Why Are We All So Enamored With Photography?

Why are we all so enamored with photography?
Day-dreaming Chimpanzee / Stir-fried Tang Hoon

Photography is for children. There. I said it. I’m not arguing with people who have written books about photography as an art, as a means of telling a story, or even as a method of enhancing a commercial message. But there’s something more fundamental that lies beneath all that.

I believe everyone possesses some degree of creativity. As children we’ve all tried to express it – from drawing in the sand with a stick, to making something out of mud, to doing a silly dance. It’s human nature to want to express our creativity.

When photography was invented, it became the one medium that enabled all of us to express our creativity – regardless of whether if we could draw, sing, or dance. Today, digital cameras and smartphones have put that means of expressing creativity in the hands of hundreds of millions of people around the world.

The advent of digital cameras, and particularly smartphones – suddenly enabled all of us to become photographers – hence the millions of photos being constantly uploaded to the internet. And regardless of whether we take photos of our lunch with our smartphone, or photos of wildlife with our DSLR, we’re all constantly experimenting with ways of creating a better photo – one that will make all our friends say, “wow, that’s an awesome photo”!

While myriad articles have explained how digital photography has enabled us to capture memories more easily, or enhance our communications – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc – there’s no denying the fact that basically, we’re all taking photos as a means to express our creativity (some of us more successfully than others).

Jellyfish on purple
Jellyfish against purple-tinted water

The interesting thing that isn’t discussed as much is the other side of photography – the viewers of all these photos. Why are people looking at our photos? While most of us would understand why everyone would look at the photo you took of a tiger charging directly at you while on a safari, why do people spend time to view the blurry photos we take at a concert, or the photo we take of our desert?

The answer can again be found in our childhood – curiosity. As children, we were openly curious about everything around us. Refreshingly (I think), as adults we’re still curious about our world. We’re interested in what others are doing, and specifically, in what they are seeing. The combination of digital photography and the internet has tapped into our innate curiosity by feeding us massive amounts of photos to view everyday.

I guess we’re all still children – wanting to express our creativity, and curious about the world around us. I don’t know about you, but I think those two facts are reason enough to continue taking photos – and viewing them. What could possibly be wrong with continuing our desire to express our creativity – and with staying curious about the world?

Sample photos of a tree & skateboarder
Trees lit-up at night, skateboarder with umbrella

Most of all, we enjoy taking a photo, editing it, and seeing people’s reactions to it. We also get pleasure viewing a photo, thinking how we would have taken it a bit differently, and imagining ourselves being there. So maybe I’m wrong about there being two basic reasons why everyone is enamored with photography. Maybe it’s simpler than that. Maybe there’s only one reason – because it’s fun. (And all kids like to have fun!)

The First Indonesian Photographer

Kassian Cephas
Kassian Cephas

Outside of a small circle of historians interested in Indonesian culture, Kassian Cephas is scarcely known. A court photographer for Java’s Yogyakarta Sultanate in Java during the late 19th century, Kassian Cephas was Indonesia’s first professional photographer.

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Born in 1845 during Dutch colonial rule, Cephas was trained by a Dutchman at the request of Sultan Hamengkubuwana VI. (According to oral tradition, his father was Dutch and his mother Indonesian). By the early 1870’s, Cephas was appointed as court painter and photographer. His responsibilities were to take portraits of the royal family.

Borobudur temple panels
Borobudur temple panels

Recognizing his skills, the Dutch Archaeological Union commissioned Cephas to photograph Indonesia’s iconic buildings and ancient monuments for posterity.

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After the hidden base of the Borobudur temple complex was discovered in 1885, Cephas was requested to record the hidden panels with his camera. To expedite the documentation, the base was briefly uncovered in 1890, and then covered again in 1891.

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In recognition of his photographic contribution to archeology, Cephas was appointed as an “extraordinary member” of the Batavian Society of Arts and Sciences following the completion of the Borobudur project. Subsequently, he was also made a member of the Royal Institute in recognition of his work with for the Dutch Archaeological Union.

