Fight for a frame

May 2, 2011

The digital revolution has its pros and cons; on one hand it has amplified the chance of getting a picture in a stampede-like situation and on the other, it has created the stampede-like situation. With the advent of digital technology, the number of publications and media houses has grown, in turn multiplying the number of cameramen and photographers present at an event. Yet it has also increased the number of picture possibilities which in the celluloid days were limited to 36 frames in a film roll. Good or bad there is no going back.

Ignoring my aching jaw, I scrolled through my images to see if I had got the picture, of India’s former telecommunications minister Andimuthu Raja, accused in the 2G spectrum scam. It must have been an elbow of one of the many cameramen or photographers present who were struggling to get the same picture that struck me. I didn’t mind the pain as even my elbow hurt a bit. I was sure I wasn’t the only one with a sore jaw, of late we photographers were accustomed to it.

Court assignments as we call them, isn’t an assignment a photographer is keen on doing. But it has become mandatory as the picture compliments the newspaper headlines – lately they were related to the 2G Spectrum scam, a $39.16 billion scam that shook the nation. One after another the suspects have been zeroed in as the Indian judiciary tightens the noose on everyone involved. Every now and then someone is produced in court and we photographers find ourselves in the similar stampede-like situations.

Since December Reuters has covered a number of these types of events- be it a courthouse or the Central Bureau of Investigation headquarters.

I remember one occasion when Raja was to be brought to the Patiala House court. I didn’t count but at least one photographer and at least three TV cameramen were present from each electronic media house. Unplanned events like this one become very chaotic, as hordes of photographers jump into a narrow area to get first a good picture, second a usable one – the latter is mandatory. As Raja climbed down from a government vehicle he was surrounded by photographers. I struggled as I made my way with my wide-angle lens and landed in front of him. I was lucky to reach there as my counterparts from other organizations were shooting blindly, I didn’t take my hand off the shutter release, and shot hundreds of frames, 6 or 8 of them were usable and one I consider good.

In another case Gautam Doshi, a group managing director of Reliance ADA group was brought to court. The deserted narrow lane that consisted of lawyers chambers was overflowing with journalists. I managed to climb up a cooler outside a lawyer’s chamber and got a top angle frame with Doshi in the center of my viewfinder – I was lucky again. I saw my counterparts shooting with one hand and using their other to maintain balance.

Such instances are no longer surprises. We wait from nine in the morning to sometimes six in the evening; nine hours for a nine second picture opportunity. The rest of the time is spent lying on the ground and drinking the tea served by mobile tea vendors.

But these photo opportunities aren’t enjoyable; not for us nor for the accused. Of the various entrepreneurs brought to court, Swan Telecom Director Vinod Goenka was especially not pleased with the Indian judiciary system. His involvement was a huge scandal for him and it toughened the situation for us photographers. Usually big names like Goenka don’t want their picture published. From trying to prevent Goenka from covering his face to being beaten up by Doshi’s acquaintances, we endured it all.

The 2G scam was not the last of it. Last week, the legal authorities cornered culprits in the once hyped Commonwealth Games (CWG) scam. As usual, every day a new court assignment brings with it new challenges and new possibilities. My colleague B. Mathur, was lucky enough to capture a person who flung a shoe at the former chief organizer of the Delhi Commonwealth Games Suresh Kalmadi as he was brought to court.

If my guess is correct, the coming weeks have a lot in store. The CWG episode will run for a while with a few suspects being called to appear in court.

I can’t define which field of photojournalism these “court assignments” fall into but it’s a vital part of the job; a job where a clear frame often means job well done. “Googleization” and “digitalization” have indeed made the task easier the hard way.

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