My dear friend Carling is a dancer and she got me introduced to Fernando. So I shot in his show, backstage and I could have asked for nothing more.
There is a certain easiness about black and white photography, something which makes you forget everything else. Its associated with intensity in your mind, not chaos but intensity. Chaos is for color. Maybe that’s the reason why I shoot mostly in monochrome, it makes things clear, it makes them refined, makes them focused.
My friend Carling is a professional jazz dancer and I had been telling her all about building my portfolio. So she introduced me to Fernando who runs a ballet school in Delhi and was having his annual showcase in a large auditorium on Mandi House Road. Now I didn’t take Delhi to be the place for ballet so I had my doubts about what I would see here.
Now Fernando is not Indian and his accent is thick so you really can’t understand what he’s saying unless you’re paying 100% attention. After trying to understand him for 5 minutes, I called in my friend to translate and voila I was allowed to shoot backstage. I mostly shoot backstage because honestly there is nothing to see once the performer is on stage in front of the audience. There is no nervousness (if there is they can’t show it) and there is no intimacy. Everything usually moves like a machine, orchestrated and defined.
But backstage, there’s another world. Full of activity and full of life. People hurrying about, voices trying to shout but have to whisper, faces in dim blue light sweating before going on stage and instructors trying to brief everyone right before they step in. Photographing here is great because everyone is too nervous or focused to pay attention to me, to my continuous snapping shutter and film winding.
Focusing was tough but I somehow got a little light on the little ballerina’s hair, just enough to find a spot to focus. Shooting with a wide open lens (f1.8) in near darkness without auto focus is really really difficult and if you make a mistake that means you’re simply going to end up with a super blurry image. And at that time I hadn’t discovered how to push films so struggling and trying (I carried a small light to help me focus) I shot a roll of Ilford 400.
It was a great show and I was forever mesmerized. I finished and looked at the contact sheet once it came back to me, I could feel the emotions of the little ballerina’s in them. Small frames in black and white, numbered, showing a story. I couldn’t have done any better at that moment, I didn’t want to. There is a certain kind of photographer who wants to photograph an event, I was not that person. I was a normal person just frantically trying to absorb the art around me, feel the artists and their emotions. I was and am not a photographer, I’m just trying to make notes.
In the end I took about 30 prints out of my 36 frames to Fernando and gifted him 5 of them. One of the shots went on to become front page on flickr with about 300 fav’s and 1500+ views.