I first took up a camera in 2003. A little too late I feel. Until then, my creative release came through writing. But that first camera – a Canon 350D changed everything. From words, I became a visual storyteller.
Small and lightweight it came with me on some exciting adventures. Most notably a year-long documentary project following the fishermen of Goa on the west coast of India – Call of the Seas.
Aboard the Purse Siener – Santa Catharine from Betul
The famous Pernem zatra draws crowds from all over Goa and neighbouring Maharashtra. The 15 day event takes place around the festival of Dassera. The last day is special involving the descent of spirits on the village elder. Faithful bring those “possessed” by demons in the hope that they will be clensed this day. Unfortunately, even those mentally unstable are brought here.
When shooting I try to become as inconspicuous as possible. I also love going in close to my subject. I believe Frank Cappa’s quote “If your images are not good enough, you are not close enough.” I suppose my physical frame helps with that! But I also use gear so as to enable this stealth documentary approach. Back in 2005 I did my first wedding in a documentary photojournalistic style, seeking to remain inconspicuous, silently documenting events and emotions unfolding before me. I was hooked to the idea of documenting people’s lives on what is one of the big days in their lives. To have complete access on a day when emotions run the whole gamut is more than any documentary photographer could ask.
Over the years cameras have changed but the Canon brand stuck with me. My last camera has been the highly acclaimed 5DMk3. In the meanwhile, I also began working with video. The Canon 7D enabled this transition seamlessly for me. The 5DMk3 only enhanced this. And about 2 years ago I invested in the Canon C100 camera for my video documentary projects. That camera came with me to the deserts of Gujarat and remote villages across India.
But something had changed in all of this and I was not too satisfied. The gear had gradually got bigger and bulkier. I missed my little 350D. But switching to a smaller camera has meant a reduction in quality. Something I was not willing to accept.
And so it went on thus.
Then, about a month ago, I got my hands on a camera that floored me at first touch. My friend Vince had just got back from Photokina 2016 and he had with him a couple of cameras from Fujifilm. Until then Fujifilm, quite honestly was not even on my radar for gear. I was hoping Canon would move ahead with their R&D especially in 4K film – a small lightweight 4K camera that would be great for stills too. That’s what I hoped for.
But, in my hands was just such a camera and a lot more. The size and weight was simply unbelievable. With manual dials for a lot of the settings like aperture, shutter, ISO etc, this camera felt a lot more intuitive. I could set it up even when off. It felt so right in my hands.
And the Fujifilm prime lenses were a delight. I had the 16, 23, 35 and 56 at my disposal. Even with all of these primes, the bag was a fraction of what I had with my Canon gear.
And the initial shots I was looking at were simply amazing. The camera even shot 4K video. Couldn’t ask for more!
I realised right there and then for my style of unobtrusive, people-oriented, documentary photography and video, I had found the holy grail. My next step was something I didn’t imagine since I started shooting years ago. I put up all of my Canon gear for sale overnight, at considerable discounts. Needless to say, the cameras and prime L-series lenses were lapped up by photographers in a matter of days.
For me it was a decision based on philosophy. I knew if I wanted to continue to do what I really love and be true to the ideology that attracted me to documentary photography in the first place, this transition in brands was inevitable.
With my gear all gone, I turned my attention to picking up my own Fujifilm gear. And I knew exactly what I wanted. The Fujifilm XT2 and the X100T along with the 16mm, 35mm and 56mm.
I used the Fujifilm XT2 and prime lenses for the first time at a documentary wedding shoot I did. I will post my reactions using the system in the real world in a following post.
Until then, suffice to say, switching to Fujifilm from the Canon system has been the best thing that’s happened to me for a long time now. It has reignited a passion for getting up close to people to document lives.