The place was buzzing with whispers and energy. The natural sunlight was streaming in directly into the room. The harshness of the light was being moderated by making smart use of bamboo shades and curtains. The soothing santoor notes playing in the background made for a tranquil ambience. The place and the energy were different compared to what Bethany was used to. While most of her gallery showings happened during the evenings and stretched late into the night, here at Snaps her show was being held during the day time. The audience was different, the expectations were different, and the response was different. Nonetheless it was still overwhelming for the photographer. Despite there being some odd protests and condemnation for her style of work, so far things were going really food.
Bethany was into the 5th day of the Snaps pic fest. So far it had been a very enriching experience for Bethany. And the panel discussion had been nothing more than entertaining.
She got asked a lot of questions about her professional and personal life.
A young budding photographer asked her why did she choose photography as her profession.
“Let me tell you something. Photography is not a profession for me. It’s an art”, she responded. “Profession is something that you do to earn money and make a living. I never intended to do that. For money I could have done so many other things and believe me they would have paid me better. I am a photographer because that’s what makes me happy the most. I cannot find this kind of joy in doing anything else. Photography is what defines my existence. So I will say that rather than me choosing photography, photography chose me. It’s my art and not a profession”, the response elicited a thunderous clapping session.
“Why do you do nude photography”, somebody else asked from the crowd.
“Why not? What is so wrong about naked human body”, she chose to reply with a question.
“Do you models ever feel uncomfortable with you doing their naked shots”, another student asked.
“If my model is feeling uncomfortable during the shoot then I have failed as a photographer”, she replied. “Photography most essentially depends on trust between a subject and his photographer. Some of the best shots are taken when the model completely submits to the photographer. There is no place for doubt or apprehension here. If I cannot make my model trust me that I would bring out the best in them, clothed or unclothed, if my model is not able to shed his or her inhibitions and surrender to me, if my model cannot have faith in me then I am not doing my job”, she explained.
“Have you ever been turned on by any of your models”, somebody asked and the group snickered.
These types of questions were not new for the now seasoned photographer who had been heckled previously as well. Having learnt from her previous experiences she very calmly replied, “I wish I could but alas none of them were as handsome as you.”
With that the entire room erupted into laughter. She was now a pro at handling the uncomfortable questions and turning them into moments of laughter.
“What is the most important quality for a photographer to possess”, was the next question.
“Patience”, she replied without hesitation. “Trust me you are going to need a lot of it. A perfect shot is never created. It’s always captured. And to capture that one elusive moment of perfection, you need to be patient and go through so many imperfect moments. Just like a wildlife photographer sits back and waits and waits and waits for ages for his animal or bird to give him that perfect shot, we human photographers also wait and wait for our models to give us that perfect shot. Photography is like a seduction. You set your sights on your target. You watch it and observe it from afar. You twist it and turn it in your head to see what would be the best angle. You turn it inside out, upside down. And then when you have it in your head, you approach your subject slowly, carefully, and stealthily. I say stealthily because you now know what you are going to bring out from your model. It’s just that they don’t know that. And then when the moment is right, you capture them through your lens”, she explained.
“What advice would you give to upcoming photographers”, a young chap stood up and asked.
“To be fearless”, she answered. “Photography is a very powerful tool. Your lens can show you things that can be disturbing as well as exhilarating. You need to be fearless as well as balanced with a lens in hand. Do not always conform to established notions. Find your own angles and see what you want the world to see, not what the world wants you to see”, she finished.
“Who would be your favorite person to photograph in this world”, the next student asked.
“My parents”, she replied without hesitation. “One was capable of loving unconditionally and the other was capable of rising above the circumstances. Those are the two most powerful qualities a person can possess in this world”, she said without divulging a lot.
“If you had to shoot just one photograph in this world, what would it be”, the next question came.
“I would like to capture the photo of a child reaching out for his or her mother. That’s the purest and most honest form of love that I can see. You worship God and you won’t find a mother but you worship your mother and you will find God. Nothing can compare to the bond a kid has with his or her mother”, she replied nostalgically. It was like she had seen the light of the day and was now repenting her actions. It was also her way of reaching out to her dad to mend things.
At the end of the panel discussion Bethany received a standing ovation and a thunderous applause. It was no doubt she was the star of the evening.
And now it was the time for showing her own work. The response was overwhelming, as expected. Everybody wanted to catch a glimpse of what she had captured in her lens. The show was a mixture of some of her most popular work and some not so popular work. She had even put on some photos from her personal collection.
Once she opened the show, she thanked the Snaps group for giving her this opportunity and invited the audience to see her work. She set the tone for the rest of the day and even thanked the audience in advance.
