Breaking the ice

When you are socially awkward, afraid of groups, and have stage fright, the thought of travelling alone does not occur to you. But when you have chosen photography as a profession, you often find yourself forced into that predicament. Since it’s putting food on the table, you’ll have to find ways of getting over it and of treating it as merely an occupational hazard. Being an introvert with all of the above conditions, I have found myself avoiding certain assignments or failing quite comically at some. My friends ask me why I don’t shoot weddings and I try to tell them about the inexplicable horror of being in a situation like that. Some laugh. But it is no laughing matter to me. I quickly moved towards making pictures of animals and landscapes. A photo editor once looked at my portfolio for a travel assignment and said, “You’ve taken pictures of everything that can’t talk back.” I never got that job. I realised how much I was losing. I had to find a way to deal with this.

Alcohol was possibly the easiest albeit riskiest solution. I always had Black Label miniatures in my camera bag that were generously donated by my friend in the airlines. Soon enough, I realised I couldn’t show up at serious shoots a few notches merrier than everyone around me. I tried various other tactics. Some worked but most failed. A year or so ago I travelled to Mizoram. I had taken my 1956 Rolleicord twin lens reflex camera with me. It was a stunning piece of German engineering and I think it’s safe to say it is the BMW of cameras. It took medium format film and I decided to do a series of photographs on that. It was always around my neck. I was at a motorcycle garage making pictures of Royal Enfield bikes and their owners. I tried not to make eye contact with anyone. I wasn’t sure what kind of conversation I could make. Just then, two men looked at my camera and exclaimed, “My grandfather used to have that camera!” I smiled. They came up to me, talked, and fondly reminisced about their childhood. They asked me where I got the camera from, if it actually worked, and how I develop the film. It was one of the loveliest conversations I ever had whilst travelling.

It seemed so bizarre that a completely mechanical antique camera helped me connect with another human being in this digital age of hyper-connectivity. I stumbled upon something beautiful. Ever since, I have always carried the Rolleicord around when I’ve travelled, even if I wasn’t planning on making any pictures. All I had to do was hang it around my neck or keep it on the restaurant table and watch people come up to me with a medley of reactions. The camera didn’t just help me break the ice; it gradually pushed the fear away and drew me towards the warmth of camaraderie.

399875_10151214210355354_423151717_nShashank Jayaprasad is a photographer and writer currently based in Bangalore, India. With a particular passion for shooting – with his camera alone – animals around the world, Shashank is deeply interested in seeing the world and observing the wild.

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