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.
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As India turns 70, London School of Economics asks some provocative questions

Is India ready to become a global superpower?

Meaningful changes have always been driven by the right, but inconvenient questions. As India completes 70 years of its sovereign journey, we could do two things – celebrate, pay our token tributes and move on, or take the time to reflect and assess if our course needs correction. The ‘India @ 70: LSE India Summit’, the annual flagship summit of the LSE (London School of Economics) South Asia Centre, is posing some fundamental but complex questions that define our future direction as a nation. Through an honest debate – built on new research, applied knowledge and ground realities – with an eclectic mix of thought leaders and industry stalwarts, this summit hopes to create a thought-provoking discourse.

From how relevant (or irrelevant) is our constitutional framework, to how we can beat the global one-upmanship games, from how sincere are business houses in their social responsibility endeavours to why water is so crucial to our very existence as a strong nation, these are some crucial questions that the event will throw up and face head-on, even as it commemorates the 70th anniversary of India’s independence.

Is it time to re-look at constitution and citizenship in India?

The Constitution of India is fundamental to the country’s identity as a democratic power. But notwithstanding its historical authority, is it perhaps time to examine its relevance? The Constitution was drafted at a time when independent India was still a young entity. So granting overwhelming powers to the government may have helped during the early years. But in the current times, they may prove to be more discriminatory than egalitarian. Our constitution borrowed laws from other countries and continues to retain them, while the origin countries have updated them since then. So, do we need a complete overhaul of the constitution? An expert panel led by Dr Mukulika Banerjee of LSE, including political and economic commentator S Gurumurthy, Madhav Khosla of Columbia University, Niraja Gopal Jayal of JNU, Chintan Chandrachud the author of the book Balanced Constitutionalism and sociologist, legal researcher and Director of Council for Social Development Kalpana Kannabiran will seek answers to this.

Is CSR simply forced philanthropy?

While India pioneered the mandatory minimum CSR spend, has it succeeded in driving impact? Corporate social responsibility has many dynamics at play. Are CSR initiatives mere tokenism for compliance? Despite government guidelines and directives, are CSR activities well-thought out initiatives, which are monitored and measured for impact? The CSR stipulations have also spawned the proliferation of ambiguous NGOs. The session, ‘Does forced philanthropy work – CSR in India?” will raise these questions of intent, ethics and integrity. It will be moderated by Professor Harry Barkema and have industry veterans such as Mukund Rajan (Chairman, Tata Council for Community Initiatives), Onkar S Kanwar (Chairman and CEO, Apollo Tyres), Anu Aga (former Chairman, Thermax) and Rahul Bajaj (Chairman, Bajaj Group) on the panel.

Can India punch above its weight to be considered on par with other super-powers?

At 70, can India mobilize its strengths and galvanize into the role of a serious power player on the global stage? The question is related to the whole new perception of India as a dominant power in South Asia rather than as a Third World country, enabled by our foreign policies, defense strategies and a buoyant economy. The country’s status abroad is key in its emergence as a heavyweight but the foreign service officers’ cadre no longer draws top talent. Is India equipped right for its aspirations? The ‘India Abroad: From Third World to Regional Power’ panel will explore India’s foreign policy with Ashley Tellis, Meera Shankar (Former Foreign Secretary), Kanwal Sibal (Former Foreign Secretary), Jayant Prasad and Rakesh Sood.

Are we under-estimating how critical water is in India’s race ahead?

At no other time has water as a natural resource assumed such a big significance. Studies estimate that by 2025 the country will become ‘water–stressed’. While water has been the bone of contention between states and controlling access to water, a source for political power, has water security received the due attention in economic policies and development plans? Relevant to the central issue of water security is also the issue of ‘virtual water’. Virtual water corresponds to the water content (used) in goods and services, bulk of which is in food grains. Through food grain exports, India is a large virtual net exporter of water. In 2014-15, just through export of rice, India exported 10 trillion litres of virtual water. With India’s water security looking grim, are we making the right economic choices? Acclaimed author and academic from the Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi, Amita Bavisar will moderate the session ‘Does India need virtual water?’

Delve into this rich confluence of ideas and more at the ‘India @ 70: LSE India Summit’, presented by Apollo Tyres in association with the British Council and organized by Teamworks Arts during March 29-31, 2017 at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. To catch ‘India @ 70’ live online, register here.

At the venue, you could also visit the Partition Museum. Dedicated to the memory of one of the most conflict-ridden chapters in our country’s history, the museum will exhibit a unique archive of rare photographs, letters, press reports and audio recordings from The Partition Museum, Amritsar.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Teamwork Arts and not by the Scroll editorial team.