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Along with his architectural photography, Cephas continued working as a court photographer. In 1896 he photographed a visit to Yogyakarta by Thailand’s King Chulalongkorm. Later, in 1899 he documented the four-year commemoration of the accession of Hamengkunegars III to the throne as Crown Prince of the Yogyakarta Sultanate.

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Cephas retired when he reached 60 years of age, and passed away seven years later in 1912 due to illness.

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Although he was an accomplished court photographer and architectural photographer, Cephas is mainly celebrated in Indonesia today as the first Indonesian to become a professional photographer.

 

Chen Man – A Contemporary Chinese Photographer Who is Truly Inspired

Woman on bicycle in China
Fashion shot – woman on bicycle in China (shot by Chinese photographer Chen Man)

One of China’s top fashion photographers, Chen Man was born in 1980 in Beijing. After attending a high school specializing in art, she studied graphic design in Beijing at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, where she graduated in 2005. Prior to graduating, the foundation of Chen Man’s photographic career had already begun to be laid with the 2003 launch of a series of covers she produced for Vision, a Shanghai-based fashion magazine.

Chen Man photos
Self-Portrait & Boombox Model photos by Chinese photographer Chen Man

Between 2003 and 2007, the cover photos that Chen Man created for Vision were received in China as ground-breaking, and even avante garde. Her method of highly-stylized, over-the-top, manipulated images had never been seen before in Chinese magazines. But the nuances of glamour, energy, and freedom of imagination portrayed in her cover photos resonated with China’s emerging youth culture.

Photos by Chen Man
Fashion photos by Chinese photographer Chen Man

As the magazines reached the public, viewers were in awe of Chen Man’s skill in combining a strong aesthetic eye, photographic technique, and mastery of post-processing and 3D rendering. The fact that she was young was a pleasant surprise to Chen Man’s Chinese audience, and there was also an element of national pride that she was a Beijing native. This initial success launched Chen Man’s meteoric rise.

Chinese model in traditional costume, photo by Chen Man
Chinese model in traditional costume, photo by Chen Man

Since gaining recognition for her work for Vision, Chen Man has shot covers for every major Chinese magazine, and has also became a regular contributor to the Chinese editions of Vogue, Elle, Bazaar, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, and Esquire. She has also shot for ID, The Times, Wallpaper, Muse, Guess, Adidas, Motorola, Gucci, etc. Additionally, her work has been exhibited in many major galleries and museums.

Fashion shot of Chinese model in veil by Chen Man
Fashion shot of Chinese model in veil by Chen Man

Chen Man’s has created her own style of photography based on a combination of her skill with a camera, and her expertise with a computer.

Fashion photo of two Chinese mdels by Chen Man
Fashion photo of two Chinese mdels by Chen Man

According to Chen Man herself, “My work is complex and it matches the faces of our era; it’s Eastern and Western; it’s neither mainstream nor anti-mainstream; it’s the past, the present, and the future; it’s tacky and elegant. This is all achieved through a combination of ‘hardware’ from ancient Chinese culture and ‘software’ from modern Western culture.”

Fashionable Chinese woman in red dress. photo by Chinese photographer Chen Man
Fashionable Chinese woman in red dress. photo by Chinese photographer Chen Man

Nepali Photojournalist Creates Images That Are ‘Readable’

Sailendra Kharel - Nepali photojournalist
Sailendra Kharel – Nepali photojournalist

Nepali photojournalist Sailendra Kharel believes, “a photojournalist is a messenger who witnesses a situation and uses the camera as a tool to express about the situation”.

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Kharel learned the power of photojournalism when he met a beggar who couldn’t read, but followed the news by looking at, and interpreting, the photos in local newspapers.

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Kharel’s work reflects his philosophy of engaging viewers while respecting his subjects.

