If the goal of a journey is to reach a destination, what happens when the destination is unclear and end goal is unsure? Let the journey replace the destination by becoming everything that matters and reach your end goal by allowing each step to be a destination on its own.
Reflection of the Past
When I traveled to India in 2009 as a young adult, almost everything seemed to catch my attention.
It felt like sheer chaos and noise erupted every morning as two three and four wheelers raced through the open streets. The constant grid lock on roads gave way to the free for all driving that would cut in at every direction and corner. I would roam the multi coloured and often worn down lay outs as far as the eye can see in to different overcrowded cross roads of halli’s and nagars (Terminologies used for villages and towns in local Kannada language of Karnataka.)
In these layouts I would see the people of different faiths living and breathing closely together under a common identity of being Indian. During each specific religious celebrations everyone would reach out to wish one another regard of which faith out numbered the old enclaves. Life could be seen flowing out at every tiny crack and even when constant power outs would have entire districts in the dark, the candles would dimly light up the faces on the street side with store vendors still operating to serve a busy population moving through their daily life.
I would listen to stories from family and tell myself that India was a land that was just as much as mysterious to the people who lived there as to those who were just visitors like me.
Sometimes before you move forward in a journey it’s important to look back at where you've come from. In my situation before creating new works as an artist, I needed to look back at how I was creating in the past.
While I vaguely remember the childhood visits to India before immigrating to Canada with my family in 1999, what I did remember was the mystery to my own cultural background. So in 2009 when I first returned to India older and with stronger set of eyes, I picked up the one passion I had and started shooting as a street photographer. With everything around me feeling magical I accumulated hundreds of images that ended up unreleased and unpublished in my archives.
The vastness of what I saw & collected through images was me trying to understand my destination. It was almost impossible not to be mesmerized by the unparalleled diversity of this country that presented humanity in an overwhelming burst of cultures, religion, race and tongue. Thus unable to give ordinary titles that were fitting to each image during the time of conception in 2009, this series has become India Untitled
Changing the lens to create critically
It is true that there are some parts of the world that once visited, will get into your heart and won't get away. For someone who journeys as much as me, I have quite a few destinations that have stolen my heart. It's the seeking of my own heritage that makes the connection to India's culture more than just a destination to. India brings the possibility of longer term works that I'm exploring by navigating through the complexities of the cultures.
As I've passed the honeymoon phase on my second journey back to India, I've also started to open my eyes to adjust and live amongst the everyday. It may not feel like much has changed here with the chaos and mystery of the country but I'm seeing things a bit differently now.
The major foresight for me on this journey came with the factor of time. While all of my past travels were based on a tight schedule of activities versus vacation time, this journey was meant for me to just be. It was the first time that I was able to live in a new place and appreciate how the world carried on.
I no longer felt like an outsider who was just visiting on a short term pass. Instead I pushed to become someone who took the time to learn, ask questions, and ponder upon ways to meaningfully create and collaborate with other long term while I'm on the way to my destination.
While fighting the mixed emotions of being lost far away from home and the possible failure of not being able to create anything of value, I did what I rarely do when travelling. I paused to take some time away from being on the road so I could focus on the long term game plan and ask myself what this is all about.
One major reason for this downtime was the need to reflect on my past work that amounted to me reaching this peak in life. I sensed an evolution that would require me to gain some more clarity on how I should be developing as an artist in a way that is not only right for me but most importantly for the people that I'm connecting with and the stories that they are sharing with me.
I needed to change my lens to view the way I was creating more critically
An excerpt for one of my instagram posts highlights this reflection a little more with the question "What type of photographer do you want to be?"
There was a time when I felt like more of an outsider to photographer who is often glamorized by their medium. I felt a strong connection to the streets but struggled in feeling that I was doing any justice here. I was a silent shooter strolling by without speaking a common language, I was a storyteller from the sidelines. I wasn't always able to connect with my subjects, at times it felt like they knew I was only a passer by. A large reason to why a lot of my work remains unpublished is because I felt that I missed the spark in their humanity that needed to be shared with the world. You see, I strive to be the photographer who knows their subject's struggles and sufferings and their joys and happiness. I strive to be the photographer that exists beyond the image captured. If there is no true connection, the image feels meaningless. I want to be the photographer who creates with purpose because the subject deserves more.
Framing the destination you want to see
If all that was gained in three months passing by in India was the critical change in my work today as artist versus the street photographer who was shooting life in 2009, then this was a destination found. Today I'm not interested in just doing work anymore, I'm more interested in doing work that I can be proud of. Which now means that I shoot less images so I can have more conversations. I spend more time visualizing a focus and purpose in my head before capturing those images forever.
The newer bodies of work that are being explored on this current journey has a lot to do with my own personal storytelling. While taking a deeper look into my own cultural and ancestral roots, I'm able to work with different photographic styles that frames documentary, portraiture and travel.
I may not know what the final destination of my work as an artist will look like and to be honest I don't quite know if it is something that will be my only focus as I move closer to international development work. What I do know is that the journey of creating in India is what has helped me make sense of a possible end destination itself.
I can't say that I've necessarily accomplished all that I've hoped to do in India in three plus months but I'm saying this knowing that one rarely accomplishes the magnitude of meaningful work with just one journey.