Time has a strange habit of slinking away. It does so quietly that we don’t notice it till it’s too late. And what you are left with are fragments, or what we grandiosely call memories. You remember some days, a few moments, and a handful of faces, and they all add up to become your past. Today is one of those red letter days — fifteen years ago, I faced mortality, and somehow I came out on the other side. Looking back, what seemed like a dark period in my life has turned out to be the best thing that has ever happened to me.
It taught me the lessons we learn late in life early: excess, perfection, and accumulation are fair-weather friends. I learned that by giving time to play its hand, I would stop being impatient. Life, as it turned out, has been much better than how I had planned it. And more importantly, you are better off finding comfort in the company of imperfection.
For the past decade and a half, one day at a time, and one step at a time, I have slowly learned to embrace my own imperfections. What has been harder is letting go of judging others. because of their imperfections. This is an ongoing process, made harder because emotions like love carry the weight of expectations. A journey’s final destination has to be a place where everything and everyone has space to be less than perfect.
I woke up today wondering how I would remember the past twelve months. Would my work-life transition be part of the memory? Or the amount of time I spent in contemplation? Or the books I read? Or the place I visited? Or was it the time I spent with family and friends? As the rain beat down on the window and I looked through the thousands of droplets of rainwater streaming down, it all became too clear: my photography was a visual manifestation of my journey on the road to embracing my own imperfections.
“Photography is painting with light!,” Czech artist and photographer, Miroslav Tichy once said, adding. “The blurs, the spots, those are errors! But the errors are part of it, they give it poetry and turn it into painting.” This is such a liberating insight — for photography in specific, but also for life in general. It is one of the reasons why I stopped identifying where I clicked the camera, instead focusing on what I felt.
Over a decade ago, when I was making my way back from a tryst with destiny, and finding the road unclear, one of my friends gifted me Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers by Leonard Koren, a book that helped me so much in my creative process. It was through this book I was exposed to the ideology of Wabi-Sabi. According to Wikipedia:
Wabi-sabi is a composite of two interrelated aesthetic concepts, wabi (侘) and sabi (寂). According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, wabi may be translated as “subdued, austere beauty,” while sabimeans “rustic patina.”Wabi-sabi is derived from the Buddhist teaching of the three marks of existence (三法印, sanbōin), specifically impermanence (無常, mujō), suffering (苦, ku) and emptiness or absence of self-nature (空, kū), however, originally the concepts were seen as two distinct concepts.
Wabi-Sabi is about coming to terms with the imperfection of life itself. Koren reminds us in the book that “reason is always subordinate to perception.” At least for the artist or creator. For a person of science, reason and logic has to take precedence. In a weird way, as someone living on the edges of science and creativity, it has allowed me to look at our changing world without judgment and with a bit more clarity about what really matters.
“Things wabi-sabi have no need for the reassurance of status or the validation of market culture. They have no need for documentation of provenance. Wabi-sabi-ness in no way depends on knowledge of the creator’s background or personality. In fact, it is best if the creator is no distinction, invisible, or anonymous.”Leonard Koren.
In 2022, my visual vocabulary found appreciation for error and blur, and, more importantly, I learned that reality is just a perception. I don’t know whether it is my own internal growth or my mind’s reaction to a world emitting too much information, and the only way to deal with it is by abstracting it all. Or it just is that I have found the by-lane I need to veer in order to continue on my visual journey.
Here are some of my favorite photos from 2022.
December 27, 2022. San Francisco
If interested, you can order these prints on my photo-only website.