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Former Prime Minister and Nepali Congress Party President Grija Prasad Koirala is being discharged from from Sahid Ganalal Hospital,Basbari on wednesday. KANTIPUR PHOTO: SAILENDRA KHAREL

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Photographer Herman Damar Captures the Best of Indonesian Village Life

Indonesian village woman and girl
Indonesian village woman and girl

Self-taught photographer Herman Damar lives in Indonesia. He came to the attention of the photographic community with the images he captured of idealistic moments of the everyday life of villagers residing outside of Jakarta.

Indonesian village man washing water buffalo
Indonesian village man throwing bucket of water on water buffalo

An ex-advertising director, Damar’s beautiful photos focus on the warmth of traditional village life. The settings, composition, and warm light all combine to give an idyllic quality to Damar’s photos. He says his favorite time to shoot is between 7am-9am.

Indonesian boys having water fight
Indonesian boys playing, having water fight

Particularly alluring are Damar’s images of village children playing in their natural element – in rivers, in muddy fields, with hand-made toys, and with their farm animals. His images beautifully emphasize the connection the villagers have with the natural world around them.

Village boy playing with chicken
Indonesian village boy blowing water at chicken

According to Damar, the villagers are very friendly and happy to have him take their photo. This is perhaps due to the fact that he spends time among the villagers learning about them and their lives.

Indonesian children at play
IThree ndonesian village children playing

I definitely hope Herman Damar continues to create his wonderful images, and look forward to seeing the results of his next projects.

Indonesian boy in the rain
Black & white photo of Indonesian boy under a leaf in the rain

An Amateur’s Experiences With Street Photography

Street photo of young Japanese woman
Street photo of young Japanese woman in Akihabara at dawn

I’ve never specialized in any one genre of photography, which is probably why I consider myself as an amateur in all genres of photography. Portraiture, HDR, landscapes, light painting – I constantly switch from one to the other, and enjoy them all.

One constant is that wherever I happen to be, I always enjoy going out for a walk to see what I can capture with my camera. While the majority of photos I take on these walks include people, I don’t consider that to be a requirement. Neither do I try to focus only on taking shots that document something in particular. So, I suppose I’m actually talking more about photo walks than about true street photography.

Asian street photography
Street photography taken in Asia

So, why do it? I’ve found shooting on the street is a great way to hone your skills in being aware of what’s going on around you, test different camera settings, practice using different lens, learning to be quick, and forcing yourself to think about how to create a compelling image. And, best of all, you never know what you’re going to find.

One of the allures of shooting people on the street is the opportunity to capture candid moments. This allows you to portray honest human emotions, which can lend to creating a memorable photo.

Old Man's Dreams
Old man in winter in black & white

Of course, you have to deal with the innate hesitation we all have to taking a stranger’s photo. Will they get mad? Will they think you’re some sort of strange stalker? Ideally, you’ll be quick enough when you press the shutter release that they won’t even notice you – that’s how you get a real candid shot.

Thirsty in Delhi
Turbanned man drining water on the streets of Delhi

There are a few options you can use to get candid street shots. One is to go someplace where a lot of people are taking photos – a public event, or a park where a street performer is putting on a show. You’ll easily be able to take photos of people in the crowd without attracting a lot of attention. Another technique is to look for people who are so engrossed in whatever they are doing that they won’t notice you (someone feeding the birds in a park, for example).

A common ruse is to pretend you’re shooting something besides the person whose photo you want to take. An easy way of doing this is to set up a shot and allow the person to walk into the frame. If they notice you, just keep shooting even after they’ve passed by. Chances are, they’ll think they got in your way.

Teenage girl years
Teenage girl in a crowd

It’s just a personal opinion, but I don’t recommend using a telephoto lens to take candid shots of strangers. I’ll admit I tried this when I got my first telephoto lens as a gift, but the whole experience felt creepy and I gave it up immediately. I’m not saying don’t do it, I’m just saying it’s not for me.

