The world through the viewfinder

World photography day is a day to celebrate the artists and practitioners who have steered photography to the status of an art form from what in the beginning was unwisely called degenerate art. Today, in words of Susan Sontag, ‘Everything exists to end in a photograph’, and it was made possible by people who have followed their passions relentlessly, indefatigably.

We celebrate world photography day on August 19th every year since 2010. It was a casual get-together of a few people in Australia in 2009 to begin with, which then snowballed into a massive event and is observed in more than 100 countries now. August 19th is historically important—it was the day French Academy of Sciences approved and officially verified the daguerreotype process and made it known to the world.

Photographs shape our sense of history to such an extent that in place of the true event, sometimes, we start referring to pictures even in our imagination.There are photographs that are almost a testimony to the historical events of the last century, almost like a small aperture to the past.

But first things first. Like a lot of artistic and technical inventions in visual arts, the first photograph to have included people was fabricated in Paris by Louis Daguerre in 1838. Titled ‘Boulevard du Temple’, the photograph, rather daguerreotype, depicts a busy Parisian street with a man having his boot polished in the left corner. There is no trace of traffic, possibly, because of the aperture time, which must have been close to 10 minutes.

Boulevard du Temple

All of us have seen Eiffel Tower, well, in person or in pictures. But not many will be aware of the picture of an unfinished structure sometime around the end of 19th century that would rise over the next few months to become the tallest man made monument of its time.

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Eiffel tower

World photography day calls for the celebration of history of photography and acknowledge and thank that anonymous photographer who froze a fact of life for us, for posterity. Take, for instance, this photograph of assassination of then US president John F Kennedy in Dallas, Texas, in 1963 (so that no one accuses us of Francophilia). Although there is nothing great about the picture as such, it features in the list of historically important images simply by the gravity of the incident.

Assassination of US president John F Kennedy

There are many others which have made history, brilliant pieces of reportage and documentation. One such picture shows Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara lying on his death bed after being caught by the US armed forces.

Che Guevara lying on his death bed

Then in recent past, we witnessed the fall of the Berlin wall, the moment of the end of animosity between East and West Germany, also signalling developments that were going to define the kind of world we presently inhabit i.e. End of cold war, liberalization etc. etc.

The fall of the Berlin wall

We have only begun to scratch the surface with these few examples. There are thousands of such memorable pictures that are etched into our imagination, saving important events that would otherwise have been lost, revealing social and private life of a time, even things of soul. All of it is made possible by the photographers, and their spirit of celebration and remembrance.

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