Pillai & Learning To See

After the early shots, when I decided that my photographs rank amongst the world’s worst, I decided to take a course on photography. This was a smart decision.

My life before I picked up a camera was remarkably disorganised. I started my career in a steel mill, and we had a six day week. For the first 8-9 months, I worked shifts, and did not have a Sunday off. My weekly off shifted around. Later, I was transferred to another section in the Technical Services Department. Six day weeks, but I was at least on general shift. No more did I have to spend my nights blearily looking into an electric arc furnace through special goggles! Yet, I was not very disciplined, and Saturday nights passed in a haze of alcohol, bhaang, pornography and…..

When I picked up my camera, I started to move away from this lifestyle, as I wanted to take photographs on Sunday.

Then, I discovered Pillai, and used to take the train down to South Bombay, to Fort, to attend his classes.

The first thing that he asked us to write in our notebooks was the following short phrase:

“I See”.

My “I” was gigantic, and was expecting that he would pull me up. He did, but to congratulate me!

Years later, when I was doing yoga in Singapore, one of the instructors said, “Yoga is an exploration of your body, and not your neighbour’s body”

Similarly, while we should, and indeed must explore the work of photographers to learn and to adapt, photography essentially is an expression of your vision. It is an expression of how you see the world.

Having said this, there are rules of composition. There are graphic elements that can add drama to a photo. There are elements of time of day.

While photography is considered to be part science, and part art, it demands significant discipline.

One of the biggest areas of choice is – what will you include and exclude in the frame?

This is a question that I have answered and forgotten over the years. And, I am in the process of remembering this again.

This is a deep question, and I will repeat it.

“What will you include and exclude in the frame?”

Think deeply about this. We see through our eyes and our brains. Our eyes see, and our brain filters and interprets. The interpretation of a scene is a complex set of exercise that the brain goes through in a flash. It incorporates our moods, the temperature of the day, our emotional baggage, the recent things we have read etc. The camera is, at best, an advanced recording device through which we intend to record our interpretation of reality.

I shall not go into the metaphysics of that expression. Let it be sufficient in itself.

A crowded snapshot is just that – a crowded snapshot unless there is a strong element that stands out. Sometimes a near empty photo can speak volumes.

The first choice in photographic vision, is the decision on what to include and exclude in the frame, and is something that a photographer must always ask.

When I wrote “I See”, I wrote it as a lark. It was not until many years later that I started to gain a glimmer of understanding as to the meaning of the two words.


  1. Interesting post and perspective, I like the bit you speak of expression of one’s own vision. In this era on 24/7 accessibility to the internet, we are too busy checking out others work and not doing enough to put our own work out there. And btw, nice pics in the other posts too.

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