On one morning, I ventured out with a couple of my friends. Aim was to photograph some of the rural India. It was a photowalk combined with some quality time with friends. Little did I know that this would let me understand the pains of farmers and help me in my photography-journey.
Three of us started off early morning to the fields that surround the city. We wanted to capture some of the landscapes there. Tall grasses, fields of grains and other agriculture, maybe a couple of farming equipment. Our hopes were high.
On reaching the location by car, we parked it to one side and started walking. A car is a terrible way to explore country-side (Bike or Car). The sun was just starting to rise. The early morning light does wonders for landscapes.
(Wild grass – with the rising sun lighting us the haze behind it, the composition looks interesting)
There was not a soul in sight. Just the tall wild grass everywhere. It seemed to grow regardless of whether there was water or not. Once in a while, I could also spot a bird flying. I saw a couple of eagles, one sparrow and some other birds which I could not identify.
Some distance away, there was a man treading towards us. As he closed in, I could notice his typical Indian attire and contrasting dark glasses. He appeared to be middle aged and carried with him a dirty bag made of hemp. When he drew still closer, I could make out the wrinkles on his face. He looked older than what I guessed his age to be. The time had taken its toll on him.
For the photographer in me, he appeared to be an ideal subject. A hardened face with wrinkles, beard starting to show up, greying hair! Early morning sunlight through the haze was directional, yet not soft enough to hide the fine wrinkles. It was an ideal scenario.
(Nikon Df with Zeiss 135 at f/8 and 1/200 sec exposure. Hand held exposure and metered using 3D matrix metering. ISO 100)
After capturing a couple of snaps, I wanted to know why he was wearing those glasses. They seemed quite alien on his face. I have rarely seen villagers of his age wearing them.
Getting to know people helps me compose images that show who they actually are. Bringing out the soul is important to me. I had successfully captured the image above but now I wanted to know him and photograph his soul.
He was a farmer from a nearby village. A few weeks back he had undergone a surgery for cataract and was advised to wear dark glasses (I had expected as much). Though the government aids free eye surgery camps, he did not opt for one. He is the breadwinner for his family and wanted his eyesight to be better without any unnecessary risks. This feeling prompted him to get the eye surgery done at a nearby hospital and he paid money for it. In his own words, it was the money he had kept aside for his surgery long time back.
Was he happy now? He could see far and well. He wanted to smile but was unable to. There was still a feeling of sadness in his voice. The rains had not occurred and his field was dry. If they did not occur soon, he was worried that his crop yield would suffer. This meant less income for him and his family. He wondered if getting the surgery done was a good idea. He could have used the money he had spent for the surgery to support his family in case of a crop failure.
While he discussed things with me, I could see a face of indifference changing into a face desperately trying to show a smile and at the same time, failing at it too.
The Photograph of his Soul
While he talked, he turned his face towards sun. Maybe thinking about when the clouds will cover it up and bestow his fields with the much needed rains? The dark shades which hid everything behind them in the first image, now were lit by sun. I could make out the outlines of his eyes. A desperate look in those eyes! For a brief moment, a profound frown hit his face while he looked away towards the sun on my left. This was the decisive moment for my photograph. A photograph of his soul!
(The farmer in despair – f/4 and 1/640 sec, ISO 100, 3D Matrix metering on aperture priority mode)
The sad story unfolding in front of me and the fleeting expressions, made me opt for a higher shutter speed. Since I was on aperture priority, I shifted to f/4. A little blurring of distant part of his head was fine but it was his frown and sad expression that I wanted to be in focus. By the way, the 135mm lens that I was using is a heavy beast and manual focusing can be a pain especially at f/4 and lower aperture (open apertures).
The dark glasses no longer looked characterless. The reflection of sun with some part of his face visible inside the glasses, now makes them an integral part of the portrait. The left eye (right eye for the viewer) has an extra spot of shine caught below the so called ‘catch light’ from sun, may have been a tear that failed to flow out.
I consider this photograph as one of my good ones when it comes to portraits.
… and yes! I do have a heart. His despair and his hardships made me feel sad too. My happiness at capturing a good portrait was overshadowed by the pain in his story. Though it lasted a few minutes, I came to know him as a person.
He needed surgery in the other eye too. I told him to visit a nearby hospital that I knew was supported by Operation Eyesight Universal (link opens in a new tab). Even if he opts for a free surgery there, at least he would not have to be worried about quality. The NGO takes care of that too.
I left the city after a couple of days. Later I came to know that it had rained heavily there. In my mind I felt happy for the villager.