Every so often, someone asks me why I go to such lengths to make photographs. Why disrupt my routine and fly thousands of miles away to remote, and sometimes harsh and uninviting, places just to spend time with my camera? Believe me, I understand the skepticism. In addition to the time it takes, all this travel undoubtedly contributes to the warming of the planet.
The fact is, despite wrestling with the question, I haven’t been able to come up with a satisfactory response. I might reply that it is a welcome escape from ordinary life, that it represents my yearning to stop time, or that it offers a chance to enjoy the gift of a single moment before it passes and is gone forever. That’s all true enough, but it doesn’t quite get at the heart of it.
Finding an answer that resonates more deeply requires a journey through the tangled lanes of memory. Growing up in the metropolis of Delhi, I often felt like I was drowning in a sea of aural and visual noise. As you navigated the crush of people, you were battered by waves of sound that whiplashed between cacophony and symphony. It was as overwhelming as it was inescapable, filling every minute of every hour of every day of my life.
Summer was the exception. As the beastly June sun beat down on the city, turning it into a shimmering cauldron of reflected light that burned into the very core of the earth, the city would clear out. By lunch, the same place that had earlier been teeming with people would suddenly be empty. The streets would transform into a vast arena for the struggle between the sun and shadows. And I would sit in the shade, listening to silence. I could hear the distant call of the hawker selling fresh vegetables. And the cooing of the doves, who, like me, were huddled somewhere out of the sun’s reach.
It was meditative, though I didn’t recognize that as a child—and certainly not as a teenager. Sitting and baking in that heat, with sweat dripping, the dots would connect, and life would make sense. I could think. I imagined the future. It was peaceful. It was not loneliness, but a glorious aloneness.
When I am alone in Iceland, Svalbard, or Alaska, I am looking for that same moment of silence away from the noise that engulfs us every day—a moment that allows me to think, breathe, and enjoy. And when I find it, I make it into a photograph that can be brought home and savored later.
Somehow, photography makes the madness manageable.