3 Fantastic Urban Photographers from India


Landscape photography is a venerable old art. Who doesn’t love a shot of the sun going down over a beach or the same sun rising brilliantly over Nanga Parbat?

For most of us, the way we imagine a country, at least initially, is through images of its land. We like to know how high its mountains are and how fast its rivers flow. When we visit a travel agent, we flip through brochures covered with landscapes. For some reason we equate country with land. And based on photographs of sunsets, green fields, rugged mountains or rugged farms, we convince ourselves we have an idea of a place.

But in a country like India that is rocketing forward in its urbanisation, is the natural landscape still the best way to capture its soul?

Within 15 years, nearly 600 million Indians will be city dwellers. While today, only about 32% live in urban areas, the economy is largely urbanised. India’s cities are bursting and new ones will be sprouting up by the dozen if government planners are to be believed. Statistically, India may yet be a rural country, but energetically, it is a pumping urban nation.

In a situation like this, traditional landscape photography seems to be less relevant to grasping the essence of India. If the heart of the nation is its cities, what does photography tell us of that India?

Urban landscape photography is nothing new but it has become somewhat more codified in recent years. It is photography that seeks to find a country’s essential sprit through the way it lays out, develops, and manages its cities. The landscape in question is not the natural world but the physical world of concrete, steel, glass and plastic. And unlike traditional landscape photography its purpose is not necessarily to depict an idealised image of the scene.

Urban photography is, more often than not, photography of the ugly, the “in-the-way”, the dilapidated and the abandoned. Alienation is never faraway. Where there is beauty it is usually accidental. It is a photography not suited to travel brochures. But when done by talented photographers it is exciting stuff. [Full article originally published in Scroll.in]


Gypsy Music: Rajasthan​ to Django

Gypsy music from India to Europe.



There’s nothing more soulful than gypsy music. Be it a simple duet of voice and fiddle or the hurricane blast of a Balkan brass brand, the music of the world’s ultimate free spirits is intoxicating.

Moving westward out of Northern India more than millennium ago, the gypsies arrived in Eastern Europe in the 14th century. Over the next several hundred years, the Roma – as they refer to themselves – spread across Europe, West Asia and even to the Americas and were consistently exploited and used as labour but tolerated for the contributions to the arts, particularly as craftsmen, fortune tellers and musicians.

Despite a colourful history of nomadism, ingenuity and resilience, the Roma experience is one of suspicion, persecution and marginalisation. Tens of thousands of Roma are believed to have perished in Nazi death camps during the 1940s, and even today, most host countries continue to maintain a culture…

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Unexpected Detour


The Path I had embarked on, I thought, was the one that would take me from Point A (cashed up corporate warrior) to Point B (similarly well-paid senior position) in a relatively short period of time.  Even though I had been raised in an environment which acknowledged the ‘invisible spiritual realm’, the last thing on my mind in May 2011 was an inward journey.

But one thing I’ve learned about the Universe: it’s middle name is Surprise.

By early  (southern) winter the winds of Life had stopped blowing.   I’m not a sailor but it was as  if  my boat had glided into the Equatorial doldrums.  The ocean was absolutely still. Not even a ripple caressed the surface.  I had no sense of direction.

I was raised on the Christian scriptures by a proud evangelical father.  Seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you. I no longer identify as a Christian, but those words of Jesus are an essential part of my spiritual reality. So, when it became clear around June that I was unlikely to slide into another senior role as easily as I imagined, I began to seek, knock and ask with more urgency. Not in panic but with a desire to understand where I might be heading.

I was met with deafening silence. Every door I knocked upon remained firmly closed. Meditation and contemplation  were  ineffective. It was sunny and bright but my boat was drifting and bobbing on the water. The air was eerily still.

The doldrums continued throughout July. In August a friend recommended I contact his astrologer, who, he claimed, had helped him land the job of his dreams a couple years earlier. She was a soft-spoken woman with a lilting voice that sent calm even through Skype.

She suggested that the coming year or so would be defined by extensive change.  Everything about my life was up for grabs. Career. Family life. Life Purpose. The future, though, was truly exciting. She said I needed to be aware of a few things like isolating myself and not taking care of my health.  There was lots of work (contracts) hovering around me, she claimed. And sure enough, within a few days I had two new assignments confirmed!

“Be sure to Meditate a lot.”

Since I was raised in a conservative Christian home, deep skepticism lurked in my heart toward these sorts of readings.  So I thought I’d get a second opinion. I was in Cairns on a consulting assignment. It was a town I had never been to and so I flicked through the local Yellow Pages. Not sure even what I was  looking for, I  saw a small ad for a Tarot Reader and Psychic.  I called and made an appointment  for that evening.

I found him on the outskirts of town. I was struck by the mundane suburban house he lived in. Where were the velvet curtains and dark grotto hanging with vines?  There was not a flickering candle in sight.  I was relieved but cheesed off at the same time. I wanted an experience, dammit.  Not an hour in Joe Ordinary’s basement.

The Reader was not as friendly as the astrologer had been. He had a slight foreign accent and  had a bit too much  bling around his tanned neck. I felt my resistance take control. Still, I let him take my palm when he asked me to sit down.

