalf of our 130-year-old newspaper, its 3,528 employees, and four million readers, I wish to strongly condemn the illegal acts of mischief and violence in Coimbatore and Erode by activists of the pro-LTTE fringe group calling itself the Periyar Dravidar Kazhagam (PDK) along with a handful of anti-social elements.

“These unruly and illegal acts were an expression of intolerance of the newspaper’s criticism of pro-LTTE and pro-Eelam chauvinism in the Tamil Nadu political arena. In our considered editorial assessment, these chauvinistic, pro-separatist tendencies are deeply inimical to the interests of the Indian people.

“Hearteningly, the overwhelming majority of the people of Tamil Nadu, who do not want a replay of the propaganda campaigns and violent activities of the terrorist Tamil Tigers in one of India’s most peaceful States, firmly oppose these chauvinistic tendencies. This is evidenced, among other things, by the fact that, post-1991, even the small pro-LTTE parties have not dared campaign on a pro-LTTE platform in any State or general election.

“The latest act of mischief and violence against our newspaper occurred around 5 a.m. on Thursday, October 16 at the Erode Bus Stand. A group of about half a dozen persons raising pro-LTTE slogans invaded the point of distribution, assaulted the person in charge of this distribution point, indulged in filthy slogans and threats, distributed hand bills extolling the LTTE, snatched 2400 copies of The Hindu and 390 copies of Business Line, doused them with petrol, and set them on fire. Thanks to the vigilance of our staff and the outrage of hawkers, two of the culprits were apprehended on the spot.

“The police have registered a case at the Erode Town Police Station under Sections 147, 323, 294(b), 285, 427, 506, and 506(i) of the IPC and arrested the leaders of the group, Kumaragurubaran, 42, district organiser of the PDK, and M. Jayakumar, 30, of the ‘Tamil Desiya Podhu Udaimai Katchi.’ The police are on the look-out for the other culprits.

“Earlier, on Tuesday, October 14, there were two incidents targeting our Coimbatore office on LIC Road. Some activists of the lawyers’ group of the PDK demanded that The Hindu reverse its editorial stand against pro-LTTE and pro-Eelam chauvinism, burnt some copies of the newspaper, and attempted to march to our office.

“The police effectively prevented them from doing so, thus preventing possible violence, and registered a case under Sections 143 (unlawful assembly) and 285 (negligent conduct with regard to fire or combustible matter) of the Indian Penal Code. The second incident, involving about ten persons, including PDK activists and law college students, was more serious. The group marched towards The Hindu office in Coimbatore, two persons sneaked through the police cordon, and tried to scale the iron gate and force their way past our staff and security personnel. One of them hurled a stone, which fortunately caused no injury or damage. The police arrested ten persons, who were later released on bail, and registered a case against this group under Sections 147 (unlawful assembly), 285, 447 (criminal trespass), 336 (act endangering life or personal safety of others), and 506 (i) (criminal intimidation) of the IPC.

“While we are satisfied with the response of the police in Coimbatore and Erode to these criminal acts — which constituted a threat to the physical safety of our journalists, non-journalistic staff, and others working for us, and to freedom of expression, guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution — we would like the police as well as the Tamil Nadu Government to take stronger action under the law of the land against the extremist fringe outfits and the individuals, including lawyers, behind these illegal acts.

“We expect the police and the State government to monitor and pursue seriously the prosecution of these cases, so that exemplary punishment under the law of the land is meted out to those who menace freedom of expression in the cause of a banned terrorist organisation.”

Photograph: Copies of The Hindu and Business Line set on fire at the Erode bus stand on Thursday morning. At right, a pro-LTTE handbill found at the site warned The Hindu against publishing ‘anti-Tamil’ reports and accused it of ‘betraying’ Tamils’ interests (courtesy M. Govarthan/ The Hindu)

‘Get it right even if it means getting it last’

There’s nothing like competition to shake things up.

With Mint, the business daily of the Hindustan Times group, making editorial ethics and integrity its unique selling proposition, the competition justifiably has ants in its pants.

Witness this letter from the editorial head of a leading business paper to all staff.


Dear all,

In our over-enthusiasm to break exclusive stories, we can’t compromise on the due diligence process we have in place for such scoops. In order to avoid egg on our face, I recommend that come hell or high water, we will NOT carry stories without the following safeguards.

1. A formal, written email or/and fax to the CEO and corp com of the company or companies involved. Take today’s story on Bxxxxx-9x— a written questionnaire has to be sent to both companies and their views incorporated in FULL. Even if one side has confirmed the story, I want the email sent to all companies involved. I hope this is as LOUD as it is CLEAR. I am really going to take strong action if this is not followed from now on. If it means MISSING a story, so be it. And this applies to private companies and PSUs alike.

2. We have to give at least 24 hours to a company to respond. You can’t really hold a gun to the CEO’s head if you’ve sent the WRITTEN questionnaire at 2 pm or later and hope to have all answers by 8 pm. Forget it. Again, let’s MISS the story rather than compromise on the editorial process.

The next time there’s a deviation from this norm, I promise you that I am going to straightaway lop off 25% from TVP—and I don’t really care who the reporter or bureau chief or editor in question is. The issue here is not getting the story wrong, but of the PROCESS not being followed. If this happens more often, I would not hesitate in taking stronger action.

Albert Einstein on the superficiality of journos

In a hand-written letter (in German) to a member of the public who had written to him criticising his special theory of relativity, Albert Einstein chides journalists for failing to understand one of his greatest scientific achievements:

“The twaddle that the theory is extremely difficult to understand, is complete nonsense, spread out by superficial journalists.”

The letter is among many that will go under the hammer at an auction in London on Thursday.

Also read: Einstein letters go on sale

Read the letters here: The Einstein letters