Ranchi : This is basically author's experience as a filmmaker when he visited several years ago and today. He is the author of two road tripping guidebooks which were published by the Times of India. Wanderink.com is his blog. Basically, he is clubbing the rise of the selfie culture to the comfort levels people have to be in front of the camera these days. A kind of anthropological mix to a travel narrative.
The last time I came to Jharkhand was when 'selfie' was, forget the culture it is today, nowhere in the lexicon-horizon even. It was seven years ago to make a film for a livelihood program funded by the central government ministry of rural development and implemented by Don Bosco Tech in the more backward districts of the state. There was the internet, yes. But smartphones had just made their foray and I was yet to lay my hands on one. The regular one I had took photographs alright - which today doesn't look more than a bright blur.
I travelled with my production crew to some of the remotest villages with heavy equipment. Making my subjects warm up to the camera then was a daunting task. Those who didn't crowd next to me vying for a look through the viewfinder would either run away or hide behind trees. They associated cameras with television. Even though they had access to television, it was a space reserved solely for ministers, movie stars and bad news.
"You are going to be on TV," onlookers would chide my subject - whom I would have convinced to be on camera with much work and effort of local program partners. I would helplessly watch their eyes cloud over with anxiety followed by fear - a prelude to them darting away in a flash and bolting the doors behind them. Sounds like a lot of drama and difficult to believe in these times. These times when people actually shove each other to be on camera and make funny - or rude - gestures. Then, these are selfie times.
The first selfie recorded in history was from 1839 by Robert Cornelius, a camera enthusiast and pioneer. Since shutters with self-timers came later on, this is debated. Those with timers came nearly half a century later and since then anybody with access to cameras have been merrily indulging the Narcissus in them. Which is a good thing, researchers say. From the photo booths of the 1880s to the game-changing Polaroid cameras of the 1950s to the 'Bambi eyes-and-pout' we all strive for today, it is all apparently empowering. Like any phenomenon of its magnitude, it is not bereft of its own share of criticisms and controversies, of course. But it is largely benign: who wouldn't like to be complimented on looks, dress or a new hairdo? And it is catching on: a search for #selfie on Instagram threw up over 50 million results - and that was some years ago.
The term has become ubiquitous, so much so that it has even come to replace photography itself. Many when I shoot in the countryside, even peri urban areas, ask me if I was going to take a 'selfie' when I take my camera out. Filming at an upscale school in Delhi, a bunch of kids even gathered in front of the camera and demanded I take their selfie. This familiarity has percolated to most parts of the country today.
On a photography assignment in Jharkhand this time, I visited some slums that flanked the railway line that extended from Ranchi central to Ashok Nagar in the suburbs to Argora and Kadru. The only ones who worried - and questioned my presence - were those consuming alcohol and narcotic substance. The others - those drying and collecting cow dung patties, the women who had gathered for a micro finance meeting, kids on the playground, the bathers, heck, even those defecating in the open would just turn around and smile.
A couple of them even checked the display and offered to smile better if I took another shot.