Soon enough she started moving around meeting people and doing her usual networking. She posed for the cameras and answered questions posed to her by media. Dressed in off the shoulders dress, her hair flipped to one side and her usual glasses on, she was definitely the media’s darling. Page 3 celebrities stood with her to get noticed and some of the hotshots sent across personal invites for lunches and dinners. Needless to say she did get hit on by quite a people – bachelors or not. Who wouldn’t? She was a beauty with fire. She was a mystery enigma that everyone wanted to unravel and experience.
Good for her that the media in this part of the country was not aware of the scandal that she had escaped. Nobody dug into her past – yet. And nobody tried to decipher her piece by piece. They were too enamored by her for now.
Moving around the room, she caught glimpse of a figure standing in front of one of her pieces. The lady figure looked deep in thought. Something intrigued Bethany. She decided to stay back and just observe the person who was looking at the photo on display.
After some time, the person moved to the next frame and this time again, Bethany could not make out whether the lady was liking her work or not. Like every artist hungry for appreciation of their art, Bethany decided to be upfront with the person.
She walked over and asked, “You like it?”
Unaware that she was being watched the woman shuddered a bit.
“I am sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you”, Bethany apologized.
“That’s fine. I didn’t expect you to talk to me”, the woman replied.
“Why not”, Bethany asked.
“Well you are the start of the evening. Why would you spend time with me”, the woman made her point.
“Ah the media frenzy. Just ignore it”, Bethany smiled. “So what do you think of this piece”, she asked.
“This one”, the woman questioned.
“Uh huh, isn’t that the one that you have been staring at for”, Bethany flipped her wrists and looked at her watch, “15 minutes now.”
“I didn’t know it’s been 15 minutes”, the woman answered.
“Well in that case I have been timing you”, Bethany smiled again. “So what do you think”, she questioned once more.
“It’s nice”, the woman replied.
“Oh no not again”, Bethany shook her head in disappointment.
“What”, the woman looked confused.
“I expected better from you”, Bethany placed her hands on her waist as if trying to scold.
“I don’t understand. How did I offend you”, the woman was looking worried now.
“Relax”, Bethany laughed. “It’s just that since you were staring at that piece so intently for so long I thought you might give me some better response, maybe shed some more light. But you gave me the usual ‘nice’ as a response. It means you didn’t like my work”, Bethany explained.
“That’s not true. I liked it”, the woman tried to defend herself.
“Ah come on”, Bethany waved off the woman’s justification. “I have had enough showings and have faced enough critics to understand what ‘nice’ means. You can’t fool me with that.
“You want an honest response”, the woman asked.
“Yes please, do not hesitate in saying whatever it is that is going through your head”, Bethany braced herself not knowing what was going to come her way.
“Well I think its crap”, the woman replied.
Bethany’s mouth fell open and her jaw dropped to the ground. By now she had gotten used to people bestowing her with all sorts of laurels. But this right here was something completely new. Even during her arts school days, when she was still learning photography, she was never criticized so bluntly by anybody.
“I am sorry if I have offended you but you wanted the honest response”, the woman said.
“Oh no no, please don’t apologize for being honest”, Bethany replied still looking visibly rattled.
“I should not have said that”, the woman looked down.
“Oh come on, you just said what came to your mind. It’s completely fine. I am not at all offended”, Bethany waved her hand in nonchalance trying to gather her composure back.
“No I mean you are such a famous photographer. People here are dying to have a word with you. Everyone is going gaga over your pieces. And what do I do? I say it’s crap. I mean who the hell am I to even judge your work”, the woman muttered.
“Who the hell are you”, Bethany looked intrigued now.
“Excuse me”, the woman looked straight up.
“I mean who are you”, Bethany asked politely. “I am Bethany Hill by the way”, she extended her hand.
“Everyone here knows you Ms Hill”, the woman took the extended hand. “You are no stranger here.”
“Let’s keep it to Bethany. Ms. Hill makes me feel old”, the photographer placed her hands on her chest for an added effect trying to show that she was serious. She then winked naughtily.
“Bethany it is then”, the woman smiled.
“You still didn’t answer my question. Who are you”, the photographer tilted her head on one side.
“I am Adah Merchant”, the woman introduced herself.
Bethany remembered that evening as if it happened just yesterday. Every single word, every single minute was fresh in her memory, so fresh that one could hardly tell that it was one year past that evening. She could still hear those santoor notes and the buzzing and whispering of the crowd. She could still smell the fresh flowers that were used for decoration. She could taste the wine that she was sipping during the show. She could feel the energy of the room.
Nothing had been forgotten. That day had changed the course of Bethany’s life and her art forever. Who would have thought that the person who had gone there to influence and inspire so many other people would herself come back feeling inspired? Who would have thought that a chance meeting would turn into something so deeply meaningful?
And like they say an artist in the throes of inspiration is wilder than winds and deeper than seas. That is exactly what happened to Bethany. She soared to new heights and plunged deeper into unknown and unexplored depths. She lost herself and found so many new things. She was reborn in a way that day. The slow metamorphosis of one Ms Bethany Hill had begun.