He studied my hand and then went through a deck of cards.  Change was everywhere. He saw death of all kinds, and turmoil for the next 18 months or so.  “What you are really seeking”, he said, “is true love. You’ve never experienced it.” The next phase of my life, he insisted several times, would be by far the best and most accomplished phase yet.

“Watch your health. And meditate!”

As I made my way back to Cairns I marvelled at how these two strangers had sensed the same energy around me.  I knew neither of them and they knew nothing of my circumstances.   Indeed, within 9 months my mother and elder brother would both be dead.   The months that followed turned out to be the most disruptive, challenging and difficult in my adult life. In a little more than 18 months I was working in another country and separated from my family in Melbourne.

Strangely though, the two readings gave me encouragement, as well as a frame to consider my Life within. CHANGE. TRANSITION. TRANSFORMATION.

Being a practical fellow who likes to have cash in his pocket for his hobbies I still wanted to know how this would translate into making a living.  The astrologer told me to spend time reflecting deeply on what I really wanted to do.  The psychic told me to go into the ‘Cave’ and meditate. The answer would  definitely come.

Nine months into my new life I was well on my way. The only problem was Point B was not exactly where I thought it was, or should be. Suddenly, and without much drama,  I discovered myself to be a traveller on a completely unexpected inner journey. A journey I am still on and at last understand, I have always been on.

Around the same time I received the first Word from the Spirit. 

[A note on the image at the top of the blog. I love Indian calendar art and this is an example from the 1920s. It depicts Mahavidya Kamalatmika, an aspect of Goddess Laxmi. I selected the picture purely because it pleased me aesthetically. But  I was tickled to discover that she is the goddess of inner and outer prosperity!]


The Design Mind behind Hipstamatic


Several years ago, I began experimenting with an ancient Samsung mobile phone camera. The ridiculously cheap lens and complete absence of functionality produced quirky lo-fi – short for low fidelity, typically taken with poor-quality equipment – images that delighted me in a way SLR photography had not for years.

In just a few years and with an irresistible inevitability, mobile phone photography has gone from fringe to mainstream. Photo apps have stormed the kingdom of photography and dethroned the SLR.

About a decade ago, a camera was a minor feature on your phone. Today, Apple markets itself through giant reproductions of images taken with its iPhone 6.

But in late 2009, before the first photo had ever been posted on Instagram, an app designed to look like an old-fashioned camera went on sale on the Apple Store. The name appealed to a generation that wanted to be cool and sought something easy to use. Hipstamatic had arrived.

For the wired generation, it was love at first sight. Within a couple of years, more than four million people had downloaded the app. Hipstamatic groups sprouted around the globe. Exclusive Hipsta competitions and exhibitions were established. And for the first time, professional photographers admitted to using an app on assignment.

With its interchangeable lenses, assorted films, oddball flash guns and brightly coloured cases, Hipstamatic introduced an artist’s sensibility to photographic gear. The eccentricity of analogue toy cameras had been updated for the digital era. Hipstamatic’s mission seemed to be to make so-called ugly images beautiful. Light leaks, frayed and torn borders, overexposure and problematic focus were, it seemed, just what the times required.

Today, Instagram may monopolise the social media space for retro/lo-fi photography but Hipstamatic remains the photographer’s choice when it comes to apps. A lot of Hipstamatic’s appeal lies not just in the retro feel of the camera and the ever-growing volume of films and lenses but in its aesthetic.

Hipstamatic has style. Each lens looks as if it has been lovingly handcrafted by an expert artisan. Every film is unique and comes packaged in its own box. Both have a back story, often inspired by professional photographers that the developers particularly admire.

The app has an India connection too. Although all of Hipstamatic’s founders are design professionals, it’s the Creative Director Aravind Kaimal whose vision is most visible on Hipstamatic.

Kaimal was born in Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of the South Indian state of Kerala, and spent his childhood drawing. Tintin, the hero of a comic series by Belgian cartoonist George Remi, and his dog Snowy, served as the inspiration for much of his art at the time.

At the age of 17, Kamal landed in the US and went to art school in Chicago. At his first job, he crossed paths with graphic designer Lucas Buick, who, years later, asked for Kaimal’s help in designing a new photo app, tentatively named Hipstamatic. And the rest, as they say, is history. [Full interview with Aravind Kaimal here]

Pure Metal: the photography of Ramis Abbas

one photo @ a time


Photography and music have always gone together. Adoring fans, Annie Leibovitz, Mick Rock and Anton Corbijn to name just a few, have become accomplished photographic artists by capturing the images of their favourite musicians and bands.

It’s hard to imagine jazz of a certain era separated from photography. In the ‘50s and ‘60s record labels like Blue Note, Verve and Riverside created a luscious and sexy aura around their records by the use of bold photography and modern design.

In India, the environmental portraits that Raghu Rai has made of some of India’s finest classical musicians are among his best work. Both arts – music and photography – are powerful in their own right. But when the visual is combined with the audio the result can be especially luxurious and pleasing. Even profound.

Turn your mind to Pakistani music and what pops up? Qawwali at an ursor urbane ghazal

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