Why this blog is called "Gallimaufry".

gal-uh-MAW-free\, noun.

Originally meaning "a hash of various kinds of meats," "gallimaufry" comes from French galimafrée; in Old French, from the word galer, "to rejoice, to make merry"; in old English: gala + mafrer: "to eat much," and from Medieval Dutch maffelen: "to open one's mouth wide."

It's also a dish made by hashing up odds and ends of food; a heterogeneous mixture; a hodge-podge; a ragout; a confused jumble; a ridiculous medley; a promiscuous (!) assemblage of persons.

Those of you who know me, will, I’m sure, understand how well some of these phrases (barring the "promiscuous" bit!) fit me.

More importantly, this blog is an ode to my love for Shimla. I hope to show you this little town through my eyes. If you don't see too many people in it, forgive me, because I'm a little chary of turning this into a human zoo.

Stop by for a spell, look at my pictures, ask me questions about Shimla, if you wish. I shall try and answer them as best as I can. Let's be friends for a while....

25 April 2009

My camera taught me how to *see*...

I have always been observant. I am curious. I am interested in people, in things, in events unfolding all around me. I am one of the few people I know who can honestly claim that they do not have the capacity to be bored. The one thing that fascinates me most is the play of human emotions.
A lot of people say that in taking photographs, we often miss the beauty of the moment. I disagree. My camera has taught me to see. I always wanted to be an artist, but lacked the necessary impulses, the skills, even the diligence required, but my camera gifted me the impulse to keep looking. It taught me to live in The Moment, to witness, to cultivate what the Geeta calls the "sakshi bhava", that attitude which requires you to be present, yet not present in the midst of an action unfolding. However, I hesitate to photograph people because I do not wish to make them objects of humour or pity, or as though they are not worth much, just to prove a point. I cannot use them as props.

As I wander around Shimla, I am hugely tickled by the sight of that thing tourists do: of converting experience into a souvenir through their cameras. As Susan Sontag says, "travel becomes a strategy for accumulating photographs"! The camera relieves some of the burden of memories. Photographs can be clicked, stored away and taken out some later date to be exclaimed over accompanied by "Do you remember such-and-such...?", like coffins being exhumed and opened. Like cynical God, the camera records in order to forget. Photographs help us to go back in the past to take possession of a space that was ours temporarily.

Clicking photographs also appeases the anxiety which people develop when they are in an alien place. They can take pictures: they have something to do! I have learnt to be more respectful, less leery of "tourist traps". These "traps" stop the tourist from climbing over the fence of some of Shimla's (or indeed Rome's or London's) prettiest places to take pictures of people in their natural habitat!

I have posted a set of photographs of people taking photographs. My intention is not to poke fun at them. Indeed, I feel a genuine affection for them, for do we not belong to a brotherhood which is trying to capture a neat slice of time, choosy, chancy and temperamental as that may be?!


Dick Richards said...

Yes! And as you can probably tell from some of my own blog posts, I am fascinated by the relationship between photography and perception. Even the similarity between terminologies is rich to consider: focus, perspective, field of view, background and foreground, etc.

So photography can teach not only to "see" but also how to think about "seeing."

Deep Sea said...

Brilliant post, and the photos. I especially liked your description of photos taking one back to temporarily occupied spaces.

I've been carrying my camera around - in my bag (lol), for weeks, but am just too shy to take it out and click photos on the streets. And then I end up regretting the loss of the moment.

I'm glad you are able to capture life.

p.s.: I see the 'tourists' have started flocking in!

Gallimaufry said...

Thank you, Dick-Guru, for stopping by. It was one of your posts (made a while back) that actually got me thinking. Yes, photography is about seeing and not merely "looking".

Deep Sea, the next time you visit Shimla, allow me to be your local guide. Photographing people feels vaguely voyeuristic. This is where a good zoom lens helps! You can shoot without making people conscious. I'm all for asking permission, but it suddenly renders the subject(s) shy, thereby stealing the moment of its spontaneity.

Bibliophile said...

I take photos of people taking photos every chance I get, and try to get their subject into the frame as well. I don't consider it as making fun, but simply adding another dimension to a photograph. My goal is to take a photo of someone taking a photo of someone taking a photo.

