As a toddler I was so fascinated with photography that the camera even smelt good!
A cousin from Canada would regularly visit my family in Goa with a lovely SLR camera. He noticed my keen interest in his camera, and let me hold it in my unsteady hands. Through this viewfinder I caught my first intense glimpse of the magical world of photography. I was hooked!
My first camera
As a young man, I decided to enrol in the Polytechnic School. As soon as I possibly could, I bought my first photography book, saving bit by bit the required price from writing ‘middles’ for The Navhind Times. Many more middles later, I bought my first camera, a Hot Shot 110. Though a simple point-and-shoot, it came bundled with a telephoto lens and variable settings, useful tools for experimenting. However after a few shots, I was told that photography was not meant for me: what I was doing was to cut my subjects into halves! But instead of quitting, I began to experiment, and one day I realised that the camera had turned into a powerful tool in my hands. On the technical tour of the final year of the Civil Engineering course, I spent all my money on film and shot around four rolls. The pictures were such a hit that my entire album was stolen!
Though I had initially procured a used manual SLR, the strenuous work I was involved in as a construction professional deprived me of my creative pursuits of writing and photography. When I got married ten years later, and we went on holiday on our honeymoon, I rediscovered my passion to work with the camera. Usually, cameras come with a built-in light meter that helps one expose correctly. This meter did not function as the tiny battery that powered it was dead. Totally ignorant of this built-in meter, I was forced to work out the exposures for every frame, based on the position of the sun. Around six rolls later, manual settings were embedded into my system of thought and work. When the films were exposed, those who caught sight of the photographs invariably exclaimed, “Wow, what camera did you use?” Everybody complimented the camera, but the truth is that I had discovered my true talent with the camera.
In 2003, I purchased a used digital camera with six mega pixels for a whopping thirty thousand rupees. It was not even an SLR but it had a decent zoom and excellent glass lens. Not having to invest in films transformed me into a shutter-happy being. I began travelling and exploring different villages and gained enormous pleasure from the results.
By now Jose Lourenço had conceptualised his book, Parish Churches of Goa for which he needed to photograph the façade of every church in Goa. He offered me the opportunity which I grabbed with both hands, and thus began our journey to hidden nooks and crannies of Goa. We visited villages whose names I had never even heard and found opportunities to photograph. When the book was released it received a tremendously positive response. Very sharp and clear photographs made people compliment me on a job well done. I have to admit, though, that most of the credit now had to go to the camera and not me. I just mounted the camera on a tripod, used a timer and voila! A crisp shot was inevitable!
The camera creates a bond with Goa
Having experienced the hinterland villages of Goa first-hand, I had established a close bond with Goa that was new to me. At the slightest opportunity, I took off with my camera to distant villages, to chill out from my construction blues. Collecting hundreds of photographs on Goa, I sorted them in different folders according to categories like nature, heritage, temples, churches, museums and the like. The collection almost magically appeared within my mind as a book. The more I thought of it, the more the idea crystallised. As I could not afford a designer, I was forced to learn photo-editing and acquired book-designing software; that’s how in 2007, my first book, 100 Goan Experiences was saw the light of day.
With so much colour, and information on places rarely visited, the book became an instant hit and went on to sell more than thirteen thousand copies. This book not only served tourists well, but locals too, to plan their weekend excursions. Additionally it was a ready handbook for feature writers as each one of the 100 experiences could be expanded into a full newspaper feature. In fact, using an experience from the book I wrote my first feature article. So in a sense it was my camera that metamorphosed me into a journalist.
From a career in construction to a love-affair with photography
The tremendous satisfaction derived from producing the book, coupled with all the time I dedicated to it, led me to neglect my construction career and though I completed all my jobs, I was averse to finding such new jobs. So eventually, much to the chagrin of people like my mother, I completely quit the field of construction and devoted my time to writing regular columns in news papers and magazines. Though my income shrank in a frightening manner, the sale from the book kept me going.
In 2008, I upgraded to a digital SLR and again accumulated a large collection of photographs. This time the collection gave birth to a coffee table photo-book on Goa. This book too, was largely appreciated and I was now being seen as an artist due to the aesthetic quality of the photographs in the book. Dr. Maria Aurora Couto who wrote the foreword to the book said, “Pantaleão, you have tremendous courage to come up with a book like this.” But my mother said, “You are a real fool to quit Engineering and publish books.” While I was grappling with this dilemma, to discern whether I was lion hearted or a total fool, the material I had collected for a column on the traditional occupations of Goa germinated into a seed for yet another book. The book is now completed and is awaiting printing.
I still don’t have a clear answer: was my journey a foolhardy adventure or a courageous move into a beckoning world? Whatever it might be, it has been immensely satisfying to be able to freely indulge in my passion to my heart’s content!
Pantaleão Fernandes is a civil engineer by training. His books give voice to his love of his land, Goa.0 comments so far — Join the discussion