Wednesday, 20 July 2016

The Photography Menace

Have you found yourself in situations where there are more photographers than there are artists at some public cultural events?

Unfortunately, often these photographers are also a little aggressive and they seem to believe that their right to click pictures is more important than the right of the public to watch the cultural event. They want to be in the front to click their pictures and some times they are willing to fight with each other to get the pictures they want.

If you think that I am exagerating, take a look at the picture below. Can you count the number of photographers surrounding the artists in this picture? And do you think that these photographers were really worrying about hundreds of spectators who had gathered in the city square to watch this cultural event?

Warring and uncivilized photographers disturbing public cultural events
Recently, I found myself in the middle of a fight among people wishing to click photographs. Fortunately, I was not involved in the fight, and as soon as I could, I slipped away to a calmer place. But the episode made me think about what had happened, how the world of photography is changing and the feeling that over the next years, probably the things are only going to get worse.

If we are organising a cultural event, I think that it is important to have clear rules so that photographers do not disturb the event. By photographers, I mean both - those with different kinds of digital cameras, as well as those with their smart phones.


First let me tell you about the fight that I witnessed. It happened one evening in Schio (pronounced Skio), a tiny town at the foothills of Alps in north-eastern part of Italy, where I live.

The cultural event was about the uniforms of the soldiers of Republic of Venice from 1797. It was almost near its end. I had found a place to stand in one corner of the square near the stairs of an underground parking. A guy with a nice SLR camera had taken position on the stairs, and set up his camera. For the finale of the event, they were going to fire the cannons. More people had joined us, including a lady clicking pictures with her smart phone, since we had a good view of the cannons.

The lady with the smart phone kept on moving from one side to other, to click pictures from different angles. I saw the man with SLR camera standing on the stairs, moving left and right, trying to get a visual of the event and avoiding the lady. After about fifteen minutes, he could not control himself and spoke sharply, "You mind standing still instead of moving all the time and breaking my balls?"

The lady turned towards him, initially shocked and a few moments later, indignant, "How dare you speak to me like that? Behave yourself."

I think that the guy realized that he had crossed a line and had been too rude, but for some time he continued to bluster, while the woman raised her voice and soon her husband, who was standing some distance away, came and joined her. For a moment, I thought that they were going to punch each other, but somehow common sense prevailed and the SLR camera guy backtracked, while the woman moved away.

After another 5 minutes, a couple of men with their smart phones, busy clicking a video, came and took the place vacated by the woman, standing in front of the camera guy. Disgusted, the guy snorted, put away his camera in his bag, left his place on the stairs and moved to an empty area of the square, which did not have a good visual of the event.

After the event, I kept on thinking about the photographers at the event. I was also there with my camera, though I am quite laid back about clicking pictures. If I get the opportunity I am happy to click but if people come and stand in front of me, I usually wait for them to move or change place.

That evening there were hundreds of persons who took pictures. Perhaps, 20% had digital cameras. The other 80% had their smart phones. That evening I was asking myself, if we going towards wars among the photographers?


I think that photography in public cultural events has become a serious issue that requires the setting up of some clear rules.

In the cities of developed countries of Europe and US, and even in the big cities of less developed countries, the number of people with big SLR cameras and all other kinds of digital cameras is increasing every year. Whenever there is a public cultural event, it becomes a free for all among all the photographers to get good pictures, close ups and innovative angles. Some photographers block the visual of people who have come to watch the performance, standing there in the front as if they are transparent or if they have a special right to go and do as they wish.

I am not including "official photographers" in this list, including videographers, who also block the visuals but at least they do it because they are being paid to do it. In fact official photographers are often in the middle of the performances, moving around, not really bothering about the public.

If the epidemic of different digital cameras was not enough, the proliferation of good cameras in the smart phones and the possibility of sharing "See, I am here" kind of pictures on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, has added another layer of chaos to the discourse.