Begin a ‘foreigner’ in all the countries where I shoot, it’s inevitable that I stand out and get noticed. This means some of the shots I get are of people looking directly at me. Sometimes this enhances the image, but other times (when they start ‘posing’), it weakens the shot.

Street photos 1
Street photography in Asia

When people notice that I’ve taken their photo, I always give them a big smile and offer to let them to look at the photo (sign language goes a long way here!). It’s always awkward to be caught taking someone’s photo, but so far I’ve never had any problem. It probably helps that I never take photos of people that purposely are unflattering – when they’re arguing, etc.

Exercising common sense and practicing common courtesy both go a long way into making amateur street photography a fun experience! The things you’ll learn, and the practice you’ll get in using your camera, both make it worth the time and effort.

 

Lala Deen Dayal – The Doyen of Indian Photographers

Famous indian photographer - Lala Deen Dayal
Famous indian photographer – Lala Deen Dayal

Born in 1844 at Sardhana in Meerut in the United Provinces (Uttar Pradesh today), Lala Deen Dayal was a successful engineer in Indore, where he was Head Estimator & Draughtsman with the Public Works Department. It was here that he was introduced to photography. His skill with the new medium was noticed by ruler of Indore, Maharaja Tukoji II. In 1875, the Mahajara became his patron, and encouraged him to set up his first studio. Shortly after establishing his studio, Dayal photographed the royal visit of the Prince of Wales (who became King George V), greatly enhancing his reputation.

Tiger Hunter - by Indian photographer Lala Deen Dayal
Tiger Hunter – by Indian photographer Lala Deen Dayal

This success was followed by a string of appointments over the years that allowed Dayal to capture a unique photographic record of Indian aristocratic life not easily accessed by his British counterparts.

Maharaja of Bijawar
Maharaja of Bijawar – by Indian photographer Lala Dayal Deen

This portrait taken in 1882, depicting the Maharaja of Bijawar sitting cross-legged, surrounded by servants, is a example of Dayal’s portrait work at the time.

In 1886, Dayal was appointed as the court photographer to the sixth Nizam of Hyderabad (an Islamic dynasty in India). Remaining in the Nizim’s service until his death, Dayal captured intimate portraits of the royal family, opulent palace interiors, and the pageantry of the times. In appreciation of his work and dedication, the Nizam bestowed on him the honorific title of “Raja”

Jain temples at Sonagiri near Dattia
Jain temples at Sonagiri near Dattia – as photographed by Indian photographer Lala Deen Dayal

Besides the Nizam, Dayal photographed various British dignitaries throughout his career. In 1887, he had the unique honor of being appointed as “Photographer to Her Majesty and Queen” by Queen Victoria. Dayal also received numerous awards in exhibitions in India and abroad, notably at the World Colombian Commission in 1893 in USA.

Dayal captured a wealth of images of both the British and indian ruling classes
Dayal captured a wealth of images of both the British and indian ruling classes

In 1896 he expanded his business and opened the largest photography studio in Bombay, which was patronized by both Indians as well as the British.

Photos of India by Lala Deen Dayal
Historic photos of India by Indian photographer Lala Deen Dayal

Dayal photographed on a wider scale than any European photographer of the time, as he moved with ease between the Indian and English worlds. His albums of India views and ancient monuments became very popular and were bought as keepsakes and gifts by both the British and Indian aristocracy.

It was not only in his portraitures and depictions of the lives of the ruling classes that makes Dayal’s work memorable. He also captured the rich culture and tradition of India’s architectural heritage – its palaces, temples, monuments, and forts.

Dayal passed away on 5th July 1905, and his work was carried on by his sons. His contribution to Indian photography has earned him the title of “Doyen of Indian photography”. Lala Deen Dayal was the first Indian photographer to earn international renown for his pioneering work in the field of photography in the subcontinent.