"Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going."
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Views & Interviews

Q&A: B.S. Rathor – The romance of vacation photography

December 2017

Also known as Anil Rathor, B.S Rathor is Advisor & Member on the Executive Committee - All India Resort Development Association (AIRDA). An Honours Graduate in Electrical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kharagpur, B.S. Rathor joined AIRDA after his retirement from Ford India, where he was Vice President. Earlier, he has held senior executive positions in English Electric & GEC Alstom.

Anil is a regular contributor to The Hindu group of publications on industry and economic issues. He is also an accredited member of the Foreign Correspondents Club, New Delhi.

This month, we do our Q&A segment with Anil, on a subject that has long fascinated him. Photography – more so, vacation photography, because you need to take back memories of the good times you had with your family and friends.

123RF / using member credits

Q: Can you take us back to your b&w vacation days?

To answer that question, I need to go way back in time – to my teenage years, when I accompanied my parents on holidays, or long-distance family visits. These long-distance family visits were vacations in themselves and you really wanted to take back some memories with you.

Those days, one of the most popular carry-around cameras was the Kodak Brownie box camera - really ancient by today’s standards. You loaded a reel of black & white film that gave you 12 frames, I think. So you really had to be careful about natural lighting and composition – because you couldn’t waste a single frame.

The roll then went to a b&w development studio for processing and prints. The long wait for your prints to arrive was nerve-racking, because the process was tedious and time consuming. So if you were really hoping that your picture in front of the Taj came out right, all you could do was hope for the best.

Q: What happened to the prints that came out nice?

Those days, you had a physical repository for your photographs – a photo album, with pages where you could stick your pictures – held in place on the page with photo-corners.  In a way, the album was like your facebook profile page. When visitors came home for lunch, or tea, the albums were invariably brought out to show-and-tell your holiday experiences. Photo-albums were perfect conversation openers – about holiday locations and the great times you had.

Though this world was essentially black & white, even beautiful sunsets at a beachside seemed magical in their own unique way. I can recall some vivid memories of photos taken at a game sanctuary we visited – I must dig up these photos sometime – they would make quite a story.

Q: What about the professional angle to vacation photography?

Oh yes . . . while the early part of this Q&A was about hobby photography, the black & white period did have some masters of the art, who could freeze a perfect moment for posterity. These were truly professional in every sense of the word and used equipment which was considered advanced for that time.

The market for professional photography was promising those days – especially with high-end travel and feature magazines. So you had landscape and outdoor photographers, wildlife photographers, and photographers who specialized in a particular genre of photography.

Q: What transition points do you see, over the years?

I’m answering this as a lay person who is a hobby photographer taking pictures – not a professional who still swears by film and its magic. I’m not a documenter or historian of the art - what I say here is purely from personal experience. I share these milestones, as they happened to me.

  • The Kodak Brownie Box was one of the early versions of home-edition cameras – over the years, there were other brands and formats that our family acquired and used, to a fair degree of skill and capability. So, a camera was an important accessory on your holiday.
  • Along with advances made in shutter speeds and lenses, there was a visible improvement in the quality of films and processing techniques. Colour film was the game changer – that romantic picture of the Taj, was now true to life, with a beautiful blue sky behind it.
  • Over time, other improvements helped a photographer translate his intent into an image he was happy with. Film based photography probably had the longest span of survival in a world that was fast changing around it.
  • The first digital cameras turned this world upside down - you could shoot at random on your vacation - without a restriction in number. You could also see the picture you just took telling you if it was okay, or if you needed to shoot again. More importantly you could make digital copies easily without having to rely on an outside print studio – unless you actually wanted prints of pictures chosen from your gallery.
  • When the mobile phone got smarter, it incorporated a digital camera – this was the next big leap forward. You could now carry your camera in your shirt pocket, without feeling weighed down by it. With the new water-resistant phones, I believe you can dive into a pool and shoot under water – as simple as that.
  • Digital photography combined with internet access transformed the way we shared pictures with the outside world. Thanks to online galleries and sharing apps such as WhatsApp, we are now experiencing a cloud burst of possibilities.

While this is welcoming, it does present another set of problems - the problem of plenty. My neighbor just got back from a long vacation and finds he has shot 3000 pictures – he now needs some dedicated time to sift, sort, edit, and optimize on image quality – all of which is possible on his phone. (He also needs to delete a whole bunch of pictures that didn’t come out right.)

Quite honestly, I don’t know what the future has in store for us, in the years to come. Maybe a chip implanted on your forehead, with your eye as the shutter. Wink, and you’ve taken a picture.

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