Now it is not enough to worry about those with digital cameras blocking you, there are literally hundreds more with their smart phones who also want to click pictures. If they have a family member or a friend who is performing in the event, they become impossible to control, jumping around in front, and refusing to move from their places, ready to fight for it if needed.


It seems that the trend of taking pictures and videos and sharing them with our friends and others, is going to spread and get bigger over the coming years. Thus, I think that photography related conflicts are going to become more common.

The good manners' guides do not tell us how to behave in so many situations in today's world like for the use of our mobile phones and  cameras, but if we want to avoid conflicts, we need to define new rules that respect common codes of decency and privacy in public spaces.

Fortunately, lately my interest in photography is on the wane. I had my first digital camera in 2005. For many years I have suffered from clickitis, defined as the irresistible urge to click pictures. I was always looking for opportunities to click pictures. I had my photoblog Chayachitrakar where I posted new pictures every day. It has more than 2000 posts.

Then something changed inside me during 2015 - suddenly I was no longer so compulsive about clicking pictures. In January 2016, I also stopped adding pictures on my photo-blog. Lately I have even been to some cultural events without my camera.

I still take a lot of pictures, but if I can't, it is not such a big deal. Perhaps it is because of this change in my attitude that I can now talk of making of rules to regulate photography.

What do you feel - do you think that photographers are becoming a nuisance at public cultural events?


Thursday, 7 July 2016

Doctors and Alternate Sexualities

Note: I had written this article for the newsletter of Xukia, an organisation based in Guwahati, fighting for the rights of LGBTQI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersexual) persons in the north-east of India. The images used in this article are from LGBTQI Pride Parades organized by Xukia and held in Guwahati in 2015 and 2016.

GLBTQI Pride Parade, Guwahati, India - Images by Sunil Deepak
It was around 1973-74. I was a medical student. One evening, a close friend from my school days had hesitatingly asked me for advice. He felt attraction towards a male classmate in the university and wanted to know if this meant that he was gay. Probably he had thought that because I was studying medicine, I must know something about it.

I was not sure how to answer him. Yet, I was pleased that he had enough confidence in me to raise that question. I don’t think that it was, and I don’t think that it is, easy to discuss doubts about your sexuality with your close friends.

Till that time, the subject of sexualities had never been raised in our medical studies. In our anatomy class, when he had come to the chapters on sexual organs, our male professor had told us with a knowing smile that we could read those chapters ourselves. I used to think that it will be taught in the final year. I wouldn’t have believed at that time that at undergraduate level, medical students were not taught any thing related to sex, sexuality or genitals.

And, I don’t know how much of it has changed today. Perhaps young doctors can add about their own learnings on sex and sexualities in the medical colleges in India now.

It was a time when many of us went to work after the medical degree, rather than going for a specialisation. So our education system was turning out doctors, who were going to work, and who had never been taught anything about sexuality.

During our clinical studies, we had studied about the health conditions linked to the genital organs, especially sexually transmitted diseases, those that require surgery and those related to child-birth. And that was the end of our sexuality knowledge. Our medical education was linking sexuality exclusively to the ideas of disease conditions, rather than to ideas of pleasure and self-fulfilment.


“So what is the opinion of the doctor about it? Is it normal?” Similar questions are common in a variety of situations. When people are not sure about something related to the human body, asking the opinion of the doctors seems like a logical solution.

Rarely people ask themselves if the doctors have the knowledge and training to answer those questions properly. It is difficult to think that doctors, like most other persons in the society, carry the usual prejudices of the society in which they live.

There is limited research in India on the issues of sexualities. Often the research is carried out under the aegis of psychiatry departments, leading to the impression that sexuality is related to psychiatric disturbances.

I could not find any research on attitudes of Indian doctors about alternate sexualities. However, from colleagues, I have heard stories of doctors refusing to see and to treat transgender persons or being rude to them.


What are the opinions of Indian doctors about LGBTQ issues?

After the Supreme Court judgement on 11 December 2013, that reinstated section 377 of Indian Penal Code, on 27th December 2013 the Indian Medical Association (IMA) passed a resolution that “homosexuality is a variation of sexual orientation and not a disease”. However, many members of IMA did not agree with this official position.

