Fading Fast

I have been in Bangalore, India, less than a week and I can already see a lot of changes. Some of those are in the urban landscape and the culture. Others are in my own thinking and the way my mind’s eye processes what I encounter. I suspect that these collective changes will make this an especially interesting time to be in India’s so-called Silicon City.

Bangalore, also known locally as Bengaluru, is often referred to as the Silicon City of India. It is supposed to be Asia’s fastest growing city and is definitely home to some of the biggest high tech companies in India. I have been coming here (and photographing) since 1995, when today’s explosive growth was just starting. Over the last fifteen years I have seen a lot of growth here (and photographed it while working on various assignments, projects and grants.)

During the first four days that I have been here this time, I have traveled around a fair amount. I have noted how some familiar places are still intact while others are undergoing renovation (or complete displacement.) Some of the changes seem unremarkable, almost inevitable. One nondescript building being displaced by a newer, equally indistinctive structure does not concern me. Other changes that I see exemplify the rapid erasing of local history and culture that globalization brings with it. That type of change is something that I have photographed in great detail n the past and expect to work on further during this visit to India.

Many of the usual signifiers that I might use to calculate the speed of change do not apply here. Yesterday, as I passed through an intersection I have traversed hundreds of times before, I noted two things. First, the intersection had been completely redone, so that what was once uneven asphalt has been replaced by smooth cement. Second, the traffic and the weather in India had aged everything so fast that I had no idea when the same intersection had been redone. Then I recalled I had been at that junction just six months before when it was in its old form. Now, less than a year later, it was new, yet it looked about as old and worn as it was before the renovation.

I have already noticed that I am looking at Bangalore differently. Of course I am trying to approach it in a different way, viewing it through the eyes of my daughter and my niece. I also note that as I work my way further and further into multi-media work, I am listening as much as I am looking. Bangalore has been a noisy place as long as I have been coming here, but now I am starting to examine those sounds more closely and record some of them.

As a photographer, I have noticed one the other worrisome thing over the four short days I have been here. A feeling of “seen that, done that,” is rapidly displacing my sense of amazement at what I see. This is in some ways the most problematic. I am not sure how to fight that sentiment but I know I need to.

In the past, one way I have held back the almost natural tendency to become blasé’ about something seen repeatedly is by coming and going rather than staying in one place full time. In virtually all my projects from the pesticide-poisoning project to the Israeli-Palestinian project, commuting in and out of the working environment helped me keep a fresh perspective on what I was photographing.

Of course, not everyone can do that. In my case I will be here for six weeks and so I will have to work extra hard to keep a fresh perspective on what I see. I have been practicing a great little photographer’s exercise I read about recently. The living photographer Charles Harbutt was channeling an old idea from the late photographer Jacques-Henri Lartigue, that goes something like this:

1) Close your eyes.

2) Turn your head left or right, with your eyes still closed.

3) Open your eyes for an instant and then close them again. Try to remember what you saw. Do not turn your head.

4) Concentrate on that last image and then open your eyes. You will see the same scene that you just saw for an instant, what you saw almost “photographically,” but now you will see it in real life.

5) Pay attention to how your conscious mind starts thinking about the scene, organizing it, explaining it, de-constructing it.

6) Think back to that snap shot you made by blinking your eyes. That is how that scene will look photographed. It will have none of the organizing, explaining or de-constructing that you did consciously.

7) It simply will be that momentary glimpse of the scene and nothing more, which is all that a photograph of that same scene would be.

I know it sounds deceptively simple. Try it. You literally will never look at the world quite the same way. Will that exercise carry me through six weeks here with a constantly refreshed mind’s eye? Only time will tell.

(The full article by Charles Harbutt, which is an excellent read, can be found at: http://www.americansuburbx.com/2009/07/theory-charles-harbutt-i-dont-take.html )

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