Updated: May 18, 2020
Trekking in the Himalayas fueled by Maggi (the Indian equivalent of super noodles) and lugging a barrel of water on my back I took my first photograph. I didn't know it then, it was just another picture, you come, you look, you snap, you carry on. This one was different however, this one was the start of an ongoing tale.
Walking with two friends I met in Mcleodganj, the hippie-filled, Indian mountain town where the Dalai Lama lives in exile, we made this climb to the nearby summit of Triund. Agrim, the larger of the three of us was physically annihilated by the task: the 9km day hike. With Akhil leading the charge and me dilly-dallying somewhere in the middle taking pictures of anything that looked vaguely interesting, as any good tourist should. I stumbled upon the scene. It was a bloody delightful one at that, the valley unfurling to reveal the Town of Dharamsala (of Vampire Weekends' Oxford Comma fame) nestled at its foot. The region was suffering from intense fires at the time, this combining with a drifting wind led to the beautiful blanketing of the town you see, I later learned those fires were caused by illegal logging gangs setting the forest alight in order to salvage the easily felled remains. That wasn't the story of the photograph here however, that was an informative lesson in provenance that continues to inform my work.
You see photography, like all art, has a set of rules, 'rules' is probably too rigid a term but best you treat them this way at first. You have to learn the rules, as the tired cliche goes, before you can break them. Really though the art is in knowing when to apply them, how to apply them and above all when to disregard them entirely. This photograph taken on my climb was the first step on the ladder of the art of visual storytelling. Looking back through my pictures of the trek that day this one really stood out to me, it was a photograph, not a picture. Studying the image at the time I found myself perplexed at what it is that made this photo more appealing than my others, I don't tout this to be a masterpiece of any kind but it intrigued my understanding.
Truly what is it that makes a photo work? The mysticism sadly is just that, mysticism. Well, here is why we learn the 'rules'. First framing, you see how the valley intersects, stepping in from either side of the frame, this guides our eye to the subject of the image, the town in this instance. This technique makes photos more appealing as it focusses our eye and makes it easier to navigate our way through an image.
Another thing we look for in photography is depth, depth is about adding dimensions to the photo, having a foreground, your subject and background makes a photo richer to the eye, there are literally more layers to the image and it gives a greater sense of perspective. Here we have a clear foreground with the rocks and some of the interesting shrubbery, it roles off by way of the trees and valley until we arrive at Dharamsala. Dharamsala plays the subject here, the rest of the image all pointing towards her until she disappears into smoke and carries on up into the sky, that disappearing sky adds an air of mystery to the photograph. All these elements come together to form a photograph that leaves us studying longer.
Then there is colour theory, you know when you donning every item of your wardrobe in a search to find things that 'go', well most of the time that is because you are neglecting to realise colour theory. Realy, some colours go together, and some do not. Finding those that do is as much a science as it is an art. Have you ever seen a colour wheel? It is probably illustrated best by this https://color.adobe.com/create. Green and blue both lie next to one another on this wheel. These two colours are analogous, as you'll see in 'My First Photograph' the two most dominant colours are just those, green and blue, it's why lakes look so beautiful and peacocks to be mesmeric. Like a red dress with black shoes, the colours in this image work together to make it just that bit more satisfying to one's eye.
Right down there at the bottom of the valley where the smoke lies heavy is where it all began. The story of my first photograph was on first inspection a tale of adventure with friends. Over the years it has become more than this to me, a reference point of where I was then and where I am now, an always unfurling adventure as I continue to climb further on this journey upwards, where the clouds of mystery thin and my interpretation of the form begins.