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Shutterbug

The cost of photography, even with a Rs 50 Click III camera in the 1970s, was too much for me to be a compulsive clicker, but I have been a shutterbug for long.

The sheer process of photography was intimidating. It was only after I held my first 120 mm film in sunlight to “see”the pictures that I had taken that I realised that the film had to go through various processes before the pictures developed.

With the help of a friendly photographer from Novelty Studio in Patiala, I learnt to develop and print photographs. The dark rooms were in his studio and in my school, where I took photography up as a ‘hobby’, along with friends like Gurpreet (Gupi) Bhattal.

The process was so expensive that I refused outright offers from various students, all girls, to photograph them. My mother was Principal of of the Government College for Women, Patiala, and later, Amritsar, and we lived on campus in both places. You have to live with the choices you make, and not to have photographed these lovely ladies is a decision that still evokes an occasional pang of regret!

A major milestone in my photographic endeavours was in the 1980s in college. I discovered colour photography, but the cost was prohibitive! I persuaded my teacher, Vijay Tankha, to get me a half-frame camera (it took 72 photos from a film meant for 36) from Hong Kong. The only problem was that you could not have the film developed and printed in Delhi. The exposed rolls went back to Vijay Tankha’s mother in Hong Kong, who generously indulged her son’s student. The prints would come back a month later. Often, the warmth of photographs taken in summer brightened and warmed chilly winter days.

My friend Pankaj Bajapai, who is now a major Hollywood colourist (with Sex and the City to his credit), also started life like me as a Philosophy graduate. He gave the camera to the first of his many lady loves. My love affair with that particular camera ended. His relationship with her continued for a while longer.

I bought my first Nikon in New York, and had more subjects, and guidance, than I ever had before. I learnt that film was the “least expensive component of photography.” Following this Copernican Revolution in my personal photographic perceptions, I became less conscious about cost and more aware about Manhattan, its streets and people. The job of a journalist expected to take photographs, made sure I kept my itchy finger on the shutter release button.

I lost most of my negatives and photographs when thieves decamped with my movable possessions in Brooklyn, where I lived in a beautiful period house that belonged to my friend Liz Lopez! One day, when I came back, everything was gone—including all the photographs I had taken till then. Discriminating chaps, with taste, even though they caused me no small grief.

Since moving back to Chandigarh, I am not required to take photographs officially, but my camera is a constant and faithful companion. I share the passion with my friends, and their critique keeps me improving my work.

I was among the photographers selected by Raghu Rai for his workshop in Chandigarh in 2008, an event that was a major learning experience.

Tell me what you like about my photographs so that I know what more to share with you. Let’s see the photographs