(This story from The Quint’s archives has been published to mark World Photography Day. It was originally published on 1 December 2017.)
“This is our ruin and this is where we meet.”
This is also what I imagine would aptly sum up a digital-analogue conversation today. Today, I am more than tempted to conjure up the attentive ghosts of the past. The analogue camera.
My generation witnessed the revamped version of the helicopter parents- the roving, all pervasive eye of the digital camera. There’s absolutely no escaping it. If the camera can be compared to a gun, it has only weaponized its potential over time, preying on unsuspecting millenials with easy access and constant scrutiny.
The analogue camera takes me back to a time when photographs held much more weight and character than the ones I manage to capture in a jiffy with a sleek smart phone.
I remember those long anticipated days. A photograph always called for a special occasion. One could very easily grasp the novelty of being photographed. Ma used to potter about the household, trying to get us kids dressed with an air of occupied single-mindedness, while Baba would be busy setting up the tripod, loitering about the house looking for suitable backdrops and noticeably making a ceremony out of the whole situation. No one was allowed to approach him with wayward comments or small talk. There was a solemnity the situation demanded that we did not dare violate.
I don’t know what exactly it is that makes me pine for a past that seemingly moved at a glacial place, a past bereft of modern technology, a past sans the fast-tracking. Maybe it is because I have encountered too much change in too little a time. Surprisingly, my present seems more like a dream compared to my past.
There was a different charm attached to the thrill and thought invested in every picture. We were not allowed to waste even a single shot and memories were archived with an exclusive selectivity. The lucky few made it to the photo albums. Luckier still were we on those days when Ma, after careful thought, would grant us permission to put our school textbooks aside and devote an entire hour to the hard-bound family albums. My brother and I would pour over them greedily, savouring each photograph, relishing the stray hour we managed to take out from our daily grind.
Then came a wave of change I am still trying to survive.
Our wide-eyed amazement knew no bounds. Not only could we take as many pictures as we wanted, but also immediately see what they looked like. What more could a starved 90s kid want?
Well, as it turned out, a lot more. I couldn’t stop latching on fiercely to every new crumb technology threw my way. Everything had suddenly become so easy. A click. That’s all that it took. I did not need to think and rethink a frame a hundred times, I did not need to wait patiently for Baba to peer into the lens, scratch his chin, mull things over and then finally ask us if we were ready.
I guess what triggers my resentment is that technology seemed to come of age the same time I did. Gone were the days when my parents could sit us down and photograph us. Gone were the days when technology allowed them to leverage its pace for some family time.
We got busy with friends, went off to college.
My friends got busy with smart phone cameras and modern DSLRs.
Everything happened faster. No one bothered to spend longer than a minute on a photograph.
When I look at photographs from the recent past, I no longer spend more than a minute on them. They fail to animate my everyday.
The digital camera that rose from the ashes of its prototype, seems like a stillborn.