Photographer and filmmaker Ryan Lobo talks of looking for the epic in the ordinary

A lot did happen over coffee at Café Coffee Day on December 8. Photographer and filmmaker Ryan Lobo shared his sensitive insights on the essence of photography in a tête-à-tête at the CCD Lounge on M.G. Road. His talk was the third in “The Lounge Journals”, a series of interactive sessions meant for youngsters, where experts from various creative fields share their experiences.

“All of us have a camera. But it's like owning a pen, only a few people can write well. So how does one create something that endures? What does it take for an image to develop a life of its own?” he began by asking.

Ryan Lobo is the co-founder of Mad Monitor Productions. His works, including documentary films and photographs, have been aired on and published in networks and publications like the National Geographic Channel, Animal Planet, The Oprah Winfrey Show, Marie Claire, Elle, Tehelka, The Wall Street Journal, Time Out, National Geographic Magazine, The Boston Review, Chimurenga, Onzeweruld and The Wall Street Journal.

A few years ago, while making a documentary film on war criminals in a slum in Liberia, a riot broke out. “These people were all child soldiers, high on drugs. Suddenly they dragged me into the heart of the slum, they wanted my camera. They made me stand and tried to hit me with a machete. I was incapacitated by fear, but I said I could make them famous. After a while, the men started posing for photos one by one, with me. When I saw myself in the camera, I was amused. This separated me from the moment and suddenly, I felt no fear. So I took my camera and ran. They were too intoxicated to chase me too far.”

According to Ryan, everybody is surrounded by opinions, good and bad. Through all this, the act of watching oneself and one's thoughts is important. “One can separate oneself from the world and be in touch with something larger. Then, serendipity happens and things start falling in place. This way one can put more of oneself in one's picture. The picture is more powerful when one retreats into this space,” he explains.

Ryan feels that a photograph reveals the photographer more than the scene. “The aesthetic of the picture you take reveals who you are. The question that needs to be asked is, where does the goodness lie and how will you show it by inserting yourself into the photograph?”

This he explained by narrating another incident in Delhi where he was out to photograph a dowry-related murder, as part of a project on crimes against women. “All the people in the house were going about their own business until we entered. Within seconds everybody began wailing. The presence of photographers influences what's happening and they usually like the drama, which makes for great photos and is highly saleable. I was feeling uneasy, when amidst all this I saw the girl's sister standing calmly in a corner. I was drawn to her, because this was my idea of grieving. It was more dignified.” That's how, Ryan argues, that a photograph develops a life of its own, when it comes from a meaningful place.

“I don't think location has much to with stories. Our own lives can be epic, depending on the way we look at it. All of us think of ourselves as heroic beings who lead ordinary lives. I've wanted to look for the epic in the ordinary,” he finishes.