REFLECTIONS OF LIFE
Karan Gurnani shares his perception of life through the photos captured on his Leica SL2-S.
This seemingly non-descript image holds a special place in my heart. It is a recreation of a photo I made with an heirloom – my grandfather’s Leica M1.
First taken when I was about 15 years of age, I remember having no particular thought process while taking the photograph; all I knew was it “looked cool”. 13 years later however, things seemed to have changed.
This particular frame was shot with a Leica SL2-S – Leica’s latest flagship mirrorless camera – and importantly, with an intention. Aside from ‘digitising’ an analogue frame I had created a decade earlier, I saw the scene before you as a reflection of life.
It’s rare for a portraitist like myself to perceive life in the inanimate, but for some reason, I found it in these tin construction panels. Perhaps it was the mix of panel colours, textures, and sizes, that reminded me that life isn’t quite as binary as I sometimes think. Or perhaps, it was the battle scars that the panels wore; its scratches and graffiti speaking to how we are often hurt in the process of living – and yet, still stand.
I was walking along East Coast Park one evening to take a break from work; to clear my head, and get some fresh air. It was particularly balmy that day, and it soon started to drizzle. The rain didn’t really bother me, but I quickened my pace and kept my head down nonetheless. As I turned a bend however, I was greeted by the scene you see in front of you. I couldn’t help it; I had to capture the moment. Thankfully, I had my weather-resistant Leica SL2-S with me, so I whipped it out and fired off a frame.
It was a beautiful vista: the sea was calm, despite the storm. The gentle crash of the waves on the shore in cacophonous symphony with the howl of the wind. The white of the clouded skies, peppered with the rising grey smoke from cargo ships in the distance. And yet, despite specifically choosing a seat facing the sea, everyone sat focused on their phones.
I’ve often felt that photography was an effective conduit for letting observations about life flow freely. Do you see what I saw? Are we all experiencing life through a black mirror?
The very act of photographing is an act of juxtaposition: a photo is a freeze-frame of life, which like it or not, is constantly moving forward. By the time your exposure has settled, the moment has passed.
It is precisely this principle of photography that makes it such an effective medium to contrast one idea, with another. For this frame, I specifically wanted to capture the juxtaposition between the old and the new, between traditions and industry, and between man and machine.
Much of our today’s world is increasingly dominated by automatic machines, processes, and methods. And yet, helming the behemoth ship of modernisation is still a human being. So really, this frame represents just that: an idea. The idea that despite being surrounded by trawlers, shipping containers, and oil tankers, we stand tall, keeping a watchful eye over the timeless seas.
I spotted this scene as I was driving along a coastal road lined with trees. I’m not entirely sure what about this particular setting initially caught my eye; all I know is, I pulled over on the road shoulder (thankfully, the road was free of traffic), whipped out my Leica SL2-S, and fired off precisely one shot.
To me, seeing the compact tractor sitting amongst myriad trees was a gentle reminder of how manicured our city-state truly is. Everything from the palm trees I had been admiring while driving, to the grass that I stepped on while taking the photo, had been thoughtfully put there by a small army of hard-working individuals.
An urban planner, a consulting arborist, a multitude of gardeners, and a tractor-operator, all working together just to make this moment possible.
I felt grateful.
Trees have always been a fascination of mine. Their winding branches, unfurling leaves, and penetrating roots, collectively seem to hold a wisdom beyond my comprehension.
I saw this particular tree at East Coast Park; its leaves were dancing with the wind, as if to beckon me over. It was precariously draped over the water’s edge, kissing the surface of the water, giving it life as it disturbed its stillness.
I wondered how many couples sat underneath it, picnicking in its shade; how many birds called it home; how many whispered confessions it shrouded.
Oftentimes, a picture-perfect moment comes around when you least expect it. That was certainly the case when I took this series of photos.
It was about 7pm in the evening, with the sun dipping just below the horizon. I recall sitting in my balcony – as I often do to wind down after a long day – while enjoying a drink and listening to some music. Without a moment’s notice however, the sky turned a fiery orange, as if it was lit on fire. I just sat there, transfixed at its beauty.
A few moments later, I snapped out of it and figured I shouldn’t let such an epic sunset go to waste. I got my Leica SL2-S out, and started shooting. I intentionally underexposed the photo by one and a half stops, keeping the ISO at its base of 50. I wanted to highlight the sky’s beauty and keep everything else silhouetted.
I particularly like the first shot, with the sunset captured in the reflection of the window panes as opposed to it directly showing up in frame. Additionally, I had the idea to intentionally frame the shot tightly, in order to create a natural ‘window’ to peer through.
Magical sunsets like this are hard to come by, which is why I left these shots virtually unedited – a testament to Leica’s legendary colours.
Low-light photography can sometimes be daunting for photographers to engage in. However, with the right tools – like the Leica SL2-S – the results are not only stunning, but easily achieved as well.
This shot was taken at last light – just before the sun finally set at 7:30pm. In order to get this shot, I set the ISO to its base of 50, and settled on a relatively slow shutter speed of 1/60.
The result was what you see before you: a well exposed image that accentuated the beautiful blue, magenta, yellow, and orange hues in the evening sky, while leaving everything else shrouded in darkness.
This image was especially important for me to create because within it was an embedded message: one of modernity – both its beauty, and its costs.
Everything from the homes we live in, to the streets we walk on, have been built upon the backs of those we call ‘foreigners’. This has been a thought that I’ve never fully been able to reconcile: how foreign can they be if they built the country I call home?
How can we disassociate ourselves from them, marginalise them from our way of living, and consider them with indignity when our thoughts traverse into the private sphere?
How can we complain about our lives, when they sacrifice theirs and toil into the night, just so we can live ours, high atop our concrete towers.
And yet, we do.
ABOUT KARAN GURNANI
Karan Gurnani is a local photographer and filmmaker who specialises in portraiture, travel, lifestyle and commercial photography. Follow his daily posts on Instagram @karanthephotographer.