Suburbia |

The Box Brownie Generation

Mridul Batra

Photography’s paradigm shift in India is marked by a rising number of private/ collaborative exhibitions as well as lavishly produced large-format publications. To be featured in such a manner creates a competitive drive for professionals and amateurs from any generation, also enabling photographs to enter the realm of a contemporary art practice. This shift has therefore been abetted by what I think of as India’s ‘Box Brownie moment’, allowing almost everyone with access to a camera to make pictures with ease using digital technology.

My own experiments with film began during formal years of photography study at the National Institute of Design (NID). It gave me reflective moments, as well as deeply gratifying ones while developing film in a tank. And then there was the wondrous experience with printing on silver gelatin. While working, I realized the difference more closely between the two. With film, my work was pre-conceived and pre-visualized, while digital gave me the option to experiment and act on the spot. There was also the ease of post-production work with digital: effortless sharing and mass distribution at the click of a button. Some of us went a little further, creating a digital archive of sorts, carefully storing images and transferring them from one hard disk to another.

Today’s generation perhaps sees digital photography as a viable option with minimal need for manual intervention. The ethics of this engagement can also be read as: shoot, view and proceed. The pre-emptive act in photography is about conditioning your next photograph based on the last viewed clip, an experience distinct from using film. “Photography with film is more thoughtful and reflective; you have to be sure and define your time more precisely, before starting work,” Abbas Kiarostami, an Iranian filmmaker, once reportedly said. But the argument really is not whether it is film or digital.

Has digital photography influenced our ways of seeing? Perhaps it has. I feel that the answer can be conceptual as well, though it bears little on the act of producing an image. In this light, one might want to resort to the view that the choice of film or digital needs revision, as the final outcome depends heavily on context and the aesthetic eye of the user. In most of the work submitted for this issue of PIX, we understood that this was indeed the case: it is not only the medium, but the ‘matter’ and the motivation behind the image.