On 19 January 2014, an ex-president of Indian Psychiatric Society (IPS) said that in India, talking of sex was unnatural and that homosexuals had brought these discussions out on the streets, implying that homosexuals were unnatural. Some days later, on 3 February 2014, the general secretary of IPS said that “Homosexuality is a grey area, entailing confusion and complexity, and black and white comments can't be made on it”. The above statements made by psychiatrists, who are supposed to have greater understanding about sexualities, did provoke some debates. Thus, On 7 February 2014, IPS was forced to issue a statement that “there is no evidence to substantiate that homosexuality is an illness or a disease”.

A recent newspaper story dated 26 July 2015 talked about a group of psychiatrists in Delhi who considered homosexuality as “a condition similar to bipolar disorders and schizophrenia”, to be treated by “conversion therapy” based on electro-shocks. This story provided details of interviews with many doctors.

One doctor claimed to have “helped” more than a thousand persons in “treating” homosexuality and usually charged 1.1 lakh Rs as a “complete package for treatment”. Another clinic claimed to “cure homosexuality” in one month for “only” 2,100 Rs. One doctor blamed the “excess of female hormones in male bodies” for homosexuality, while another talked of a “recessive homosexuality gene”.

Such pseudo-scientific talks, not based on any scientific-evidence, feed on the common prejudices among people. Since doctors and even more so, specialists like psychiatrists, are seen as authority figures, such claims and such services, serve to perpetuate and strengthen stereotypes and prejudices in the society.

Thus, even when official medical bodies make the “right” statements, individual doctors often continue to hold-on to their ideas that do not agree with the official positions.

These newspaper stories were about doctors in Delhi, but are doctors in other cities any better? What about similar doctors and clinics in the North-east? Probably the situation will not be so different.


So what should persons do when they want an advice about a sexuality issue from a health professional?

There are many occasions when LGBTQ persons and their families need sensitive and sensible advice from professionals who understand their worlds and their specific needs – such as, when young people are not sure about their orientation or gender, when persons wish to undertake hormonal or surgical treatment for gender reassignment, and when persons want to have families and think of surrogate pregnancy or artificial insemination.

Today a lot of information is available on internet. However, it is not always easy to judge the reliability of this information. It may be too much and sometimes, contradictory. Thus coming to a decision may not be easy and some guidance may be needed. However, I feel that the greatest advantage of internet based information relates to sharing of personal life stories and experiences, and creating peer support groups.

One answer for LGBTQ groups can be to start working on creating a database of responsible and sensitive health professionals in their cities. For example, a group of persons have started a crowd-sourcing work on identifying “Gynaecologists whom we can trust” (#GynaecsWeCanTrust), that provides information in different languages about reliable gynaecologists in different Indian cities.

Some time ago I had visited the office of an Association of transgender persons in Bologna (Italy) called MIT. They were able to convince the local government on the need of having access to experienced psychologists and health professionals. Thus, in their office, the local government had agreed to provide them with professionals, to be available for consultation a few times in a month. Though initially the professionals had limited knowledge and skills about issues related to transgender persons, with time, they were able to gain both.

Hoping for a support from the Government on this issue in India may not be realistic in the short term, but perhaps similar solutions can be explored by GLBT Rights organisations and groups locally with some professionals who have an understanding of these issues.

I want to conclude this article with a few images from the LGBTQI Pride Parades held in Guwahati (Assam, India) in 2015-16.

GLBTQI Pride Parade, Guwahati, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

GLBTQI Pride Parade, Guwahati, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

GLBTQI Pride Parade, Guwahati, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

GLBTQI Pride Parade, Guwahati, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

GLBTQI Pride Parade, Guwahati, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

GLBTQI Pride Parade, Guwahati, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

GLBTQI Pride Parade, Guwahati, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

GLBTQI Pride Parade, Guwahati, India - Images by Sunil Deepak


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