Generally, when taking photos of buildings and other man-made structures, having people in my photos makes them come alive in a way that perfect postcard shots with no people in them do not. Often a landscape photo can be livened up by people as well. I remember stopping in the Baluchistan desert in Pakistan and walking away from the road to photograph the bus I was travelling in with the mountains as a backdrop. I shot a couple of frames, and then a group of local tribesmen on bicycles appeared on the road. When they saw me with the camera, they all stopped in front of the bus and posed, unasked for, for a photo, before continuing on their way. The bus photos were okay, but the photo of those men with their bicycles in front of the bus, with the mountains behind them is my favourite from the whole trip, even if it is ever so slightly out of focus and the others are pin-sharp.

Velu said...

Nice snaps.


Ann said...

I know what you mean about seeing rather than just looking. Since I started photoblogging I see so much more. One thing that has really surprised me since I joined the portrait project is how willing most people are to be photographed once you ask them. They are totally bemused as to why anyone would want to photograph them but flattered and happy to cooperate. Its terrifying at first but gets easier and easier, and its fun.

Gallimaufry said...

Ann, I've been meaning to ask you this for a while. How do you approach people if you want to photograph them? Does it not make them self-conscious, thereby stealing the moment of its spontaneity? Most of the people shots I've taken have been from a great distance, when the subjects weren't aware of what I was doing. I feel very shy of going up to them & asking them to pose! A pity, because you get to see some real characters here!

Ann said...

I'm sorry, I don't know your name, only your blog and forum identity.

How do I ask if I can photograph people - for a start, the Come in Spinner post, I didn't ask, just elbowed my way in and everyone ignored me. Several people were taking photos. The other trick is to do it at times when people are relaxed - festivals, exhibitions, commemorations etc. Tourists are easy - if you have a camera in your hand, you are fair game. I've never had a tourist refuse.

If you have a look at 100 Strangers (http://one-hundred-strangers.blogspot.com/)(this is our little one, not the main Flikr one) there is a link to the main site and to the Tips.

I started out by following the tips and mumbling something like, I really like your .... or that's a rally intresting .... could I take your photo. I've discovered its more about picking your subject. I'm getting good at picking people who say yes. These days I just say "Do you mind if I take your photo." In response to why - "Its for a photography project" or "I'm practicing photographing strangers". I get taken a lot more seriously when I've got the SLR and not the tiny point and shoot.

You do need to grow a bit of a thick skin. Its a bit hurtful being rejected at first.

Give it a try and make sure you give me the link, I'm sure my colleagues would like to see the results as well.

Gallimaufry said...

Thank you, Ann. Fantastic advice. I'm starting today :) Will keep you posted!

Ann said...

Forgot to answer the other part of the question. Yes, they are self conscious and there is a tendency for people to "pose". If you look at the early one on 100 Strangers, they are posed. Now, even if I shoot close up and they are looking at the camera, they seem more relaxed. Whether its because I'm more comfortable, or am able to make them more comfortable, I'm not sure, I think Julie is finding the same thing - Peter has always been good. I try to get them not to look at the camera but to go on with what they are doing.

The people shots on Sydney Meanderings - I didn't ask, just zoomed. 100 Strangers, the rule is to get permission.

punee said...

hi, dont know if you are a guy or a girl, havent been able to spot that detail :P.maybe cause im in office and am not supposed to be browsing blogs...i was so homesick for simla tht i just went crazy on google.finally came upon your blog and now am going crazy on that from the past two days have read and re- read every post.the pictures are beautiful!!and your words- even more so!the last time i came over was in nov 2008-tough it seems like aens ago!!simla actually is the hometown of my boyfriend who lives in tara hall, but i never have th time to actually look at the beautiful places, can u beleive it i never have actually travelled on the lift from cart road to mall raod!!i usua;;y just zip in and out- see him and my dogs.am planning to come again for a longer time and this time will use your blog as a guide!!thanks again- it was like evian to a person in a person who has been deserted( just gulped it down without relizing the true value)- will enjoy it at a slower pace from now on!!

punee said...

sorry about the first part just got to the end of your blog and saw the "request". u clearly are a woman!!and i think im in love with you!!btw how did you move from mumbai to simla??wht do u do now??as in occupation wise??i know its inquisitive but i just want to know the opportunities available there.sorry!

Gallimaufry said...

Hello Punee! Thank you for your kind words. I like the "Evian for a deserted person" metaphor, even if it has a ring of sadness!
Yup. Guilty as charged: I'm female (I thought all that poetry was a dead giveaway?!)
Do keep popping in. It's nice to have people who say such lovely things to one :)

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