Photography

‘Tales By Light’ is a tribute to the unmatched joys of the still photograph

The six-episode series profiles photographers who go to great lengths to get the perfect shot.

In 2015 Canon Australia partnered with National Geographic to create a six-episode series that focused on photographers who go to great lengths to get the perfect shot. A visual feast, Tales By Light has now been picked up by Netflix, and is available for worldwide streaming.

Each episode is devoted to the work of one photographer, and director Abraham Joffe painstakingly brings to life the ecstasy and disappointment of living in thrall to the still image. The five photographers (Art Wolfe gets two episodes) showcased here are experts with dedicated interests spanning deep ocean and high mountain, with a dash of culture and anthropology thrown in.

Photography has long occupied the nebulous space between art and journalism. But the best photographs reconcile this conflict, both capturing the moment as well as articulating the photographer’s vision. This is perhaps most true in the case of nature photography, where the image derives its power from the rarity of what is on offer.

Play
Tales By Light.

Episode one of Tales By Light follows Darren Jew, an underwater photographer who dives in the ocean near Tonga to capture humpback whales. We learn that the stunning pictures that adorn the pages of National Geographic can take hours or even days of careful preparation. The water has to be clear and the light has to be just right – but those are just hygiene factors. What should really work is a magical symmetry of motion that will give the picture a pleasing completeness.

The camera follows Jew as he goes deep into the ocean and reverts to the surface again and again, checking his work, repeatedly dissatisfied until, at last, he gets what he has been looking for: a majestic image of a whale and its calf nudging their snout against the water’s surface, their bodies aligned in almost-surreal equilibrium, the light playing enchantingly on their skin.

While the series pays heed to non-nature photographic journeys – there are episodes devoted to adventure sports and the ribald Holi of Varanasi – it is the most captivating when it focuses on man chasing beast.

In the jungles of Uganda, Art Wolfe follows mountain gorillas like a child besotted. In one scene, he is so taken with a cub that he does not notice its mother in the background. She promptly attacks his camera, and the look of fright and foreboding on Wolfe’s face makes for an intense precursor to his breaking into laughter. Sheer television gold!

Apart from the young and daring Krystal Wright, the photographers on Tales By Light are middle-aged men who have witnessed, and heartily welcomed, the rapid changes technology has wrought in their profession. With increased exposure times and the use of digital cameras, more precise and immediately viewable photos are now possible. Landscape photographer Peter Eastway approaches the densely populated penguin colonies in Antarctica without trepidation, safe in the knowledge of the bird’s benign nature and the many tricks his camera can play.

It is hard to pin down Tales By Light. Equal parts documentary and art project, it is a stunning testament to the power of the still image to capture lost and unknown worlds. But the camera can only do so much. The show is ultimately a tribute to the perseverance of the men and women who have spent their lifetime looking for that which hides from plain sight.

Art Wolfe in Tales of Light.
Art Wolfe in Tales of Light.
We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content  BY 

In a first, some of the finest Indian theatre can now be seen on your screen

A new cinematic production brings to life thought-provoking plays as digital video.

Though we are a country besotted with cinema, theatre remains an original source of provocative stories, great actors, and the many deeply rooted traditions of the dramatic arts across India. CinePlay is a new, ambitious experiment to bring the two forms together.

These plays, ‘filmed’ as digital video, span classic drama genre as well as more experimental dark comedy and are available on Hotstar premium, as part of Hotstar’s Originals bouquet. “We love breaking norms. And CinePlay is an example of us serving our consumer’s multi-dimensional personality and trusting them to enjoy better stories, those that not only entertain but also tease the mind”, says Ajit Mohan, CEO, Hotstar.

The first collection of CinePlays feature stories from leading playwrights, like Vijay Tendulkar, Mahesh Dattani, Badal Sircar amongst others and directed by film directors like Santosh Sivan and Nagesh Kukunoor. They also star some of the most prolific names of the film and theatre world like Nandita Das, Shreyas Talpade, Saurabh Shukla, Mohan Agashe and Lillete Dubey.

The idea was conceptualised by Subodh Maskara and Nandita Das, the actor and director who had early experience with street theatre. “The conversation began with Subodh and me thinking how can we make theatre accessible to a lot more people” says Nandita Das. The philosophy is that ‘filmed’ theatre is a new form, not a replacement, and has the potential to reach millions instead of thousands of people. Hotstar takes the reach of these plays to theatre lovers across the country and also to newer audiences who may never have had access to quality theatre.

“CinePlay is merging the language of theatre and the language of cinema to create a third unique language” says Subodh. The technique for ‘filming’ plays has evolved after many iterations. Each play is shot over several days in a studio with multiple takes, and many angles just like cinema. Cinematic techniques such as light and sound effects are also used to enhance the drama. Since it combines the intimacy of theatre with the format of cinema, actors and directors have also had to adapt. “It was quite intimidating. Suddenly you have to take something that already exists, put some more creativity into it, some more of your own style, your own vision and not lose the essence” says Ritesh Menon who directed ‘Between the Lines’. Written by Nandita Das, the play is set in contemporary urban India with a lawyer couple as its protagonists. The couple ends up arguing on opposite sides of a criminal trial and the play delves into the tension it brings to their personal and professional lives.

Play

The actors too adapted their performance from the demands of the theatre to the requirements of a studio. While in the theatre, performers have to project their voice to reach a thousand odd members in the live audience, they now had the flexibility of being more understated. Namit Das, a popular television actor, who acts in the CinePlay ‘Bombay Talkies’ says, “It’s actually a film but yet we keep the characteristics of the play alive. For the camera, I can say, I need to tone down a lot.” Vickram Kapadia’s ‘Bombay Talkies’ takes the audience on a roller coaster ride of emotions as seven personal stories unravel through powerful monologues, touching poignant themes such as child abuse, ridicule from a spouse, sacrifice, disillusionment and regret.

The new format also brought many new opportunities. In the play “Sometimes”, a dark comedy about three stressful days in a young urban professional’s life, the entire stage was designed to resemble a clock. The director Akarsh Khurana, was able to effectively recreate the same effect with light and sound design, and enhance it for on-screen viewers. In another comedy “The Job”, presented earlier in theatre as “The Interview”, viewers get to intimately observe, as the camera zooms in, the sinister expressions of the interviewers of a young man interviewing for a coveted job.

Besides the advantages of cinematic techniques, many of the artists also believe it will add to the longevity of plays and breathe new life into theatre as a medium. Adhir Bhat, the writer of ‘Sometimes’ says, “You make something and do a certain amount of shows and after that it phases out, but with this it can remain there.”

This should be welcome news, even for traditionalists, because unlike mainstream media, theatre speaks in and for alternative voices. Many of the plays in the collection are by Vijay Tendulkar, the man whose ability to speak truth to power and society is something a whole generation of Indians have not had a chance to experience. That alone should be reason enough to cheer for the whole project.

Play

Hotstar, India’s largest premium streaming platform, stands out with its Originals bouquet bringing completely new formats and stories, such as these plays, to its viewers. Twenty timeless stories from theatre will be available to its subscribers. Five CinePlays, “Between the lines”, “The Job”, “Sometimes”, “Bombay Talkies” and “Typecast”, are already available and a new one will release every week starting March. To watch these on Hotstar Premium, click here.

This article was produced on behalf of Hotstar by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff.