Tag Archive: photography


A flash of vision

Supreeta Singh

One fine morning in her hometown Minnesota, a young Annie Griffith Belt headed towards the golf course with a camera. As she focused her lens, she stepped onto water sprinklers strewn all over. The effect produced a photograph that captured droplets of water bursting in mid-air broken into tiny bubbles by light. It was an image that changed her life.
 “A camera is a window used to tell a million different stories. Sometimes photographers see a moment build up like a crescendo and sometimes a moment presents itself serendipitously. Whatever may be the case, you have to forget everything else and concentrate on your work,” said Belt at the 35th International Kolkata Book Fair where she held a discussion on photography.
 One of the youngest and first women photographers to join National Geographic (NG) in 1978, Belt is a prolific artist and an author of several books. Late last year, she edited Simply Beautiful Photographs, a collection of more than 50 images taken from the archives of National Geographic. “There is an enormous archive of pictures that have not been seen at NG. When a photojournalist goes on an assignment for six months he brings back a wealth of photographs out of which only 20 or 30 are printed at the most. The rest get archived. I selected a few pictures and used them in a way that challenges the conventional notion of beauty,” she said.
 Normally, a sunset or a beach or a landscape would appeal to an onlooker as pleasant. But Belt showed a few photographs from the book that defies traditional meaning of beauty. From a carrot, dog, jelly fish, flowers, fields, cityscape to nuns, children, birds, tunnels, deserts, trees and roads, the breathtaking images evoked gasps of surprise and admiration from the audience.
 Belt explained that there are six creative tools or elements that transform an ordinary setting into extraordinary. “The first and most important element is light. Then it’s the composition which is the only thing a photographer can control. What you choose to keep out of the frame is as important as what you choose to keep in. Next is the moment – the most sought after and the most elusive element, followed by colour and time. Last and most important is a sense of wonder. NG images should inspire everyone to discover a new perspective of a known or familiar thing,” pointed out Belt.
 However, the elements alone do not produce a beautiful image. What finally pleases the eyes is the impression of geometry brought about when the factors come together in the right proportion.
 As a photographer who excels in travel, documentary and nature documentation, Belt argued that although technical development has paved the way for better cameras, a photographer must get close to his or her subject to clinch the deal. “You must get busy with people long enough for them to trust you. The biggest mistake you can make is not get close enough to your subject,” Belt said.
 There are many photographers who take umbrage when their work is compared to a painting. Does that annoy her too? “Someone had said that the gift of the six penny photography is better than any acts of philanthropy. Photography taught painters how beautiful imperfection is. I guess a painter and a photographer felt threatened that one would trespass on the other’s territory. Personally, I don’t care because photography is fun,” she replied.
 Belt is also involved in social cause. She develops documentary programmes that help poor women whose life has been devastated by climate change. In India, she travelled to Jaipur, Sunderbans and a few slum areas in Kolkata. “With a team of people, we document stories through powerful pictures and present them to NGOs and policy-makers and effect their decision making process.”
 So is she one of those who only see the poverty and degradation of India? “Photographers come for a million different reasons to India like fashion, textile, Bollywood. When I visit a slum I go with a purpose and not for an easy picture. There are people in every profession who exploit their art to meet a certain demand. But I found India to be the single most compelling country to photograph,” she signed off.

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