A Polaroid Swinger for my eighth birthday, thats what hooked me. Never mind the shiny white plastic casing, how amazing it felt in my young hands, and the red checker boarded YES message displayed when it was ready to shoot - what completed the picture etched forever on my brain was the magical sensation I experienced when I pulled that first B&W image out of the back, watched the image appear, and then slathered it with the pungent vinegar-smelling fixer brush.
It still sits on my desk, that image. The stark contrast of those first images to the more sophisticated ones I take today is still somewhat evident in my work, like a graphic echo that brings comfort to me when I edit and develop my pictures. Or are they more sophisticated? Maybe more "naive"?
At a flea market in Guatemala about 20 years ago, I found an old Polaroid 195 in mint condition. Using it to shoot a whole series of portraits in the Rajasthan desert in 2000 brought back a sense of comfort.
That portrait session is posted on my website under the title Pushkar Mela Polaroids.
I used the 667 pack film, although it was difficult to control the Sabbatier effect in the extreme heat and light conditions, because it allowed me to save my negatives and give away the prints. Today I use a portable Canon postcard printer with a battery pack.
My translator and I stopped an old interesting looking woman, asking her to pose for a photo. I pulled it out and handed it to her, separating the negative and thrusting it into a small bucket of chemicals to preserve it for washing and preparing in my room later. As we walked away, I noticed this woman was crying. We walked back to her and asked her if everything was ok. She responded "It is the first picture ever taken of me". I watched this woman, whose life has been nothing but backbreaking work, walk back to her field looking down at this photo of her, as if holding a magical object.
It was, and still is, one of the finest moments for me as a photographer.
I will end this reminiscence with another moment of image-taking magic. I was in northern Nepal again with my trusted Polaroid and it was Holi festival. In a tiny village that hugged the river where we were camping, a few girls rushed down and splashed us with this fetid- smelling water. It quickly turned into a full-out water fight, with me and a friend chasing these girls through their village, into their huts and between their crops. I still remember the toothless, grinning grandma watching this blond-haired 6'6" monster that would be me - chasing these girls with a bucket of water.
When all was done, I realized I had six packs of unspent Polaroid film. We were about to start our ride back to Kathmandu to return our motorcycles and then head back to New Delhi. But before I left, I grabbed my camera and started to pose the families in front of their huts, taking pictures of each one and handing them out as a token of appreciation for the fun we had. After the initial awe subsided, I watched them as they walked into their huts and delicately placed the photos on their altars, next to the colorful goddess Kali and their daily offerings to her. This time, I walked away with no photos for myself.
The finest exposition of my work to date.
I have made the art of photography, as I see it, not just about taking photos, but equally about giving photos allowing me to feel comfortable about approaching my subjects, creating sacred, everlasting bonds through the act of capturing their images and leaving behind a smile and a memory.