The Polaroids

I’ve been keeping a pretty two-sided internal dialogue about photography and ethics this summer. I was glad to see Becky’s last post echo a lot of my sentiments about the “rightness” of photography, that millisecond before you click when you ask yourself, “So why am I taking this photo?”

Often, it was to win good favor with a child I was hoping to befriend. (And 9 times out of 10 it worked. Except for the kid who was terrified of my scary DSLR, poor thing.)

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Many times, I was taking the photo because I was fairly certain it was the millionth time I’d seen that man’s face on a weathered campaign poster for last year’s state-level elections (which, I found out later, he didn’t even win).

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Sometimes I’d find myself taking a photo because everything about nature at that moment was just so unabashedly awe-inspiring that I wanted to reach out and pull it close and nuzzle my face in all that Earth-given goodness! (Is that strange? Whatever, you’d do the same.)

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One thing I don’t particularly like about being behind the camera is the feeling of constantly taking. It can feel very greedy, especially in a country like India that has so much to offer all of the senses. I suppose that’s why some of my favorite photos were the ones I gave away. In preparation for this trip, I bought a mini Instax camera that instantly prints credit-card-sized Polaroids. My only regret has been not always carrying it on me, but hey, the monsoons call for selective times.

The Polaroids followed us interns on day trips to other villages, they peaked inside people’s homes, and they befriended strangers on the bus. They got passed from hand to hand and were occasionally fought over by children (a simple solution really- just take more!). But moreover, just as they got pressed inside books and hidden away in drawers for safekeeping by the families I gave them to, they also got tucked away in my mind as a wonderful and wildly un-thought-out collection of memories from this summer.

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About Shumita Basu

A host/producer/reporter at WNYC Radio