History and other camera tricks

Last week, I was witness to a wedding that had to contend with the most dreadful of situations. The bride or groom running away? No, much worse — the official photographer failing to capture on his camera the all-important sacred thread-tying moment.

There are only three earthly possible scenarios in which such a calamity can happen

1) The camera person was way too drunk

2) He was formerly employed with Doordarshan, hence terminally incapable of bringing the subject on to focus

3) The wedding happened at the Guruvayoor temple

The third proposition needs to be explained in detail. At the Guruvayoor temple, on a ripe muhurtham day, 50 to 60 weddings are solemnised in a time frame of 40 to 50 minutes on the two platform-like designated spots that are only slightly more spacious than an average elevator cubicle — that is, fit enough to hold at a time six normal-sized human beings or one dieting Bappi Lahiri.  The marrying couples use the rough 60 seconds allotted to them as follows: 10 seconds for tying the knot and 50 seconds for paying the priest, the cornerstone event of any formal wedding.

The scene around the two marriage mosh-pits is always similar: A wild scrum of photographers, each occupying a comfortable one square centimetre space, jostles around the railing with their cameras madly whirring, as each couple performs the most sacred of marriage rituals —- posing for its chosen cameraperson.  Meanwhile, the gathered knots of nonplussed relatives carry out their sacred duty of trying to capture the scene in front on their mobile cameras. In general, they end up recording for posterity the posteriors of the official photographers trying to record the marriage scene.

Such a screaming scramble of humanity and tumult and tension are generally part of historical scenes of a grand revolution (like in Cairo). But in Guruvayoor it seems an everyday snapshot.

One of the couples on that day turned up on one platform while its official photographer was solemnising his work in the other. It was a cardinal mistake and I guess that marriage will go down as technically unconsummated because it doesn’t have an official version.

The larger point is these days nothing is deemed real unless we have a virtual copy of it. And we see less with our own eyes, but more through the voyeuristic view-finder of ubiquitously available cameras.

The mass availability of multitude of digital cameras marks a major technological epoch, in that it underscores the vital scientific point that no matter how evolved and technical a product is the human mind can still put it to silly and stupid use.

You don’t have to believe me. Just stop reading this for a moment. Go, check out the photos and videos you have stored in your mobiles and computers.

Ok, welcome back. No point in feeling sheepish now.  Can you explain that photo of yours eating in that restaurant? Since when did eating Gobi Manchurian become a worthy souvenir to keep? Or what about that pointless green stretch of grass from your last trip to that hill station? And you were thinking at that time that you were capturing that brilliant setting of mist and dew, huh? And the one of the roadside dog, sheesh! you found that funny?

If each human being in this world punctiliously deletes what are essentially useless photos and videos, there won’t be any need for creating any more digital storage space for the next 300 years. And if you remove porn from the equation, human beings have nothing worthy of storing ever.

But at least you as an individual have an excuse: It’s your camera and it’s your storage space. But what of us journalists?

Manmohan Singh calling on Sonia Gandhi. Pranab Mukherjee paying floral tributes at Raj Ghat. Dolly Bindra or Mallikha Serwat. Sachin Tendulkar or some random celebrity alongside some random commercial product. Pornography is less gross than this.  Anyway, we publish such pictures and still wonder why people are not buying newspapers anymore.

And what about the mugs that fill the Page 3? Well, I can defend Page 3 journalism as a public-spirited cause dedicated to those brave men and women who are never afraid to flaunt what God has given them in abundance —- stupidity. By the way, if we don’t feature these honourable people, then Page 3 has to be filled with reports by journalists. Between stupid writing and stupid faces what is easier to handle? Don’t answer, it’s only a rhetorical question.

Anyway, our sole consolation is our television brethren fare much worse:  For instance, NDTV’s coverage of Egypt sticks to the highest rule of journalism: 99% Barkha Dutt and 1% Cairo. I suspect the Egyptians knew what was coming, hence the revolution.

Talking of revolutions, history was once made by who captured. Now history is what is captured. In other words, history is a camera trick. Those who don’t learn from history are perhaps condemned to photoshop it.

Perhaps that’s what that wedded couple in Guruvayoor eventually had to do.