I wrote a short story, my first, about photographs not yet made. Hopefully, there will be more stories, maybe in the same setting, maybe on the same theme. Please do tell me what you make of it, but please be gentle.
The Camera Cafe Photography Club
We met at the Camera Cafe Photography Club at Kala Ghoda at 7am every Sunday morning for breakfast. Some weeks, the cafe would fill up with thirty or forty people. Other weeks, maybe ten people would trickle in. We would eat our egg benedict or akuri on seeded sourdough bread, drink our freshly ground black coffee or cold-pressed carrot-beetroot-celery juice, talk about a new camera or a new lens or a new light we had acquired, and walk out together at 8am sharp.
For six hours, we would walk around South Bombay, cameras in hand, or around our necks, from Kala Ghoda to Ballard Pier to Colaba to Marine Drive to Churchgate, back to Kala Ghoda, and photograph the almost empty streets, and each other. You would imagine that we would organize ourselves into smaller groups, the young and the swift would move ahead, while the old and the slow would follow behind. But, camera in hand, everyone moved slowly, watching for light and shadow, stillness and motion, color and contrast, geometry and a break in it.
By 2pm, we would all trickle back in to the Camera Cafe, smiling or scowling, depending on whether we had seen and captured something new on our old weekly route or not. The owner Jimmy, a late riser, would be in the cafe now, finishing his first pack of cigarettes for the day. We would eat Jimmy’s pizzas (best pizza in Bombay), and share the stories of the moments we captured and the moments we missed. As the last of the brunch crowd thinned out, we would move into the windowless back room, gather around the tables, and turn the chairs towards the back wall. Jimmy would have set up the projector and the screen and loaded up the slides for the show-and-tell. He would dim the lights, crack a lame photographer joke or two, and announce who would be presenting their work that week.
Today, it was Myth’s turn to show his photographs. Myth has a very specific style — classical compositions with geometrical lines, real or imagined; strong shapes created by the interplay of light and shadow; repeating shapes and colors that resolve into striking patterns; a minimal composition made dynamic by a surprising human silhouette, a found object, or a pop of color; and an abstract beauty achieved by a shallow depth of field, or a panning motion, or the use of reflective or translucent surfaces. He usually shot with two lenses — a 24mm wide angle lens and a 135mm telephoto lens. “I want to see with my camera what I can’t see with my eyes,” he explained, when we asked him why he didn’t use the more popular eye-like 35mm or 50mm lenses.
A pair of classic green and white Adidas Original Stan Smiths seen through the stumps at the Oval Maidan. A swirl of bottle green linen against a red post box near Mantralaya. Two pigeons on the Marine Drive promenade, shot from low on the ground, and a hand petting a dog in the background blur. The Gateway of India framed in black and white between two figures with straight waist length hair. A red stone earring reflected in an antique oval mirror. Two bicyclists in the narrow lanes of Kala Ghoda blurred by a long exposure, and a camera peeking through the blur. A hand opening the sheer red door curtains at a Moroccan themed restaurant. A hand changing the lens on a rangefinder camera, balanced precariously on the seat of a red bicycle. A hand brining up a steaming cup of black coffee in a red cup to bright red lips.
Warm desaturated colors in soft low-contrast photographs that looked like water color paintings, interspersed with high contrast black and white photographs that shimmered like silver. Pops of red everywhere, sometimes saturated and in sharp focus, and somehow always surprising then, but more often blurred as part of the soft background bokeh. The wide angle photos shot really close up but with layers of blurred details in the background, the telephoto photos cutting through layers of details in the foreground to focus on the subject. Photographs that are more poems than stories, visual verses strung together by a red thread, elegant elusive haikus that obscure as much as they reveal.
After the presentations, I got a glass of red wine, and found myself standing next to Myth, in his usual spot at the edge of the room, sipping his gin and tonic, watching everyone else mingle.
“Thank you, Maya.”
“I thought you liked me, but I didn’t know you liked me that much.”
He chuckled his quiet chuckle, and turned towards me, an uncertain twinkle in his eyes.
“I was in every one of those photographs, wasn’t I? I am surprised no one else noticed.”
“Actually, Jimmy noticed. “New muse?”, he asked me, when I got my drink at the bar.”